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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Every Little Decision Makes A Difference

Pumpkin Pile, originally uploaded by Mexicanwave.

The Big Things…

This week I’ve spent a good deal of time working on several different projects in my community.  Sustainable Capitol Hill has an initiative to reduce waste in our community – not just with recycling and composting, but also gardening, seasonal cooking classes, mending and fixing demonstrations, connecting multi-unit residents to establish lending libraries in their buildings, showing people how to weatherize, and many more ideas.  

I’m on a committee that is writing a large grant for a pilot project, to reduce the waste considerably in one large neighborhood building.  We’ll measure our successes and failures, and then share with the world our findings, in a booklet and video (made by yours truly, yes!).  In this way it can easily be replicated in our community, and in other cities as well.

I’m also working with another small committee to create a new Sustainable Capitol Hill website, which you all have graciously helped with already!  We’ll be launching it in mid-November.

I’m helping organize a Green Career Fair in February.  More details to come!  And a Green Singles Event early next year.  

Oh yeah, and I’m working with a team of great local people with intimidating backgrounds in a wide variety of sustainability issues.  We’re forming a business focussed on large-scale sustainability consulting, called Re-Vision Lab.

You can get a tiny snippet of what Re-Vision is up to at the beginning of this radio interview.  Van Jones was interviewed on Wednesday, and Gabriel Scheer – who runs Seattle Green Drinks and who brought all these great people together to form Re-Vision – was asked to open for Van Jones.  So, he talked a bit about our projects in the interview!  How cool is that?  Gabriel found out later that Van Jones was listening to the whole thing.  Exciting!!


October.  Originally uploaded by by Dragan* on Flickr.

The Little Things…

Ok, enough tooting my own horn here.  This is what I’ve been up to this week, along with being glued to the election and economic news.  But… with all this going on in my life, I wanted to share with you something small and nice.  One of those everyday things that really struck me.

After a meeting on Wednesday evening, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things.  Normally we buy food at the co-op, or the market, or via our local food delivery.  But occasionally we stop by our Kroger-owned QFC to get some odds and ends (and our favorite local coffee, which for some reason we can only find there!)

So I picked up my few items and went toward the cashier stands.  There was a line of several people, waiting to use the automatic check-out stands.  Totally computerized, at these machines you are told what to do by an obnoxious female computer.  

Then, I looked to my left.  There were three human checkers, standing, waiting, with no customers.  Two were talking to one another, biding their time.  And the third one, a middle-aged man, locked eyes with me and beckoned me over.  When he saw me make my way toward him, he smiled, relieved.

“How are you?  How was your day?”  he asked, before I even reached the checkout counter.  

“Not bad, a little hectic,” I replied.

“Ah, I see it’s one of those wine kind of nights.  Good choice!”  He said, as he nodded to my bottle of local, organic wine.

And we proceeded to chat about local wines and the beautiful night, as he seamlessly scanned my items, I paid with my debit card, and he bagged my groceries in my little Baggalini bag.

As he handed me my receipt, he looked at me with gratification and kindness, and said, “Have a truly wonderful night.”  He honestly meant it.

I replied with a smile, “Thank you.  You have a wonderful night as well.”  And I honestly meant it, too.

As I walked away, I was happier than when I’d gone into the store.  Somehow I had more energy for the 1 mile walk home.  And on my walk, I realized something:  

While those several people waited to be helped by a rigid computerized voice, told to scan their item, then place it in the bag and scan the next item…. I smiled and chatted with my checker, I learned something about local wine, and – I supported a local job.  I supported a human being who needs to feed his family during this difficult economic crisis.  I supported someone who really seems to love his job, who wants to do it well, and who is a good person.

And that action is as important as all the big actions I’m making in my life.  Every little decision makes a difference.

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12 comments to Every Little Decision Makes A Difference

  • You are so right. The little things make the difference. What is it that human checkers stand by idly while shoppers use a computer AND wait to do so?!

  • So very exciting, Melinda. I am so happy for you. I love the story of you and the cashier exchanging words and more. You know, even from a really cynical POV, you helped a worker get through a few more minutes of a soul crushing job to make it seem better. (This isn’t the case it seems with the character you described, exuding well being it seems). I am getting at the number of people around us every day who are spending the best hours of their day, every day simply trying to earn the dollars to pay the debts, to pay the bills, to keep it all afloat. Exchanges like yours which acknowledge a fellow human traveler is what is going to be the glue to put us back together.

    We’ll transform our world a conversation, a blog post, a comment, a garden, a vote, a speaker and a million more acts of love / trust at a time.

  • >Every Little Decision Makes A Difference

    Yes, it does. And the gift of caring spreads …

  • Oh, that’s nice. It is really important that we support local jobs. But you forgot to add that you felt better for having made a connection with someone. Something those folks waiting to be ordered when to scan and when to bag by a computer missed out on. Bet they didn’t leave feeling anywhere near as good as you.

    Keep up the good work.

  • We have obviously been out of touch too long… we had NO IDEA you were up to so much! You’re making US feel lazy! LOL

  • Hooray for human interactions! That’s the way I feel about riding the bus too.

    Sounds like you’re up to lots of good stuff.

  • I so dislike those computerized checkout lines. I really enjoy chatting with a person and getting a feel for my community. I’d be 100% happy if they abolished the machines. They never seem to work right, anyway!

  • This was a great post.
    You probably made his day.

  • Yes, it’s so much better for everyone if you can have contact with a real person when you’re shopping! This is why we buy almost everything we need in the little local village shop round the corner, where we get recipe advice as well – something you don’t get in a supermarket!
    Good luck with all your many projects!

  • Rob

    I hate those computerised check outs- and I don’t use them if I can help it. Being a union guy, I swear every time a store puts those things in. I would rather use a real person, preferably a union checker who is more informed than the computer. My two cents worth!

  • Tina, Thanks for your comment! Bizarre isn’t it?

    Katecontinued, Lovely thoughts. We will do it. We will put more good in the world, more positive interactions, more support more love and more trust!

    Risa B, Indeed.

    GB, Yes, it made my evening so much better. You’re right.

    Shibaguyz, LOL, yep – I do have a lot on my plate. That wasn’t even all of it. ; )

    Deb G, Interesting – riding the bus is sort of like that for me, too. Especially when I get up the nerve to say something nice to someone on the bus!

    Jen, I’m just amazed that people think they are faster and better somehow.

    Heather, Thanks! It’s a nice thought – I hope I made it better.

    Teleri, Mmmm, yes – that’s one of the reasons why we have been really trying to focus on supporting our truly local and sustainable businesses. Those extra interactions and support are so important and worthwhile! Thanks for the good luck wishes!

    Rob, I know, they’re a replacement for a real person – and a real person’s job. My afterthought was that I hope the manager doesn’t see the line at the machines and decide he/she needs to buy more machines, and fire one or two of his/her people.

  • Hi Melinda,

    It was great to spend some time this morning catching up on your posts! Just to chime in, from the other side of stories like these:
    I work at Trader Joe’s, where my daily activities consist of unloading pallets from a truck, unpacking the boxes they contain, merchandising sections from produce to fresh flowers to soup to nuts, laughing with my co-workers, laughing with customers, answering questions, and even ringing up and bagging groceries. It’s a fulfilling job, because the people who work and shop at my store are happy to be there. (Please don’t assume that being a cashier is miserable– for me, looking at a computer in a cubicle all day was torture!)

    If you and your readers enjoy the element of human contact in your shopping experience, please tell the store management. I feel confident that Trader Joe’s will never replace knowledgeable, friendly crew members with computers because our presence drives sales. TJ’s is a for-profit, private business, and they offer competitive wages and benefits to attract desirable employees. I have to think that other retailers would do the same if their customers demanded it. Let them know what you want– breathing cashiers, local produce, you name it!

    Thanks! Enjoy your day and VOTE!

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