Whenever I start talking about environmental sustainability I have found that many people immediately hit the immensity of the problem with their smallness. We hate feeling small and ineffectual. When we feel we can’t make a difference we tend to avoid the issue. We turn back to our moderate lifestyles and try not to be part of the problem. We might not actively be part of the solution but we try to minimize our role in creating more problems. At least for a time, eventually old habits slip back in. Unfortunately, once we know something we can’t un-know it. We can try to forget it, stuff our new knowledge back into the furthest darkest corners of our consciousness, drowned it in consumer based habits, or turn to other indulgences. It seems that people hate rocking boats and that they resist any change that may upset their comfy cozy existence. This may be true on some obvious superficial level but underneath I choose to hopefully believe that people are boggled over the immensity of their problems and a pervasive societal based low self-esteem prevents them from believing that they can do anything worthwhile anyway so why bother. We need to ‘bother’ because tiny drops create giant ripples!
I live in a beautiful little town in south-eastern Ontario. Our town is divided by a notable water canal system and there is a pretty bridge with iron railings, ornate lamp posts, we have a ban on pesticide and herbicide use, tons of green space and trees, we even have a white gazebos in the park where we have local musicians perform every Wednesday. Many of our stores have window boxes, there are flowering hanging baskets, even trees have been planted down the main streets. You see the pride of the residents and store owners as you drive through town. People are generally friendly and courteous when you meet on the street. We have had a couple of homeless people here – we knew them by name. Sounds very Norman Rockwall-ish doesn’t it? And sure we have crap, every community does, we just don’t seem to spread it around. It is strikingly orderly and clean here. We have the same community resource as other towns, but we also have another secret asset that perhaps other towns don’t have.
A Secret Asset
Over the years that I’ve lived here we have had 3 individuals that walk with garbage bags. You’ll see them if you get up early enough. They walk the streets and pick up litter. They are self-appointed volunteers that have taken it upon themselves to keep our town tidy. I’m not talking about big garbage, I’m talking about cigarette butts, gum wrappers, occasional coffee cups and water bottles, stray scrap paper and plastic that blew out of the garbage truck. Stuff that you would never even notice as you drove through town. But you notice the effect of their blessed work. They don’t do this for praise, they do it because they care.
This summer, if you were paying attention you would have noticed a small little miracle happen.
We have in our town a character who would customarily hang around the main intersections of town (we have 3 with lights) day after day, staggering around with obviously too much alcohol in his system and seemingly no other direction or purpose for his life. He would try to stay out of people’s way and was fairly quiet but still, as you came in over the bridge you would notice this fellow invariably staggering about, holding himself up on building or railings, or slouched over in the park in a stupor. It seems though that one day early this spring he must have noticed the other gentleman who walked the streets around the canal with his recyclable bag and garbage picker-upper-thingy because ‘our character’ started walking with him. For a few days they walked together, you never saw them talk much, but what do I know, they may have been solving all the problems of the world. Then one day ‘our character’ brought along a white pail and walked down the other side of the street. Together these two have been wandering around town now all spring and summer tidying up. If he drinks anymore, he does it privately, and I never see him just hanging around anymore, he walks with purpose, interest and liveliness, head held high.
The miracle part is that a small (perhaps even huge) though clear expansion of personal self-esteem happened through the tiniest measure of service to a greater whole. In service to our community, in picking up tiny scraps of garbage he found a purpose and ‘our character’ found – maybe re-found – his truest character. I appreciate him for his effort. I am grateful for his daily routine. I hope it continues to satisfy him for the good of us all and if it doesn’t I hope he finds something else that nurtures his self-esteem and makes him feel his worthiness. He has made me more self-aware! I am grateful for that too.
A Ripple Effect of Service
There is nothing that can take away from a soul that feels dedicated and worthy in his purpose no matter how insignificant it may initially seem to be. When we have found a way to serve others we establish value, self-esteem and purpose. When we find our own value, self-esteem and purpose we feel empowered. In that empowerment we know that even the tiniest actions can make huge differences to the whole. In empowerment we know when to join others for greater and greater effect. All of a sudden we stop being small. The ripple effect is incredible. Mind you if you do anything for praise and accolades of approval I fear you will be sorely disappointed. If your motivation comes from outside approval you will stay forever vulnerable to the loss of it. You will exhaust yourself trying to maintain it and you will not feel the intense satisfaction of knowing your own true ego less value.
I’ve been accused of not giving enough praise, of not satisfying others ego with effusive approval. It’s true. It’s not my way. It’s not that I don’t appreciate talent, excellence and effort, I sure do, it’s that I’m very aware that talent, excellence and effort has to be self-generating. I don’t want anyone seeking my approval to do anything. I want them to do their thing for themselves not me.
Empowerment must come from within. Empowerment comes from knowing your self-worth and being able to make choices that benefit yourself, your loved ones and your community just because your know in your heart it is the right thing to do.