This essay originally appeared in The BeZine’s September issue, for which I was Contributing Editor.
“Environmental Justice” is a rather fancy framework – two words with seven total syllables to convey a concept. Let me give you a simpler structure – one question to ask yourself as often as possible. How will I behave here? Five important words make up this question, and each one can continue to yield insight the more time you spend with it.
Let’s start with the subject – ‘I’. Bringing awareness to how you think of yourself is a huge step in understanding – not just for environmental justice, but for Life in general. Know thyself. What are you biologically? How do you fit in the ecosystem or the food chain? Do you have a beginning or an ending? What does it take for you to survive the middle? Who are you psychologically? What has influenced that and what makes that change?
The direct object in the sentence is ‘here’. What is the Here that you relate to ? I suggested in the writing prompt “Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice?” that our contributing authors may look at the environment from a perspective of Nature, Place or Community. As you ask yourself this question on a daily or more frequent basis, Here will be increasingly specific.
Now the verb: ‘behave’. It’s the act of acting; perhaps it’s all verbs in one. What we do matters. In my work as a volunteer at a Nature Center, I learned a short maxim for Environmental Education. It was made up of 4 words beginning with ‘A’: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. Action is the outcome of our character. A lot goes into making us who we are, but it’s who we are that will most influence what we do. There are those who hope to influence action from the top down and employ legislation, incentives and consequences. There are those who hope to influence action from the bottom up and employ education, compassion and liberty. Behavior is often the event that gets a conversation started, the outward and visible sign of internal forces. We see video clips in the news and wonder, “Why THAT behavior?” (the Oregon rock tippers, graffiti in National Parks, buffalo calf rescuers, photographers disturbing marine life, etc.)
The word ‘will’ in the question can be both a verb tense and a noun and makes a great pondering point. What is your Will? What do you desire, hope for, intend, long for, want, choose and champion? You get to bring all your personal energy into this question. You will behave in some way. You will act or refrain from acting one way or another, and this will make a difference.
Finally, we’re left with the very first word: HOW? This is where we’re invited to expand our imaginations and reach toward infinity. This is where creative people can lead and model and catapult the status quo toward a more distant target. It is also where we can entrench ourselves in habits, in conservative approaches that allow for little or incremental change, in comfortable measures of disturbance offset by self-congratulation. This HOW will be the expression of our will and our identity.
So, think and ask: How will I behave here? That is how you will engage in Environmental Justice.
And you will engage, whatever you do.
Ponderosa pines smell like vanilla! (photo credit: Steve Wiencek)
Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. (unless otherwise noted) All rights reserved.
This article appears in the July issue of The Be Zine. To see the whole blogazine, click HERE.
“Firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Merriam-Webster
We all act on faith. Each of us, every day. We make decisions based on ideas and concepts for which we have no proof. We take action based on insufficient evidence about the cause and the effect. This is unavoidable. When are we ever going to have all the information about anything? The more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. The more we experience and the more we learn of others’ experiences, the more we realize that possible experiences and conclusions are infinite. None of us is ever in possession of “all the facts”. We are all guessing.
Similarly, we all have delusions. We all look through various lenses, have particular blind spots, and wear custom-made blinders for one reason or another. Sometimes these serve as coping mechanisms to protect us from overwhelming stimuli. Sometimes these simply magnify our ignorance.
Let’s try on an example.
I have to make a decision about how to commute to work in the morning. I have been told that taking the freeway is the fastest route. After all, the speed limit on that road is 55 mph. However, it’s always under construction in the summer. But is speed the best value to consider? Maybe I should not burn fossil fuels and ride my bicycle instead. I will then arrive at work sweaty and tired. There is a bus, but buses are full of germs. But my friend takes the bus, and I could ride with him and chat…And so on.
The point is, there are a number of ways to get to work and a number of reasons to justify each one. Those reasons may be weighted by experience, by social influence, by practice, by value and by preference. We each make our choices, our decisions, based on incomplete data and bias, but the point is WE MAKE CHOICES. And that is our great freedom, a right of autonomy.
We have the opportunity to make new choices at any time, although they will also be based on incomplete data and bias even when they are made in an attempt to incorporate new information. The dynamic of deciding and re-deciding is perhaps the greatest activity of life for our species. It’s what our big brains are for. But it is a process that does not have a product. We will never get it all figured out. Dogma is unsupportable in the long run, even if it seems beneficial in the short term. We will never, ever arrive at what is absolutely “right”. Perhaps a better pursuit is simply what is “better”.
Where faith turns into action or behavior, we make moral judgments. Based on your beliefs in the moment, you chose what to do. Was that action beneficial? Did it cause harm? If you decide the action was harmful or that acting in that way did not help you to be the person you want to be, you can choose a different action…AND you can choose to change the beliefs that justified your action. A flexible framework allows a lot more options.
Back to our commute example. What if…
Believing that getting to work quickly was the most professional, responsible thing to do, I set off on the freeway. Soon afterward, I ran into road construction. Flag operators stopped my car. The minutes ticked by. I got frustrated, angry, eventually enraged, and I expressed this state of mind by shouting a curse at the flag man and punching the accelerator as I was allowed to move forward. In the process, I rear-ended a car in front of me. Now I have caused insult to the construction worker on the scene, injury to the car and possibly the person ahead of me, and acted like a person I do not wish to become. I can decide to be more careful not to act in anger in the future, and I can decide that getting to work quickly is not an important value so that I’m less likely to feel frustrated when I can’t fulfill that value. I can examine my beliefs and thoughts as well as my actions and make changes in both in order to practice non-harmful behavior more effectively.
This is a simple example. My real life is much more complex. At one point, it involved decisions I made about raising teens to adulthood while my husband was dying of a chronic illness. I realized that acting on my faith sometimes caused me to harm them and to become someone I didn’t want to be. So, not only did I stop the behaviors, I stopped believing the underlying principles that motivated them. I kept wondering if I was “losing my faith”, a phrase that sounded so negative and irresponsible. What I was actually doing was evolving my faith and my self. That, I think, is a very positive and responsible practice. I intend to practice striving for “better” and doing less harm. That’s my new choice, my new faith.
Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.