The Power of Commitment
last week i had the opportunity to make a commitment to a friend in a really meaningful way - to drop or reschedule a lot of other things in order to be there for him. and, honestly, although it meant that i fell behind in a few things (like this blog), i wouldn't have done it any differently. then i had the great pleasure of having my dad and stepmom, stepsister and her family, and my kids all together at my house for the very first time. it was an historical moment for our family, and i chose to reschedule some things in order to commit to being fully present with them since most of them had made the commitment to travel from great distances to be here for just a few days. i managed to keep my commitment to my meditation and yoga practices for the most part, but i have to admit i fell quite behind in my writing. "so what's up with all the 'commitment' lingo?" you might ask. well, because this month our Being Game is about BEing Committed. every time we commit to making something or someone a priority in our lives means that other relationships, events and circumstances will take their place "behind" that commitment. in other words, every "yes" in one place is a "no" elsewhere. we either make those choices consciously or not. for me, it was a conscious choice. i knew i could choose to commit to being present with the people in my life or keep my commitment to my blog and book, but i couldn't do both. so i chose the relationships first. i could have chosen to beat myself up about getting a bit behind with my writing, but i am very confident that i chose well, and, in the process, i even got to live my personal mission of loving everyone and helping them remember who they really are. in the process of realizing that there was no way i was going to be able to keep all of my commitments without having something fall through the cracks, i got to let go of my previous ones with joy and clarity. the great thing is, everyone with whom i had to reschedule was completely understanding, i know i'll catch up on my book in no time at all, and i got a great blog topic out of it.
recently, my cousin Heidi shared an issue of the wonderful Happy Animals of Oregon magazine that she and her sister, Elissa, have created, and for which she is the managing editor. i asked her if i could reprint her article, Our Bit of Earth, for our Get That You Matter blog because she wrote about her commitment to caring for our planet with such heart and clarity. Here it is for you to enjoy (sorry, there's no website yet… they're working on it, though, and we'll let you know when it's up and running).
OUR BIT OF EARTH by Heidi Alford
At the recent annual meeting of Friends of the Columbia Gorge— one of my favorite places in Oregon—I heard about a proposal by coal companies to transport tens of millions of tons of coal through the Columbia River Gorge for export to China. Some coal is transported now, but there would be 20—50 trains a day traveling through the gorge in the future. Just one train can lose 10,000 lbs of coal as it moves, coal which blows off into the river and on to nearby land and animals. Coal contamination is linked to an increase in asthma and lung cancer. There’s also the risk of train derailments.
The Columbia Gorge is a spectacular place, with over 77 waterfalls just on the Oregon side. There are more than 800 species of wildflowers and over 100 possible hikes with amazing vistas of Mt. St. Helens, Mt Hood, and the rest of the Cascade Mountains. To imagine that a place this magnificent might suffer the damaging effects of dirty energy was horrifying. A few days after the meeting I sat in my backyard astonished by the beauty of the lilacs, with Earth Day around the corner, and thought, What could be more important now than to live in a sustainable way?
When I was young, life was simpler in at least one way. Most people didn’t reflect much about where the objects they bought and enjoyed came from, or how they were discarded. Most didn’t think about how the energy that heated their home was produced, or about the chemicals they used in their house and yard. Now there’s more information, but it comes with a seemingly endless list of choices: organic versus local, old growth versus new, hybrid or cheaper used car, stick with oil or buy solar panels, use an herbicide or a trowel. Do we eat meat, dairy, eggs, or nothing from animals at all?
Trying to live sustainably starts with realizing that everything we buy and do for our comfort and pleasure affects the planet’s health, from how we create our objects and return them to the earth when they’re old to how we travel and set our thermostat. All of it. Michael Pollan, in his new book Cooked says it well: “What is the environmental crisis if not a crisis in the way we live? The Big Problem is the sum total of countless everyday choices most of them made by us… and the rest of them made by others in the name of our needs and desires.”
As I go through a day I make many small choices that affect the environment. Yesterday, my first choice was around showering. I respect the strong character of those who can take a short shower, as I find it just about impossible. Then I had to decide if I should turn up the thermostat or not. I put on a small fleece, and then a second, larger one. I still felt cold, and so, as I draw the line at wearing two fleeces, the heat went up. I needed to do an errand unexpectedly, and as we’ve chosen not to have a car, I hopped on my bike. It started to rain and I felt very grumpy for the whole ride there, wishing for a car. The way home was more pleasant, and I made peace once again with my mostly carless life. For lunch I decided to make myself a cheese sandwich— I’m not ready to go vegan. At home later, I discover we were low on toilet paper, so off to the grocery store I went, and had to make another small decision. One brand was softer; the other paper 100% recycled. My solution that day was to buy both. At home, although I like the idea of giving things a second life, I felt too lazy to wash the greasy plastic containers of hummus. Asking the god of green to look the other way, I threw them in the garbage. That afternoon, sorting through the mail, I found the energy report from PG&E with a graph that compares our energy use to similar homes in the neighborhood. Our electricity was low, but the line on the graph for our gas use was higher than my greenest neighbors. What?! Was it my refusal to put on the third fleece?
It’s sometimes hard to make good choices because you have incomplete information. This is what my statistician husband would call missing data. For instance, in many grocery stores there is no information on meat products that informs you about whether the animal was raised or killed in a humane way. Nor is there anything to alert you to the pollution caused by factory farms. Even when there is a label, like “cage free” on an egg carton, it can be completely misleading.
The environmental problems on earth now can feel overwhelming; the plight of the polar bears alone will break your heart. I try to make good choices and hope it makes a small difference. It’s wonderful, though, to know I am not alone. There’s a large and growing community of bee and hen keepers, solar energy startups, computer recyclers, green cleaners and landscapers, bikers and Prius owners. Scientists also continue to do their best to educate us about global warming. All of this contributes to a rethinking of how we live on our lovely planet. And that sustains me, and helps me fight for beautiful places like the Columbia Gorge.1
Heidi is a wonderful example of someone who is committed to thinking critically and making choices to care for our planet. ultimately, these are the kinds of commitments we must all make or suffer the consequences. so, i have a few questions for you: what do you choose when you commit to something? what do you let go of? do you choose consciously or by default? how do you prioritize what you commit to? what commitments have you made to ensure a just, sustainable and thriving planet for all beings? and what could you commit to today - right now, even? are you willing to make some potentially uncomfortable choices in support of the greater good? would you be willing to consider…
saving resources and reducing waste by not buying packaged foods, but rather whole, fresh fruits and vegetables and bulk items like oils, peanut butter and tea, coffee and spices at local stores like Outer Aisle and Rainbow Grocery?
closing your bank account at one of the megabanks like Bank of America (if you have one there) and transferring your funds to a local Credit Union, community or sustainable bank such as New Resource Bank?
buying holiday and other gifts locally at independent, family-owned enterprises, thrift stores, fairtrade cooperatives such as Global Exchange, or making them, or simply spending time together instead of buying them at malls or chain stores?
taking some time to support someone in your community by taking them where they need to go, buying supplies for them, or just spending time with them?
maybe you have a dream that's been gathering dust for weeks, months or years because you've been afraid to commit to making it a reality, whatever that means to you. it's not always easy to keep our commitments to ourselves and our dreams. it takes courage to say "yes" or "no." it takes willingness to wake up to what's happening around us. and it takes trust in the process of that journey. it's not just something that happens by chance - we must develop our capacity to make and keep our commitments, especially when we know, deep in our hearts, that they are true for us. did you know that John Perkins was turned down by 29 publishers before he got a "yes" for his international best-seller, Confessions of an Economic Hitman? talk about commitment… i bet those other publishers are kicking themselves now. as John said in an interview for the Monthly Review, "This is perhaps the most important revolution in human history. We are at a time that is comparable to or more important than the agricultural revolution or industrial revolution or technological revolution. This is a revolution in global consciousness, not merely a change that is necessary for the economic system. People everywhere, as well as nature, are facing the same crisis. We are beginning to see how we relate to everything else and what an important role we humans play in protecting this planet. So it is about waking up. We are all waking up to the incredible potential that human beings have."2
and, as our wonderful media director and founder of Deconstruction Crafts, Cheyenne Barr, wrote to me a few weeks ago when i expressed a concern that i may be getting too "political" with my blog:
I think we need to get political. We have our beliefs, our passions, and they're not all going to agree with everyone…. I think that it pays for us to really go deep… not to try to polish it so much that we're not saying what we really want to, or using GTYM as a platform for social, and planetary change. I never want GTYM to be white-washed…. Making ourselves taller than the pack, and standing out with these sorts of important issues is in our best interest. For our mission, it's necessary for us to stand up and know that WE matter, that our passions matter, that what we live for, that fills our lungs matters. Also, us taking a stance on political issues I believe is perfect, because we can have our beliefs and perspectives, and also see nothing wrong, nothing broken, no one with other beliefs being wrong, broken, or asleep. We aren't saying that anyone is wrong. That's the revolution. How do we CHANGE the world while keeping in how GREAT it already is? This is my mission, to walk this line, and be totally standing in my own power and trust in myself as I do.
i ask you, what would be possible if you committed to something bold, something bigger than you, something meant to contribute to the world in a positive way, like Occupy Love? and what could you do today to begin to make that commitment? questions like these can be important in helping us stay committed to our life's mission and making choices from the place of getting that we matter. so i urge you to take on BEing Committed with us this month and watch what happens.
1. Heidi Alford, "Our Bit of Earth," Happy Animals of Oregon, issue #11.
2. Interview with John Perkins, Monthly Review, March, 2013; http://monthlyreview.org/2013/03/01/rise-of-the-global-corporatocracy-an-interview-with-john-perkins