Ideals are tricky.
We need them, to provide us with motivation, a utopian vision to our most passionate pursuits. Yet by definition, ideals are simply unachievable, producing the all-too-familiar ‘why bother’ attitude. Hmm.
I find it helpful to deconstruct that very word, ideal. I-deal. A deal with myself. Standards and outcomes to which I hold myself responsible, knowing my life and my capabilities in a way that no one else but me knows. Right? Ok, so accordingly, the way I live will vary infinitely compared to those in the wider world.
It won't come as a surprise that this sets the foundation for my environmental approach, and indeed the approach of this blog and podcast - we all need to change, but we all live different lives. As such, honesty underpins the success of this approach, honesty with yourself about what you can do in your existence. Negotiating your own unique I-deals from both sides. Yeah?
Here's a recent example. I received a pretty scathing message on instagram from someone who claimed to be “no keyboard warrior”, yet confidently reprimanded me for smoking a cigar with a filter containing single use plastic. (I know, shock horror, the internet isn't always rosy.)
And do you believe it, to begin with I felt bad! For a microsecond, I felt guilty, caught red-handed not practicing what I preach. But then I thought hold on Rols, fuck that! On a family holiday, puffing a stogie someone gives me falls well within my environmental I-deal. Being told off for it by this chick (who I've never even met) is case in point why most environmental discussions are so tricky to have, and produce more vitriol than progress. There is no bigger impediment to progress than judgement.
You see, my approach is very basic: incumbency lies with every one of us to do what we can to reduce the impact of our own lives. Every day green, for every day people, just like me. Because I'm not an expert! I don't consider myself an activist, or even a hippie, or any other character in the game. I'm just a normal bloke, conscious of the footprint I leave and trying to make it smaller, crafting my environmental I-deal as such.
I'm not qualified to dispense advice beyond interpretation of my own life and the situation around me. I don't proclaim entitlement to the last word, and I try not to judge other people for the things they do with their lives. I don't know their circumstances, I have no idea what the fine print of their I-deal is. Instead, I prefer to focus on my own, and how I can strike a balance between reducing my impact whilst still enjoying my life.
Make no mistake, I’m all for an agenda of sustainability, but having environment-based anxiety every waking second of the day is exhausting, and a recipe for horrendous mental health. In my experience, knowing what my tolerance is for said anxiety is critical for my ongoing wellbeing. Ignoring it is more likely to cause an outcome of harm rather than contribute a meaningful solution towards personal or planetary health. Yep, my I-deal includes a self-preservation clause as a pivotal component; I won't be much good to the world if I cut my life short with stress.
So yeah, after first feeling shame from this unwarranted callout (well done, keyboard warrior), I then thought to myself - fuck that!
Feeling ashamed for our most minor indiscretions is tiring and demotivating, because if you live in a modern culture and want to continue enjoying your life… well there is simply no such thing as an impact-free existence.
I mean do you drive 5kms to and from work every day? Well maybe feel some shame for that. But did you drive the 20kms to work today because it was raining, and you were late because you were protecting your veggie garden, but ordinarily you'd have cycled? Well that's pretty bloody excusable in my book!
Passing judgement on well-intentioned people is an appalling waste of time, and the procession through life is much happier with the assumption that everyone is well-intentioned. Which isn't even far from the truth; at the end of the day, whether they vocalise it or repress it, everyone is conscious of the climate crisis and their contribution towards it. And no one feels good about it! Making people feel worse is senseless when the alternative is to simply encourage change and celebrate progress.
This anonymous e-hero attempting to tell me off for puffing on a lit cigar handed to me (by my recently engaged brother thanks-very-much) neglected the fact that allowing a puristic ideal to interrupt an experience and compromise the enjoyment of life is completely missing the point.
So cheers to you lady, thanks for helping me to articulate it!
I-deals aren't about anyone but you, and being honest with yourself is the only thing that counts.