God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Although the author of the Serenity Prayer may be in doubt, these words are a central part of 12-step programs and have helped countless souls dealing with grief, addiction, abuse, stress and all manner of frustration and disappointment. It’s gotten me through some rough patches in my own life, and it comes to mind again as I consider how to live a greener and more responsible life.
Accepting the things I cannot change is no small matter.
Every Thursday morning — trash and recycling pick-up day in my neighborhood — I cringe at the half-dozen overflowing garbage bags my neighbor sets out. He never recycles. Never. And items that could still be used by others — via donation to Goodwill or given away through Freecycle — are instead put out with the trash to be hauled away to the landfill.
I think about sorting through the garbage myself, to pull out the recyclables and re-usable items — but that’s a> ridiculous, b> potentially unlawful and c> stupid, when you consider this particular neighbor has a criminal record and is known to fly into potentially violent rages. As a physically small female, I keep that last in mind, also, whenever I get the idea to ask him directly if he needs help recycling or if he’s heard about Freecycle.
Not everyone in the world is going to recycle. Not everyone is going to watch their power usage or water consumption. People will still drive their cars and buy clothes made in sweat shops and turn their thermostats up to 72F in the winter. I have to accept this, along with my own shortcomings — of which there are many. I am honestly not that sanctimonious.
The “courage to change the things I can” is the part that’s always been the most difficult for me.
Right now, I don’t really take part in group efforts on behalf of the environment. Sure, I’ve done community rafting trips to clean up local rivers, have gone to clean energy fairs and organized community swap meets. But I haven’t really lobbied on green issues. Other than signing internet petitions, I’ve not campaigned for environmental responsibility.
Part of this is because I want to maintain a certain degree of detachment, for the sake of writing articles about these issues and activities. But isn’t that a cop-out? Where the environment is concerned, I’m obviously not unbiased, and I don’t pretend to be. Green issues are important to me.
The biggest reason is that I’ve not wanted to be labeled an “activist.” Somewhere along the line, that word picked up a particularly negative charge and got ranked right up there with “extremist.” I can’t point to any specific conversation I had or class I took or book I read that would leave me with this prejudice, but there it is anyway.
I stop and talk with the folks standing outside the library trying to educate people about clean rivers in Oregon. When I see people at the farmers market manning a table promoting clean energy or movement away from chemical fertilizers, I thank them for their efforts. I’m glad they’re there, doing what they’re doing. But I’ve yet to join them.
So right now, maybe I need to embrace that courage to change my own stand-offishness when it comes to getting involved. Really involved. Because I very likely cannot change my neighbor’s attitude, but I can change my own.