Be the change

You can’t change the world without changing the world; and this means changing yourself.

When over-consumption leads to the sorts of environmental and social problems we face in modern economies it is not enough for a few people to reduce their footprint and leave it at that. As I have written in this blog before, if you are hurtling towards a cliff just slowing down isn’t going to help in the long run. You need to change and go in another direction.

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Rumi

Everyone has to change. However, there are three types of attitudes which get in the way of meaningful change, namely, denial, apathy and passiveness.

Denial

Denial is simply denying these problems exist. Denial presents in a variety of ways. One is to deny there are any problems at all and that everything is just fine. Another is to deny that some problems exist whilst others don’t; this cherry picking seems even more irrational than the first. Another is to deny that one does not contribute to any possible problems there might be and therefore one is completely innocent. 

Denial is irresponsible at best but it is also likely to be cowardly, weak and selfish. 

Conspiracy theories can be another form of denial. One denies the obvious truth and puts the blame elsewhere. The real conspiracy is the one that runs most people’s lives. It is the produce-and-consume system that says consumption is the same thing as well-being, and that more and more consumption leads to more and more well-being. This couldn’t be any more wrong.

Apathy

Apathy is the attitude when one accepts there are problems but one doesn’t care. It is the disinterested attitude that the systemic problems of our modern economies don’t matter and things are what they are. Like denial, this is a selfish and irresponsible attitude with perhaps a touch of defeatism. In a psychological sense, apathy describes an absence of feeling or emotion; this indifference can leave you feeling detached from the world.

Passiveness

Passiveness is when you know there are problems, and you do care about it, and you want change, but you do very little or nothing yourself. This is the type of person who wants the world to change for the better, but doesn’t change themself. Passive people expect others to make the change for them. 

To be fair, the produce-and-consume lifestyle is a rat race that no sane person would choose for themself. People do it because it is inherent in our socio-economic system and is expected for the simple reason that everyone does it; conformism is compelled by the natural human need to fit in and be socially accepted. The produce-and-consume system pits people against each other in a race to the cliff.

There are those who think that there is not much they can do, so they don’t do much. They believe that a single person or household cannot change the world. This type of passiveness is an error in thinking. There is a lot you can do yourself, and by doing it you can be an example to others.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Buckminster Fuller

What is to be done?

We simply must stop equating well-being with consumption. They are not the same thing. Some consumption definitely aids well-being, but after that, more consumption is a waste. Over-production and over-consumption cause environmental harm and they can also detract from well-being in a myriad of ways. These problems are systemic, meaning they are inevitable. We can’t fix the system to get rid of these problems because they are ‘built in’. We need to build a better system that, in the words of Buckminster Fuller, will make the old one obsolete.

Be the change

The sorts of systemic problems that modern economies have are described as ‘wicked’ problems because there is no one, easy change. There will be many solutions, some will be easier and some will be harder.

I don’t know how to solve denial and apathy. I suspect that these attitudes are a way to cope in the face of an uncertain, perplexing and confronting world.

For passive people, the solution involves not waiting for others to change things. Instead heed the call made by Gandhi: be the change you want to see in the world. As I wrote at the beginning, meaningful change only happens when people change themselves.

If you choose to be the change, I believe the most potent thing that a person or family can do is to live simply, with as much self-sufficiency as possible. There is plenty of information on this website and elsewhere on how to make this transformation. 

Perhaps it could be the new normal where people aren’t driven by concealed, systemic and nefarious forces to produce and consume but are instead driven by the innate need to be active agents in life, true to themselves in harmony with others and with nature.