Still Dreaming

Jan 17, 2011 Comments Off by EcoFlirt

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a question we will hear often today: was the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. realized? People will talk of progress; people will talk about continuing problems. In the end, his life’s work brought us all a little closer to his dream, and if we haven’t yet quite achieved it, at least millions of us now share it and fight for it.

Success? Absolutely.

It was not only the work of Dr. King that achieved the dream, of course. It was the people who protested in sit-ins, who rode in buses in the Freedom Rides, who marched in protests. It was those who defended the movement in conversations and who made equality part of their everyday lives. These are the mostly anonymous faces who brought our nation to the tipping point of change.

In light of this, the cynical tone pervading so much of our culture now is unthinkable. We are a country with a history of social movements bringing change against overwhelming odds. Yet so many of the brightest minds are plagued with an impotent sense of cynicism: the world is on a self-destructive path, and there’s nothing we can do but wring our hands and watch in despair from the sidelines. In few issues is this more prevalent than with our environment: to climate change, to food contamination, to polluted waters, to polluted lands. What’s the use of trying at all?

We try because we have to. We try because if we don’t, we become accomplices to the problem.

As with the civil rights movement, this green movement will need the help of legislation, of those sitting in offices in capital buildings with a D, R, or I after their names. Yet so often, legislation is a reaction to a grass-roots momentum already built, in response to how you and I live each day. Thus — to borrow a phrase from the feminist movement — the personal becomes political. What we choose to eat, what we choose to throw away, what we choose to drive are not merely personal choices but moments of political activism. While we may not have the time or resources to live perfectly eco-friendly lives (and really, who does?), we do have the means to contribute to the solution via small, everyday choices. The more we live with an eye on the planet and the more we show others what can be done through small choices, the closer we become to realizing our own dream.

David Foster Wallace wrote that real freedom “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” I feel the same way about environmentalism. By living aware and disciplined lives and by acquiring a myraid of petty unsexy habits that reflect that awareness, we become free from lives of cynicism and helplessness. We acknowledge that our lives and choices have meaning.

Will taking the time to recycle solve our landfill problem? Will choosing organic food prevent the next ice cap from melting? No, but they will bring us all a little closer to our dream, and if that dream isn’t quite yet achieved, at least we will join the millions to share it and who fight for it.

Success? Absolutely.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Library of Congress Photo

Green Living
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