I talk to a lot of people about acting on their environmental values and people overwhelmingly say that they plan to raise their awareness or make themselves more conscious of environmental issues as a path toward acting, or they want to raise other people’s awareness through education, spreading facts. I spoke in episode 86 which I recommend listening to on how awareness means nothing. Everybody is aware of what they’re aware of. No one’s aware of what they’re not aware of. So to say you’re aware is just a vacuous statement. It scratches the surface. People will deny it but most people, possibly all people who are not acting on their environmental values saying that they want to raise awareness as a step in the direction of action show the same pattern. They’re using awareness as a delay tactic. Yes. You need awareness to act on something. But it’s a smokescreen.
First, they’re already aware of the problem. Issues that have been front page news lead stories for years, maybe decades. We’re all more than plenty aware of global warming, plastics, extinctions, everything. Second, anyone who’s ordered take-out food or accepted unnecessary plastic bags and bottles or is considered eating less meat or any number of other actions, they know their personal contributions and they see simple acts that they can do to pollute less. They’re plenty aware of the world. They’re plenty aware of themselves. There are plenty aware of what they can do. You’re aware. You’re plenty aware. Everyone you know is aware. Every significant polluter in the world which means nearly every American, European, Asian, South American, everyone in the world who is polluting significantly is aware. Next, and this is the big one, action leads to awareness more than awareness leads to action. If you want awareness, the best way to achieve it is by acting. Everyone knows this. If you want to learn language, you can’t just think about the words. You have to practice and practice and practice the same with any of the skill practice or change in behavior. The reason they say they want to become aware first is that they fear the challenge of acting. They know they’re acting against their environmental values right here right now. Changing their behavior will make them more aware of that. They want awareness is delaying that action which delays their awareness.
Listen to my podcast guests in their second episodes after they’ve acted on their environmental values. They all find new awareness. Action does it. For that matter, listen to the ends of the first episodes. Most of them find awareness just seriously planning what they’ve been putting off, just taking action seriously will raise your awareness, if you really plan to act. Now in fairness, my experience has shown me what happens when I start considering acting. When I first considered avoiding packaged food, not flying, picking up other people’s garbage, things like that, I didn’t know if I could make it. It made me feel helpless and guilty to know that I could do something but not do something. So let me be precise here. I already felt guilty for not living by my values. No one else was making me feel guilty. It was already there internally because of the conflict between my values and my actions. And maybe you don’t feel guilt or helplessness but something’s discouraging you from acting. There’s some internal conflict that’s keeping you from doing things that you want to do.
So I’ll talk about my guilt and helplessness but you have to translate it into your life for your situation. As long as I put off action, I could assuage my internal feelings of guilt and helplessness by busying my mind with planning, analysis and other busy work that gave me no results. Acting didn’t make me feel guilty. Acting made me aware and conscious of the guilt which was already there and that led me to think about other things, anything to occupy my mind except for those feelings of guilt. But acting also lead to change – mental and physical. Acting replaced those feelings of guilt and helplessness with feelings of accomplishment and forgiveness for people who created the systems that we live in that are creating these problems. They didn’t mean to create these problems. They couldn’t have known that we little humans could affect such a huge planet. Today we know we can’t. The science is clear. We did. I only feel guilty when not acting. When I act I feel great because I’m doing something. I didn’t cause the problems of the world that I was born into that happened before I was there. And that’s why I created this podcast to share the joy, the meaning, the value, the purpose, the passion, the saving money, the deliciousness that came from acting and that a middle step of awareness in a world drowning in awareness only delays.
Here’s a typical example, not on the podcast. A friend and colleague of mine, she goes on a walk every day and she’s long felt dismay on her daily walks because when she walks, she sees a lot of garbage on the path that she walks. When I talk to her about her environmental values, she thought of the idea of picking up garbage when she walked. Actually, she had had the idea long before but she didn’t act on it because doing it it made a lot of work to think of the bags and to bring gloves because she described herself as a germophobe and she didn’t want to touch things that were on the ground. But making it a SMART goal meaning Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-based, basically meant making it temporary, it turns out bringing a bag a few times isn’t so hard. She did it. And then on her second walk she forgot her gloves. And what did she do? She liked the experience from the first time so much that she just started picking stuff up with her hands. She overcame decades of phobia faster than all the awareness and planning could have achieved. That’s typical when you actively become aware you solve problems you couldn’t have solved before when you weren’t aware of them.
So if you’ve delayed action for some ******** claim that you need to raise your awareness, when you’re already plenty aware, when the whole world is plenty aware, act. Listen to the podcast, listen to people fighting things they’ve long known that they could do and acting on them, loving the results and doing more out of joy, out of discovery, out of growth. You can do it too. I’m sure there are things that you’ve thought of that you can do, there are values that you care about whether it’s plastic in the ocean or mercury in your fish. There’s things in the world that you want to change and you know that you could do something. If you do that thing, you’ll bring joy to your life. You may feel helplessness, you may feel futility, things that I felt, you may feel things like that at the beginning. That will change once you start acting. Bring joy to your life, not ignorance, not inability.
If that wasn’t enough insight on people who delay acting, here’s a passage from Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. And as I read it ask yourself which side of history do you want to be on. And this is the letter to the world, and otherwise it speaks for itself but you can look it up on Wikipedia. So here’s Martin Luther King:
“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I’ve almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the white citizen’s counselor or the Ku Klux Klan but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order than to justice”, who prefers a negative piece which is the absence of tension to positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, “I agree with you on the goal you seek but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.”, who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for “a more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose, they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social justice. I’d hoped that the white moderate will understand that the present tension in the south is a necessary phase of the transition from a noxious negative peace in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight to a substantive and positive peace and which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where we can be seen with and dealt with like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be open with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of Eryn life. Injustice must be exposed with all the attention its exposure creates to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
I believe it’s obvious how Martin Luther King said about the white liberal applies to people who want to delay acting on the environment. King also said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. While I agree with him, the analogy for the environment is far more literal and unassailable. Pollution anywhere is pollution everywhere. So bring some joy to your life, not ignorance. Act. Action will bring awareness. If you want awareness, nothing will bring it like action. And after you act, you’ll act more because you like it. Whatever is discouraging your action your equivalent of my guilt and helplessness, whatever those feelings are, they will fade and be replaced with joy, discovery, growth, meaning, purpose and all those things that I found and that I believe that I’m sharing with this podcast.
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