Saturday, March 10, 2012

Game Changers, Full Days, and Consumerism

This video has the potential to change how politics work in the world from now on, and put the power back into the hands of the people.  Please watch:


After one month in one place, I am just barely starting to feel settled. It does not help my temporary feelings that I am already intensely planning for the days and months after I leave North Carolina in the summer. Even in Minnesota, where I spent nearly 3 months, I never spent more than a few nights in a row in one place.  It does not feel normal.

In the past 2 weeks, I have taught classes in Aquatic Ecology, Animal Ecology, Forest Ecology and Cooperation skills. I have mulched several hundred square feet of a cooperative low-ropes course, installed new outdoor steps, fixed a bulletin board and organized laminated cards. I have evacuated from my wooden house to hide in the basement of the dining hall with all of my co-workers due to severe weather and tornado warnings. I ran up and down a small mountain, my first run since I left California. I have mountain biked and road biked and lifted weights and done pull-ups, push-ups, planks, yoga, cross-fit and hiking. I searched for giant salamanders called “hell benders” which exist nowhere else in the world.  I dressed in a ridiculous costume for a Whitney Houston remembrance party.  I laughed and played and watched movies and messed about with my wonderful new group of co-workers and friends. I have been eating well, sleeping well, and breathing lots of fresh, mountain air.

This weekend, a 3 day weekend for us here at Mountain Trail Outdoor School, we had planned to go caving on Saturday, hiking and bouldering on Sunday, and boating on Monday, but the caving didn't work out today, so I rode my bike for a while and helped a friend install new seats in his canoe. The pattern of activity here is very sporadic. One minute, there will be 10 people gathered outside my door, hooting and hollering and having a good time, and the next, they will have all dispersed back to their separate chambers, isolated for several hours at a stretch. Have I forgotten how to live a normal life? Or is there something unique about the way we live and operate here? Or perhaps, decidedly more dramatically, we have become disconnected from each other due to the electronic devices that all of us are definitely addicted to now.

When I get back to my room, the first thing I do is turn my phone on to check my messages. Now that I receive e-mails (from 2 accounts) on my phone, it makes noise at least 3 times as often as it used to, and I find myself cradling it and checking it all the time. I have to consciously decide not to bring it, or to turn it off for a set period of time, if I am to go more than a few hours without checking it. While this habit has enabled me to stay in much better contact with a growing number of good people, it also distracts me from the present in such a way that even I cannot see the ultimate impact. We humans have done such a good job of creating products to addict ourselves to. It is rather a startling phenomenon how many people are walking around with iPhones these days, wondering how they ever lived life without this little 3x5 inch piece of metal and glass crammed with circuitry much too complicated for most of us to understand how or why it works.

Money: Does everyone want more? In an industry that tries hard to value natural resources, environmental ethics, good food, exercise and cooperation more than materialism and money, it is still very difficult to see. My co-workers go shopping for new clothing on the weekends. It is 20 times easier for me to buy a new pair of snow boots on the internet than it is to try and find a used pair, or a pair of made of natural materials, made locally by people paid a living wage. How is it that after only a month of break from my idealistic journey, I am becoming jaded by the continuous patterns of consumerism and materialism that invade even the strongest supporters of a different way of life? I can't bring it up with my co-workers either, that buying new clothing at Old Navy (sweat shop central), or even REI (yes, its a co-op, but 99% of synthetics [which is mostly what they sell] are made from petroleum – and you already HAVE a down vest, do you really need another?) is still consumerism.

Do people need new clothes sometimes? Yes, their old ones wear out or...get boring. Are fashion and beauty and dressing well forms of freedom and creative expression? Yes! Then when does buying new clothes become consumerism? I don't know, and I have to contain myself in order not to be preachy or hypocritical.  It is a discussion that I would like to have, but I fear that simply by bringing it up, people will become defensive. Perhaps if I use my own consumption habits as an example, I can discuss my own thought processes and goals when it comes to purchasing, and not sound totally critical. But even in this crowd, or perhaps, especially in this crowd of fun-loving, experience-seeking, privileged outdoor enthusiast, environmentally friendly educators, people seem to avoid serious topics of conversation. I have been shut down a time or two by those who would rather avoid thinking about the worlds ills, and instead indulge in the goodness that is easy to bath in here in our isolated nature retreat.

My one thought on how to begin a conversation is that I must be more interested in listening than in telling. I must turn on my ears, and hear the concerns of my peers. Perhaps then, we will have a discussion which leads to real thinking and truth.

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