Tread Lightly

There are so many causes worthy of one’s support.  Most of us will have at least one cause or charity we hold dear.  If you are from a seaside town it might be the lifeboat.  If you lost a loved one to a disease for which there is no cure, it might be medical research to break the code and restore health. Maybe you favour a donkey sanctuary, or guide dogs for the blind.  When the earth opens in fissures and dies of thirst or the sea cracks open or the wind throws the mother of all tantrums, we do all we can to support those ravaged by famine, tsunami or hurricane.  We don’t need to leave our own shores to find people living in poverty (Gandhi called poverty, ‘the worst form of violence’), and there seem to be growing numbers of homeless, those for whom the out-workings of a wrong turn have left them in under a bridge, or in a stairwell.  All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the impact of war.

Not so uplifting, is it?  I know someone who says he has no connection to the plight of others and so switches off to it all.  He can only cope with the immediate problems of his own inner circle; those people he knows, whom he can touch and see and speak to – the rest is just too big for him to consume, so he pushes it to the side of his plate, untouched.  At least he is honest.  But his dogged insularity has got me thinking.  Can we ever match how much we say we care to tangible action that really makes a difference?  And how much can ‘little old me’ really achieve?  Maybe that’s why he shrugs and returns to his audio book.

Increasingly, I find myself believing there is one cause that eclipses all others, one where we can have a daily impact: looking after the earth and maintaining its beating heart.  Regardless of how much of a self-sufficient island some people might think they are, surely we are all connected on this small spinning earth as we feel the adverse effects of changing weather patterns and increasing temperatures.

‘The personal is political’ is a slogan that was born out of the late 1960’s second-wave feminist movement.  Our personal choices, no matter how small you might think them, have a cumulative impact on the status quo.  Each one of us gradually changes and influences this world with every small, simple action we take, and every personal choice we make – whether we see it that way or not – is political.  One’s personal life and personal politics ought to be indistinguishable, and one place where we can act deliberately, steadfastly and ceaselessly is in relation to the environment.

I like to think I am living in a way that will damage the earth as little as I can, but I often make personal choices that are inconsistent with what I think.  If all of this sounds like I am preaching to you, believe me, I’m not – I’m berating myself for not doing more.  Or less, as the challenge to make different choices and create better habits often involves less consumption.  Every day we have the opportunity to make choices about how to tread more lightly on the earth: eat a little less meat and use up yesterday’s leftovers; make fewer impulse buys we don’t need; pull on a jumper and turn down the heat; have a quick shower and make languishing in the bath a occasional treat; drive your car (hopefully small and ageing) as infrequently as you can manage.  Those tiny acts – individual, quiet, invisible (if you want) – adding, adding, adding to a less harmful ripple of change.

As for my side-stepping friend, reluctant to attach himself to any cause, visibly bristling to phrases such as, ‘we’re all connected’ and we need to take care of ‘mother earth’, here’s the thing: he’ll never pass a collection box, he engages warmly with every person he meets, he’s the least acquisitive person I know, and he tapes his ageing car together with heavy-duty duct tape.  I think I’ve just outed his inner-activist.

God’s Grandeur, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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