Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In Which I Argue That It's Okay To Compromise Your Ideals

Last night, after I wrote yesterday's post, Honda and I ended up having a semi-long phone conversation about the whole mall thing in specific, and my environmentalist lifestyle in general.

"Sometimes I feel like you're part of this new religion and some of the things that we used to enjoy and do together are now not okay," she said to me.

And that was hard to hear, but I knew where she was coming from, and told her so. "To be fair," I said to her, "I think we're talking shades of Protestant here. I mean it's not like you're that materialistic either."

And she agreed with me, and we talked some more, and in the end, we decided that at the end of my non-consumerist year, Miss V and Honda will come over, check out my closet, and figure out with me exactly what I need. If I need staples like sensible shoes, then we'll probably go to the mall to try and find something. If they decide, on reflection, that I don't really need new clothes, then we'll just hit up the thrift stores and see if we can score some cute designer dresses for cheap. In the end, I think we came up with a fun plan that will allow us all to spend quality time with each other. And honestly, if Honda didn't ever pressure me to buy new shoes, I'd probably be wearing 10 year old shoes that didn't support my feet and that had massive holes in the soles. So it's not like she doesn't have valid reasons for overseeing my shoe collection.

Which brings me to the point of this post: compromise. What I'm learning is that life is about compromise. Sometimes, life is even about compromising your ideals.

A couple days ago, Colin Beavan wrote a very powerful post. And he included a quote from his dad that has stuck with me for the past couple days. His dad said, "You should worry less about your carbon footprint and more about your family footprint."

I'm realizing more and more how true that statement is. We environmentalists talk a lot about the benefit environmental living can have on your relationships. Less time watching TV or working, and more time eating family dinner or playing Scrabble.

But it is undeniable that there is also a flip-side. Commuting by bus instead of car can mean more time spent away from your child. Staying close to home instead of getting on a plane can mean less time with distant family and friends.

Where's the balance? What's the solution?

It's a tough question. For some people, the environment trumps all. They are not willing to compromise their ideals for their family and friends. I understand this thinking. After all, compromising your ideals? That sounds at best hypocritical, and at worst, akin to rending your soul in two.

But for me, personally, I've learnt that I can't NOT compromise. Ultimately, my friends and family are more precious than anything else in this world, including my lofty-minded ideals.

Let me give you an example. When my dad died unexpectedly four years ago, I had FIVE friends fly from all over the country to be with me. Literally, I called them crying, and the next thing I knew, they were beside me.

I can't tell you how grateful I am for that. That they would drop everything to be beside me is a testament to how absolutely spectacular my friends are.

What if they had decided not to come because of the carbon emissions? How would I have felt?

Lonely. Crappy. Unloved.

Because I needed them there with me. And they knew that. They knew that it was more important to be with me than it was to be at their jobs or their homes. So they came.

And if the situation is ever reversed, you can bet I will hop on a freaking plane and head wherever, to be with my friends in their time of need.

Carbon emissions be damned.

Is it selfish of me to put my friends and family ahead of the environmental movement?

Yes, it is. But without them, I'm just a lonely, sad person who sits in my un-air-conditioned apartment eating my stupid local sandwich alone. They are my r'aison d'etre. If I didn't have my loved ones, frankly, I'm not sure I would be able to remember why I was trying to "save the world" in the first place.

But there is a silver lining to this cloud of compromise.

You see, I'm not the only one making compromises and adjustments.

A couple weeks ago I was in Honda's Honda, and it was kinda unnaturally stuffy in there. "I'm trying to challenge myself to do without the a/c in my car and at home," she said to me.

Mind you, I had never told Honda not to use her air conditioner. To be perfectly honest, I still use MY air conditioner in the car. But after watching me take on challenge after challenge, she had decided to set this challenge for herself. And I was mad impressed and proud of her. And also hot and sweaty. No car a/c is hard!

This past weekend, I went up to the Bay Area to my mom's house. Staying at someone else's home generally requires environmental compromises, and a couple months ago, my mom and I had gotten into a little argument about some fruit from New Zealand. So I was trying not to push my values onto her, and when we were discussing how to procure martini glasses for a party she was throwing, I swallowed my ideals and mentioned that party stores do make plastic martini glasses.

"Plastic cups?" she asked in disbelief that I would even talk of such a thing. "No, I don't want plastic cups. Haven't you noticed? I'm not using any disposable plastic for this party."

I hadn't noticed, exactly, but she was right. In fact, the only disposable items were a few appetizer napkins. My mom threw a party for thirty people, and didn't use a single plastic cup. Not one. Pretty impressive, huh?

In the end, I think that it's because I make compromises, because I am flexible, that my friends and family are willing to make changes to their lives. If I was unyielding, I think they would feel alienated from me, instead of inspired by me.

And so, I have to remember. There is no one right answer. These things are not black and white. My moral code is not intrinsically superior to anyone else's. And that being a good environmentalist/friend/relative/person means spending less time prostelytizing and judging and more time accepting and listening.

Because one person can't save the world. We're going to need all hands on deck. But we're never going to get there without making some compromises along the way.


Joyce said...

Now, see, this is why I like you so much, Arduous. People come first; you get that. The fact that people who know you see that you care for them gives them the space to try some of the things you are doing, because they know you won't be condemning them if they have to say "You know, I tried that, and it's just not going to work for my life right now." Some times the rigidity and perfectionism I read in some green blogs is just plain scary. We just can't all do everything the same way. But if we each pick a couple of areas to work on, collectively we make progress.

Michelle MacKenzie said...

This post is apropos right now. I've been visiting my parents for the past week. They are very good about using cloth napkins for me and not criticizing my eco-freakishness. Still, we had an argument about me not giving my children a gift my sister sent to them because I asked her not to buy it and she ignored me. Who was in the wrong? Me or her? Or maybe both. But my mom rightly pointed out that I need to compromise sometime if I want to maintain a relationship with my sister.

And, though she didn't say it, with them. I've looked the other way as my parents have fed my kids HFCS and I've also smiled to myself at their organic milk and juice and my mom's new Trader Joe's reusable bags.

If we don't meet in the middle, if we are alone, why are we motivated to save the world? Aren't most of us fighting to fend of climate change because we want a better lives for us AND our families and friends.

Per usual, Arduous, a great post. You have some wonderful friends. I loved Honda's comment yesterday - the fact that she would read and then so thoughtfully write on your blog, what a sweetie. Treasure her.

Unknown said...

Compromising with my family is the only way we all get along!

Jennifer said...

It's like the compromises I make with my husband... fi I demand we start composting and buying nothing new, etc, he gets mad (righfully so) since he wasn't included. IF we look at our life choices and what we need, find easy ways to do it (compost bucket under the sink!), etc, then we are a TEAM. :) I think the same holds for friends and other family, too.

Anonymous said...

aw, this made me all misty. I love you.


hgg said...

That is so true, arduous.

Fundamentalism - whatever it's about - seldom or never leads to any good. Ideals yes for sure, but with some flexibility and openmindedness.

hmd said...

I struggle with compromise too. I'm way more on the bandwagon than my hubby, but just because I've made a choice shouldn't mean he has to. I cringe when he takes his 20 minute shower and certainly looked at him funny when he hinted that he might want the new iPhone (he got the first one last year - do we really need a new phone just cause its' cool?) and the AC? I freeze in our house and it feels like a waste, but he's warmer by nature. Who am I to refuse? I am responsible for me. I make my choices and he has to make his to. And I have to remind myself of all the things he has done to be part of that bandwagon (recycling, making a few more healthy food choices, installing a low flow showerhead, etc.) He may not be as extreme as I am, but he does pretty well, I have to say. And in the end, being green is not about deprivation and sacrifice, it's about redefining our relationship with the Earth. And in that, we both take part.

Anonymous said...

I think this is why I love your blog so much. Some of the other bloggers, and I won't mention names, seem very judgmental, kind of like the "green religious right". I think you are my peeps! Call me if you ever want to go to garage sales with me! BTW, I have been keeping my air off in the car, and it's been really muggy lately. Lots of "Mommy, too windy," from the backseat, but we are adjusting! Jen from Orange County

Anonymous said...

I am struggling with this myself right now. My parents and in-laws were here for the 4th and my daughters 3rd birthday. It was a really rough weekend for me. They wanted to buy paper products for us to eat on and I refused. They ended up making fun of me for not using papertowels and other things that I was doing to be a little more envirnonmentally friendly.

I asked them to watch 2 DVDS with me - Affluenza and Escape from Affluenza. My in-laws went to bed after the first one and my mom just acted completely disgusted through both videos. It was really bad and I felt like such a failure. I really wanted it to have an impact on them and help them see that everyone can make a few simple changes that can have a big impact. But it didn't turn out the way I had hoped. I think I cam across too forceful.

So, to keep my family and friends close, I too am going to have to compromise a little. And in doing so, I hope to be a better example. Your posts have really hit home with me lately! Thanks for helping me see that we are all on the same page and that being an example sometimes means relaxing your standards - just a little and just for a short time.

Anonymous said...

bugs & brooms, we just had not one, but two separate 3rd birthday parties for my son, two weeks apart. I haven't bought or cooked that much meat since...well, since last time I hosted a big family thing. And the driving! And I broke out the toilet paper, too. Luckily we just don't have AC, so that's not an issue.

With my own family, I just know they're not going to change, but they're pretty OK with me not being like them. (And I have an iron grip on gifts - if you gave it to us, IT WAS A GIFT. I get to donate it if I feel like it.) With my boyfriend's family, the weight of their disapproval is just crazy, and he won't stand up for us, and I end up being really really angry at all of them. I don't know how to solve it.

Jenn said...

Oh - tell your mom that she can often get good martini/cocktail glasses at thrift stores and - my favorite - Urban Ore. There are tons of glasses there -- just check the rims for fleabites and be prepared to negotiate (someone has really been marking up stuff in the kitchen area at Urban Ore - I mean, $2 for a 1 qt mason jar? puh-leez!).

Bugs and brooms - good luck! Getting the oldsters to sit through one video is a success. That's a lot of information to absorb -- and your mom may have had a look of disgust, but hopefully it put some wheels in motion in her mind, so give her some time and just ask her if she had any questions... maybe show her something a little less specifically attacking "lifestyle" -- like "Blue Vinyl." That's a documentary that describes the impact of the production of PVC on the workers - around the world - and on the planet. More indirect, factual stuff that shows impact on other people/planet might be a more effective way to open conversations.

EcoBurban said...

Absolutely, Arduous! Weren't you the one who green-lighted the Chilean apples for my hubby??

Compromises, compromises. I find I do that a lot too with the boys. I pack them healthy,local organic and nutritious lunches 4 of out 5 days. One day a week they get money to buy school lunch which is usually pizza and lemonade and junk. I make peace with it by knowing that one or two meals a week won't kill them or me! And, I am teaching them "everything in moderation". I don't want them to grow up fearing food or feeling like they can't wing it and go to McDonald's with their buddy and his parents.

You have to find a balance between the environment and doing right by yourself. If you aren't happy, it's not worth it!

EcoBurban said...

Green Bean - it's hard being the eco-freak in the family, isn't it? I bought my little sister some reusable totes as a gift (very cute and stylish I might add!) and she looked at me strangely. Then, I asked her to join One Local Summer with me and she flat out told me I was nuts. Oh, well. We try, but you can't choose your family. I love her anyway, the energy-sucking little brat! :o)

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Fantastic post Arduous!

It sounds like you're having a very positive effect on your friends and family. Leading by example is a great way to go.

My own approach (with people I'm comfortable with anyway) is to be non-threatening by making jokes. e.g. when I saw a former co-worker put her coke can in the trash instead of the recycling I went and pulled it out, saying "5 more cents! Just twenty thousand more cans before I get my pony! Or shall I put this in the recycling for you?" (to be fair everyone in the office gave her a hard time about that little habit and she eventually gave it up). Or when my parents order cod or another endangered species in a restaurant, I say "and I'll have the panda burger!".

No-one's been terribly offended yet and relations are good... my Mum has even stopped eating cod! At least when I'm around...

Anonymous said...

GREAT post, Arduous. Wow. I was thinking along these same lines when I wrote some of the Pages for my new blog. You've very eloquently written what I was thinking!

I am constantly amazed at the influence I have had on my family and friends, and each of them has internalized a new way of looking at normal in their own way. My sister has a new blog, a new garden, and a new lifestyle. Her husband bought a Prius, which is something he would never have done a year ago. My mom offered me her garden space to grow vegetables, and she's more into it than I am now! There are so many examples....

And the only way I think that happens, is to be inclusive. Not hanging out with friends because they aren't eco-conscious enough doesn't help anyone. Because we need friends, and frankly we need more people thinking greenly. Isolation doesn't work for that. LOL is that the difference between Protestantism and Evangelism? Maybe taking your analogy too far, but I do think the only way to convert people is to make it enjoyable, show how easy it is, and be ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you.

ruchi said...

Thanks, Joyce. I think you are right. We can't do everything the same way, but we all can do something, and that's the important thing.

GB, they are difficult questions I know. I don't know the situation, but I'm guessing that your sister loves her nephews, and that's why she wants to spoil them. It's natural. I think it's also rule #1 of the Aunt's Handbook: Thou shalt spoil your nieces and nephews. I know it can be hard when your sibling goes directly against your wishes, but as frustrating as it can be, at least she is coming from a place of love for your babies. The HFCS is more complicated, because I understand that you don't want your kids eating that junk. On the other hand, it's hard saying something like that to your parents because they will feel in a way that you are criticizing their parenting of you. Like they were bad parents since they allowed you high fructose corn syrup. But I guess the answer is, again, all things in moderation. A present from the boys' aunt is okay, and maybe some of the older forgotten toys can be given away. High fructose corn syrup is okay on vacation with grandma, but not on a daily basis. I don't know. Maybe that's not the answer either, and only you can decide what's best for your children, but I think in the end, some compromise is probably the way to go.

Bobbi, yup, I think you're right. It's the only way my family gets along too!!

Jennifer, great point! By including your loved ones, and making them feel like you're working with them, you can potentially accomplish much more.

Honda, I love you too. Smooches.

HGG, yes, I think flexibility is the name of the game. With everything in life.

Heather, it IS hard. I know what you mean, I have a hard time with stuff like the iPhone. It can be hard for me to hear someone talk about how they NEED a new gadget when their old gadget is 6 months old. But ... those are their choices, and who am I to judge. But it's hard.

Jennifer, I try my best not to get all Judgey McJudgerson on my blog, so I'm glad it's working for you. I know, the no car a/c thing really does suck! I'm doing my best, but sometimes, I need that a/c in the car!!

Bugs and Brooms, it is hard finding that balance, isn't it? I think here's what you have to remember. Sometimes, things take days, weeks, months to sink in. Your mom might have been disgusted that night, but she sat through the two movies. And maybe in a few months, she'll make a slight shift because of it. It is always harder in the beginning. My friends used to come over and get more irritated with me and my non paper-towel using ways, but now they're pretty used to it. They still make fun of me from time to time, but, I can live with that.

Rosa, it's hard to deal with the disapproval especially from your SO's family. So sorry you have to go through that, and I hope you are able to figure it out!!

Jennconspiracy, thanks for the tip. In the end, we decided not to make martinis at all because it just didn't seem worth it to track down all the glasses needed. We stuck with the wine, and I think people enjoyed that just fine.

EBM, well it was funny when you mentioned the Chilean apples because my mom and I had gotten in an argument in May over the New Zealand peaches. I think I cringed too, when she put them in the cart. But ultimately ... I had to let go. My sister, by the way, is quite the consumer. My mom jokes that she balances me out in terms of consumption. But on the other hand, my sister lives in New York so she never, ever drives. I can't say the same. So ultimately, she's probably doing just as well in terms of her carbon footprint, as I am.

CAE, I do the joking too sometimes. You are right, a little levity goes a long way.

Melinda, isn't it exciting when you see the people around you move towards a greener existence? And yeah, they might not be eco-nuts, but hey, at least they are doing better than they were before, and that's the important thing.

Green resolutions, you're welcome! Glad to have you comment!!

Stephanie said...

Thank you so, so much for this post. I've started lurking on many green blogs and some of them sound so fatalistic that they make me act so much more strict about my own actions and the way I try to force everyone to do things the "green" way. And yet, I can't be perfect. I can't believe I let those blogs bully me–without the authors even realizing it–into being more fierce, strict, and stressed out about everything. I'm only 19. I can't single-handedly change the world. I can compromise and use up the last of the RoundUp on this one plant that won't be killed otherwise if my mom won't ever buy it again. I can't walk or bike anywhere when I'm in my hometown but I can use my more fuel-efficient car and make sure it's as efficient as can be. And sometimes it feels like, lurking among green blogs, that that's not enough. Nothing I ever do is good enough. So thank you, thank you for giving the "it's okay not to be perfect" in this area of life.

ruchi said...

Stephanie, you're welcome, and I whole-heartedly give you permission not to be perfect. No one is perfect, certainly not me.

Like I've said in the past, I try personally, to be pretty optimistic and non-judgemental, but I think it's also important for me to remember where the fatalistic green bloggers are coming from. They may be seeing that global warming is this major crisis, and yet no one seems to care. And that can be very difficult to deal with too. So while I think it's important for me not to judge my readers, I also think it's important not to judge others who have a different, perhaps stricter, approach. After all, it takes all kinds, and while some people might like my style best, other people might prefer another. It's all good because ultimately, we all want the same things!

In any case, I'm very glad the post resonated with you! Kudos to you. When I was 19 my only concerns were about totally superficial things like boys and boys, so I applaud you for thinking about this all.

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Great post, not just the subject but you write so well!
Interestingly enough I have been having a conversation about compromise with Shawn over on Tribe
about voting. Compromising can suck until you realize that living requires compromises much of the time. Small example, is your place of work air conditioned? Do they offer cloth towels in the bathroom? etc etc.

ruchi said...

Equa Yona, you are right, I do make compromises at work. For example, as you point out, there is a/c in the office. And in fact it's over air-conditioned. But I don't have a choice, so ... what can you do?

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

The phone thing is tough, especially now the iPhone just came out in Canada. I really don't NEED a new phone, but it can take up to 5 attempts to make a good enough connection with the charger, and even then I have to charge it on an angle by propping up one end, and it's all scratched and ugly. I bought it off my brother-in-law over 2 years ago after I broke the old one (fell on it while skiing and destroyed the screen, oops), and he had it for at least a year before that, so I'm doing better than the average. But my husband keeps on getting new ones (he's had terrible luck with losing/damaging phones) and it's hard to be stuck with one that I really don't like!

What would Arduous do?

ruchi said...

CAE, what I would do would be to wait a couple weeks until the iPhone mania calms down and then comb Craigslist where I'm sure a ton of very good, probably not that used, phones will now be looking for homes as many people get rid of great working phones for iPhones.

With that said, I totally get the urge to have an iPhone. So if you decide to get an iPhone, just make sure to either freecycle, give to a woman's shelter, or e-cycle your old phone (preferably with a company that keeps the e-waste in Canada itself instead of sending it out to China). And then, enjoy your iPhone, love it, use it often, and try and keep it for at least two years before buying another phone!

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best posts I've read on your blog. Lots of food for thought!

ruchi said...

Thanks anonymous!