This is part of a keynote speech I gave to graduating class at a college near Worchester, MA a couple of years ago. I am sure I have changed it some as I can’t find the original in my files and my memory is not what it used to be.
The last essay is written, the last test graded. You have handed in final projects and presented your portfolios. You have spent 4 years and a lot of your parent’s money getting ready to answer the big question. So, What do you do? For a living? That’s easy enough. Maybe you’re a fire fighter or a teacher. Perhaps a nurse or a computer programer. But a harder question is yet to be asked. What do you do for a life?
Do you know the flora and fauna in your neighborhood? Do you know your neighborhood? Do you know your neighbors?
Do you eat organic or local. Do you eat fast food? Do you know where your food comes from?
Do you volunteer? Do you donate to a charity? Do you go to church?
Do you return your library books when you move? Do you plant perennial flowers in a house you are only renting? Do you give back the money when you receive too much change?
Do you ride a bicycle? Will you take out a big loan for a very cool car? Do you walk?
Do you think before you spend? Before you speak? Before you vote?
Do you read? Have a cat? Give money to that guy who stands on the corner with a pot and a sign? Why? Why not?
It is imperative in designing a better world to begin by looking in the mirror and figuring out who you want to be in that world. I think we are entering perilous times. It is going to take tough, strong, determined people to build a society that works for all of us and still works for our planet. I have to remember this when I fall into bed at night with my back aching and neck stiff because I spent 2 hours canning applesauce rather than let the drops rot on the ground. I can actually afford to buy applesauce. I can afford a lot of things I do without because it is bad for somebody somewhere. I wish I could say I do without everything I know is bad. I don’t. I still have a swimming pool (our pre-knowledge of peak oil pool). I drive more than I should. When it rained for days on end I broke down and ran my clothes dryer. I go to Wal-Mart sometimes. I bought my daughter Cheese Nips this weeks because she loves them so. I got her a kazoo because she wanted one, even though it was plastic and came from China. Feeling terrible about it isn’t good enough. I still plunked down the cash.
I bought a new toaster yesterday. My old one had only one slot that worked and that slot had two settings-warm and black. I looked high and low for one that was made in America with no luck. I tried to find one in a small store. Nobody but the chains carry toasters. I finally broke down and bought a very nice toaster that was at least stainless steel rather than plastic. I took apart my old toaster to salvage what parts I could and came away with nothing for my trouble but a couple of screws. The rest of it was plastic crap that will land in my compactor and sit there for all of eternity. I still wonder if I should have just learned to live without toast or used my camping toaster on my stove. I should have done something besides buying the damn toaster.
It is hard to do the right thing. It is expensive and time consuming and a pain in the neck but trying is the only way I can look in the mirror and answer the question. So What do you do?