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The (new) Scarlet Letter

April 04 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

Many institutions believe they have a corner on the guilt market. Truth is that it's simply another emotion and some institutions probe that emotion more than others. Some, whether it's an institution or an individual, are quick to apply a new scarlet letter to those less-green than themselves.

Lately, I've found the an increasing tone of guilt in people's dialog with me. I'm not the first person to recognize this; it's been in the news in a bunch of places. 1 2 3

Most of the coverage talks about "greenies" being overbearing with their views of other people's habits. An extreme version of this happened last year with perhaps the first "water rage death".

I don't, in any way, promote harassment. Yet ,I understand, see and feel the tension. If your child's teacher was telling them something you felt was wrong, would you talk to the teacher? If your neighbor was pouring toxic fluids into the storm drain, would you say anything?

What would it take for you to engage with another person?

I think this is part of the root of the issue. We not only have standards for ourselves but we also are increasingly
aware of other people's standards. I drive a Mini Cooper S. I tweaked it a bit to get almost 40 MPG on the highway, eighth-most fuel efficient car (and I'd argue the most fun on the list). Then along comes the Prius and all of the sudden the bar is raised on what is an acceptable MPG. Am I supposed to sell my perfectly good car, buy another car... just so I can feel more up-to-date, like I'm less of a drag on the environment?

The Yvon and Tom video from a few months back made me think. Yvon talked about how he doubted if any of his friends had changed out their light bulbs. I first snickered along with him and then I found myself mentally thinking through which lights we'd changed out. I didn't trash all my bulbs the day a new, more efficient bulb came out. If we all did that with every new, more-efficient product launch... we'd sure be driving the economy... but is that the best environmental action? Sounds like a new car every other year, constant updates of anything that takes power, etc... sounds like a ton of... waste. Sounds like more landfills.

Which brings me back to guilt.

We are talking about a new paradigm. This is insignificant to anyone under 10 years old since they are still forming habits and opinions. It requires significant change for those of us over 40, since we have a few decades of established habits and actions. Paradigm changes aren't usually easy, as they require... change. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the creation of the internet, 9/11... these were significant events. That is the scale of what we're talking about here.

We are talking about a global movement, arguably the largest movement ever to happen on this planet. We are talking about a large shift. We are talking about a planet-sized shift.

So. Sure, there will be reactions to ideas and messaging we feel are too radical, not rooted in "truth" or for whatever reason don't warrant us to make any alterations in our life. There will be an awareness stage where we understand things for the first time. And when that awareness reaches some kind of tipping point in our mind, we'll change.

There will be ignorance. There will be guilt. There will be pride. There will be smugness.

I suppose I'm fine with all this as... it should be expected. We should react to these shifts the same way we'd react to anything else in our lives. If a friend wins a competition and then brags endlessly about it... and you're really a friend of that person... you talk to them. Same thing here. If you have a friend and they are leading a lifestyle which is bad for them, for you and for everyone else... I think it's perfectly fine, even expected to bring it to their attention.

No, we're not all going to magically arrive at some Xanadu location of perfect negative carbon emissions. Every step of this is hard. It is an ongoing dialog; one that will (hopefully) change our collective understanding and enable us to alter our habits.

Nothing worthwhile is easy.

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