Written by Serena Doose
“It’s about paying attention to relationships, to causes and effects, and it is about being responsible for what one knows.” –Wendell Berry
Conventional sayings tell us that it was curiosity that killed the cat and that blissful ignorance is the key to staying afloat in an increasingly complex and messy society. Socrates once said that the unexamined life was not worth living. Who are we to believe? If we choose to follow Socrates’ advice, we must deeply examine every facet of our lives, our relationships with others, and even our very existence. On the other hand, if we are to wholeheartedly subscribe to the idea that ignorance is truly bliss, we should question nothing and thus save ourselves much heartache and grief. How do we choose to live our lives?
We spend much of our time in a constant flurry of activity, climbing ever higher on the corporate ladder, reaching ever farther into the quicksand of ambition and ego. However, do we ever stop to think about the causes and effects of our actions? Rushing to class, to work, to an appointment –what are we really doing and what are the impacts of our activities on our health, the environment, and on other people? If we take a moment to question, to examine, how we live our lives, we will quickly see that each individual now lives within a closed system composed of one factor: ourselves. Although there are billions of people on the planet, each of us live in an increasingly shrinking sphere which effectively isolates us from the source of whatever enters that sphere and the destination of what goes outside of that sphere. If it’s not currently within someone’s individual space, it neither matters where it comes from nor where it goes.
Waste not, want not. 7:00 AM: We pull the ubiquitous coffee cup into our personal bubble. Where does it come from? Starbucks, Einstein Bros Bagels, Dunkin’ Donuts –that’s as far as our perception goes. But really. Where does it come from? Coffee bean growers in eastern Africa, paid low wages just so that they can grow a product mindlessly and wildly consumed by those half a world away with white collar jobs and little time to think about the farmer at the beginning of the chain. The cup was manufactured, the plastic lid molded to fit just right, and the cardboard sleeve glued together in order to protect the consumer’s delicate, litigious hands. Into the bubble it goes, coffee is consumed, out of the bubble it goes, right into the trash can.
So then, what happens? The recyclable lid, the compostable cardboard sleeve, and the disposable cup are thrown, as a unit, into the trash can, to join the company of other items not deemed worthy enough to remain within the bubble. Together, these waste items will take a journey that inevitably ends at the landfill, where they will be buried in an enormous grave whose only headstone is a warning to others to not dig too deeply, for fear that what they find might hurt them.
Inputs and outputs, causes and effects. Responsibility for our actions is a burden that we all must bear, though we should take caution, for the weight of this accountability might cause our carefully constructed bubbles to shatter into hundreds of tiny, translucent shards.