Mahatma Gandhi embraced the truth that you must be the change you want to see in the world. As a result, the Indian activist used nonviolent civil disobedience to lead his country to freedom and inspire civil rights movements around the world.
This principle of being the change you want to see has been rolling around in my head lately as I have watched political strife wreak havoc with the social fiber of our country, as I've witnessed incredible angst and cruelty on social media and as I have mused on the increasing environmental stress we are creating for ourselves and our world.
I must admit that I have, on occasion, fallen victim to the 24-hour news cycle. I have spent more time than I care to admit parsing every word, checking to see how this or that issue is evolving and how it may impact our lives. Wherever you are on the political spectrum this behavior can be maddening and absolutely exhausting and does little more than lead you down a rabbit hole of anger and frustration. Lately, I've made a deliberate effort to turn off politics. I've come to realize that whatever impact this or that policy may have on us, it will pale in comparison to the benefit of me investing that same time and energy in our lives, in my and Julia's relationship and in our little soap company.
Photo Credit: Mitul Shah
Earth Day always acts as a reminder that every step I take leaves an imprint on the Earth. This was brought into clear focus as I recently read headlines declaring that the great Pacific Garbage Patch was now twice the size of Texas (I've driven across Texas...it is big!). While we always recycle in our home and business (we even bring home recyclables when we go on vacation) and make an effort to use recycled and recyclable materials in our product packaging and our shipping materials; this kind of news is admittedly disheartening. While this was weighing on me a friend posted about Toby McCartney, an engineer who has developed a method for using recycled plastic to build roads. While this is a fledgling technology it is getting a lot of attention and has the ability to help solve our plastic waste problem (as a not-so-fun fact: only 9% of plastics in the US get recycled...yikes! ) It's amazing to see what solutions are just waiting to be discovered by creative and hardworking minds.
After taking a lengthy hiatus, I have recently waded back into the social media universe. It's been nice to catch up with friends and acquaintances but it's also been disappointing to see some of the dialogue that has gone back and forth. Rather than creating a meaningful conversation that leads to an understanding, I've witnessed several friends and acquaintances reduce those outside their own bubble to crude characterizations. All of this for the purpose of mocking "the other" and further insulating themselves from those they fear or loathe.
While I've been processing this and trying to inject some positive energy into the landscape I've also found a great source of encouragement. I recently started using a new app, InsightTimer, for my daily meditation. This app has a unique social element that allows you to see when other people are meditating and send them short messages of encouragement. This morning I meditated along with thousands of people of different faiths, nationalities, and races from around the world. At the end of my session, messages from fellow meditators in my local community and from as far away as Australia, China and Portugal were waiting for me, thanking me for meditating with them. As I reflected on this I noted that each of these people is working to make themselves and the world around them a little bit better.
We are such a wonderfully diverse society and we each have something to contribute to the environmental and social issues that surround us. We may not all be a Gandhi or even a Toby McCartney and that's ok. We may just be the person who puts a recycling container in their break room at work or invites a new co-worker out for lunch to make them feel more welcome or who responds to aggressive language or behavior with empathy and compassion. These little efforts will ripple out into the world and importantly, they will return to you as a much larger swell.
No one person can change the entire world, but we can all change ourselves. In doing this we take our first step in creating a world we want to live in.