Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sneaking into the back

I got invited to a wedding this week, a wedding of minds and concerns for social justice. And as I always do with most social invitations, I wavered. Then Trillian had to go off to a funeral. And Scooter and I were struck by the plague. On top of that, I’ve been reading some of the posts leading up to this whole shindig and feeling more and more inadequate. So I was totally going to blow the whole thing off. But I’ve decided to sneak into the back with a shy little wave and at least sign the guestbook.

All of the festivities are occurring when I’m in the middle of a bit of an existential crisis vis a vis my place in the world and if I am doing enough to minimize the footprint I leave. Most of this revolves around environmental concerns, though Andrea does an excellent job of showing how these issues are co-implicated in issues of social justice.

I’m the kind of person who can be paralyzed in the face of decision. Since a very young age, I’ve understood the concept of consequences and been able to work out all of the possibilities. And lately, each action I take, every item that surrounds me is a vivid reminder that I am not living up to my own standards or principles. Even when I try to take a positive action in one direction, I am aware of the many ways in which it conflicts with another.

A small, but easily parsed, example for illustration.

The basic premise: Scooter and I took a trip to Ikea so that we could buy several plush toys. Ikea is donating $1 from the sale of each plush toy to UNICEF and Save the Children. We will then donate the toys to two holiday drives, one on campus and one in our building.

The ways in which this matches my principles: I want to teach Scooter that not everyone has as much as he does and that, since we are in a position to do so, we should help others. He’s a bit young to understand the concept yet, but I am trying to introduce it now, in terms he understands. He is looking forward to Christmas and presents, there are some kids who don’t always get presents, so we should get some for them. A bit simplistic, but a start.

The three major conflicts that leap to mind:

#1. The Environment. We drove to Ikea for the purpose of buying several stuffed animals. We did not group our errands. We didn’t even buy the additional items I had planned on getting (particularly the compact fluorescent light bulbs). While our car is a very low emissions car (though not a hybrid), those were not miles we necessarily needed to drive.

#2. Consumerism. We buy too much. I’m trying to become a much more thoughtful consumer so that I only buy well-made items that will last and that we will use regularly. I’m also trying to show my son that buying stuff is not always the solution. I also know that the more we buy, the more will be made, since companies respond to demand. By purchasing less, I move myself to the edge of that cycle. But in this case I stepped right back into the middle of it.

#3. Religion. We are atheists and try very hard to support only nonsectarian organizations and charities. This is not to say that all church-based or religiously-founded charities are bad. We are wary, however, about the possibility that they will push views with which we disagree. For example, the Salvation Army holds evangelical beliefs, including an opposition to “homosexual behavior” and same-sex marriage. And so that is one charity I simply cannot support. For the toy drives, however, I know that the umbrella organization that is handling at least one of them has some partners that are based in religious organizations. I have not done research into every one of them, but am aware that my giving may end up funneled through people with whom I disagree on some very important issues.

Obviously this is a work in progress. I’m trying to take baby steps and pick small concrete actions that will help me move back to living more closely in harmony with my core principles. I apologize for bringing my angst to such a joyous occasion. I’ll tuck it back in my pocket now and raise my glass to the many wonderful women here today.


Mad Hatter said...

Mouse, this is a SUPER post. It highlights so well the angst we all feel. I've spent the bulk of my life rationalizing everything; after a while doing so becomes an art form. I could easily write a post tomorrow about why I am a hypocrite and why this whole wedding schtick is bunk. I won't though b/c sometimes we just have to suck back the doubt and indecision and the million rationalizing voices in order to act. Like you, I am not religious but I like to think that acting for social justice takes a leap of "faith"; faith that the choices we make out-weight the doubts we might have.

I like the thought of you and Scooter getting gifts for those in need. This is a good act carried out with a good heart.

And I am thrilled that you chose to join us at the wedding. BTW, I was thinking of you when the Canadian gov't put to rest the gay marriage issue once and for all (she wrote with fingers crossed).

jen said...


what an amazing post. i, too, offer rationalizations for all the reasons I do not do more, or why this wasteful behavior or that wasteful behavior is somehow acceptable.

i am so happy you are coming tomorrow. thank you.

Andrea said...

I think we're all in the same boat--if only we could make the choices we feel are best!

I work in teh environmental field--and in order to get to that job, as long as Frances is in daycare, I have to drive. I hate it.

I choose to spend my free time researching things and writing about them, making homemade gifts and cards, etc.--which means I bring frozen lunches to work in disposable packaging. Would the world be better off if I made my lunches and brought them in reusable packaging? I don't know. It's all a big confusing mess.

No one is perfect. It's not possible to be perfect--the whole system is set up to encourage us to use more and spend more than we need to or even want to.

This is a great post.

Momish said...

This is a great post. I know it is hard to struggle between generosity and yet not comprosmising your own belief. I sometimes donate to something and then realize they conflict with other strong beliefs I have, yet kick myself for not taking the time to investigate. It's hard. You write about those mental battles very well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mouse,
Yours is one of my favorite posts, as I have been over-indulging (can't help it, with the open bar and all) on all the wedding gifts for jen and mad.

On 11/30, I deleted my blog because I've been feeling so inadequate in both my real life and on the blog, so that's probably why you grabbed me right away.

One thing I've learned in recent years, due to dealing with much harder things than I ever had to face in my very fortunate live so far, is that baby steps are still steps and I mustn't give up on something just because achieving it is not as easy as I think it should be, or it might once have been.

So glad to have met you.

Jenny said...

I love it. We're all a work in progress and without analyzing our actions we never see our flaws.

Her Bad Mother said...

You're so right - it's a complicated world, and doing our part in a complicated world is, well, complicated. But being reflective about the complications goes SO FAR toward making things simpler - if we all just paused and thought about the implications of everything we do, the path would start to seem clearer.

I think.

Mouse said...

Thank you so much, everyone. Your kind words, the simple fact that you can relate to what I'm saying--you've made me cry, but in the good way.

I think I needed this little bit of a crisis to be able to move forward, which is what I'm working on now.

Deezee said...

ah, I so relate to this post. Nice job!

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