I had a long discussion the other day with someone at work about how to best create change in this world. For her, the most important thing is to change policy, and focus on changing the minds of politicians. It was an interesting discussion.
Do you believe that your individual changes at home make a difference? Let me try to convince you that they do matter, that they do make a difference, and in fact without the little changes, I don’t believe we can make bigger policy changes…
Go Back In Time A Moment
Think back to a time before you brought your own bags to the grocery store (less than two years ago for me), or didn’t wonder whether that banana or apple was local or organic or even seasonal, or didn’t think twice about getting in the car and driving here or there. Maybe you’re still working on those things, or maybe it hasn’t been that long since then, or maybe it has been years – but just think about that time before you knew.
Before you knew that there was a finite amount of oil in the world, or that the emissions in your car were making a big impact on the planet. Before you knew that there were all sorts of pesticides deep within the fruit you were giving your children as a snack. Before you knew you didn’t have to pay $5 for shampoo or kitchen cleaners….
I think about myself in high school, with my bleach blond permed hair, my pink lipstick and blue eye shadow, driving my VW Rabbit a bit too fast because it was the symbol of my freedom… you get the picture.
Ok, picture that former self and get back into that mindset…. what would you have said if you had been told by a politician you couldn’t drive your car anymore – it was time to take the bus? Or that your lawn can’t be watered today, because you’re wasting water? Or that you’re going to be charged for a flimsy plastic bag when you go to the store? Or that this year the bulk of the national budget is going to help China figure out how to not make the same environmental (or social) mistakes we have made? Can you imagine? You would have been pissed.
Because you hadn’t yet recalibrated your thinking, you hadn’t redefined normal in your own mind. Those things didn’t matter to you then the way they do now.
Politics Are Normal
A politician cannot legislate a redefinition of normal. The norms have to happen in society first, or that politician is going to be out of office next time around. Politicians are keenly aware of what society defines as normal, and they don’t stray very far from it.
It’s up to us, regular people, to redefine normal in society. Ten years ago nobody had heard of the term climate change. Now it’s standard, normal, an everyday term and concept. No politician legislated this.
Back in high school I had no idea my driving my car would have an impact on the environment. But had a politician told me, I would probably have rebelled. I needed to learn it for myself. I needed to change my own mind. And after I changed my own mind, I needed to change my own lifestyle. Had a politician changed my lifestyle, I would have resented him.
Politicians Are Normal
That brings me to another point: the politician would never have done that anyway! Legislators care what their constituents think, if for not other reason than to get re-elected. But more importantly, unless the politician fundamentally believes in something, he or she is not going to stick their neck out for it. That means that politician has to redefine normal in his or her own life FIRST. And that comes down to that person being human, just like the rest of us.
That’s what made us all change, isn’t it? Our human-ness, our humanity, our need to feel good and be happy and understand our positive place in the world.
Sustainability begins at home for a politician just the same way it does for all of us. Because we’re all human.
We Define Normal
And that is why what we are doing is important. As we each redefine normal in our own lives, the whole tide of society is beginning to change. How many more people do you know who are talking about a garden this year than 5 years ago? How many more people do you know who are talking about local food, or being a part of their community, or saving more money this year, than even two years ago? We’re changing the world, you and I.
We are changing the world, one piece of normal at a time. Because changing a piece of normal eventually leads to changing one life at a time, and then one group of friends at a time, and then one community at a time, and, eventually, one world at a time.
It’s up to us. Sustainability begins at home…. and then it spreads outward. We are making a difference, here and now.