Be the change you want to see in the world

I love that quote by Gandhi; I have embraced it and strive to live by it but it’s surprisingly difficult. Not so much in the principle of it but rather the not-being-preachy-to-others part.

I try hard to live a simple life: happy with less needs, less “stuff”, less impact on this planet, less treating being financially successful like that’s the be-all, end-all of life. However, time and time again I need to be reminded that people will likely internally consider and respond to the subtle suggestion of observation of the way I conduct my life rather than having to explain why I think that the way they are doing things is wrong. If they see with their own eyes and in their own way how I respond to the challenges I face or handle certain lifestyle decisions and see that I am still happy (maybe less stressed, more free time, etc…) and functioning quite fine with less then perhaps they might want to consider incorporating some changes in their own life. Even if it has nothing to do with being personally happier as such, but seeing that I care about injustices, the world we live in plus the consideration for people around me, then the need to do something for the greater good might be inspiring in itself.

Even writing this down makes me feel preachy though. And a bit self-righteous. As if I am living the perfectly low-impact, community-centric, walking-with-the-poor, know-your-neighbor, self-sustaining lifestyle that I think everyone else should be striving for. I guess the aim of living this lifestyle that I believe in is that if there’s something — even if it’s just tiny — that makes someone reconsider something they could improve on in their own life, then the ball might start rolling to get more and more people beginning to change.

The reason for dwelling on these thoughts recently stemmed from my frustration the other night with hearing yet another self-absorbed person talking about how important and expensive their new car/house/furniture is, as if this is the most important part of their journey as a human being. I was frustratedly telling Heidi that I’d like to remind them of a few facts about how wasteful and shallow their consumer-driven, Earth-destroying lifestyle is, but she quickly reminded me of the risk of being labelled a hypocrite if even one thing in my life could be argued the same way (ie. driving a car, flying too much, using too many carbon emissions, living in a comfy house instead of under a tarp in the gutter, etc). Best to keep doing my best at what I’m trying to achieve and let examples of those actions give people some ideas.

Anyway, the very fact that I’m even writing this post is probably sounding hypocritical in its own right, but sometimes I just need to blather on to maybe make a point… 😀

Here; these guys say it really well and are being rather quite blunt about it!

Swirly lifey stuff

I’m on the eve of my tenth move in 2 years, weary at the thought in principle but on further reflection, relishing the idea that I have very little “stuff” to actually move. What a change!

As recent as 2 months ago, I had to haul things I had in storage at a friend’s place in Brisbane over to another friend’s place (bless their hearts for being so kind to make room for my crap) which took a 1 1/2 ton truck and about 10 hours of my time to load and unload. This is of course stuff that I am not using, just towing about from one location to the next with consideration of using it at some point. Meanwhile, I have been successfully living my life for the past year and a half with none of it. Sure, I miss the odd thing like when I say “oh, I have a Breville in storage; would be good to have a toastie right now” or “my golf clubs are in storage,” but these things happen so infrequently as to not recall thinking of them moments later. So when I thought “oh here we go again, another bloomin’ move (substitute “bloomin” with a more colourful term), I was pleasantly surprised to find when I really thought about it, I have about 4 or 5 boxes of stuff, clothes and 4 or 5 items of furniture and that’s it. Easy. Yay!

Interestingly, I’m possibly moving out with my girlfriend’s friend (my beautiful Heidi is old-fashioned so we cannot live together yet and thus the living with her friend 🙂 ) who is very much a simple-living-eco-friendly-sustainability-loving-community-oriented person like I have become, which is a new experience for me. Perusing potential dwellings with someone who heads out to the backyard first to see where the veggie patch might go before looking at the house itself is different but refreshing; I like her priorities! After many years of looking at things through the standard lazy commercialised-living lens as many other people do, I’m truly starting to consider things like: hoping for rainwater tanks and solar panels on the property; how passive heating/cooling will work effectively in the house; what fruit trees exist on the land and how much space is there for growing veggies; ensuring there is opportunity for community gatherings and sharing meals with people; and making sure that shops are walkable/rideable to conserve fuel. Whereby I was quite happy to live alone until recently, I’m now reveling in the opportunity to live with someone else and develop a greater sense of community; something I’ve spoken about but not really put into practice yet. It’s quite exciting!

I’ll update when I find a new place and we’ll see how many of these new thoughts have been put into practice.

All of this moving comes amidst a push for funding on my human trafficking film which we’re starting to work on. My feelings about the environment and climate change became blurred when I was away looking at people dying or screwing up their lives from poverty, but I’ll save that for my next blog entry. G’night! 🙂

Defeating my cravings

Yum!! No, no...naughty...

No matter how much great-tasting healthy food I eat, I never crave it like I crave junk food: chocolate, hot chips, ice cream, potato/corn chips. Why does stuff that tastes so good have to be bad for you?? (I know there are healthier versions of all these items, but I don’t crave those versions either!) Naturally, you don’t have to be a health-food Nazi to live simply, but I suppose as you start living ethically, all these things follow suit as it seems that so many of the companies that produce junk food are also unethical in their business practices (I wonder why this is? No really, I want to know why!).

I got a craving tonight for ice cream. I told myself that I could supplant this need with salt & vinegar chips if the ice cream was unattainable. It was 10:30pm. I had my car keys in hand and I thought “what are you doing? You don’t need this right now, at this time of night. And, all the companies who make what I want are evil!” I was so very right! Sitting down at the computer and looking online (ah, the Internet, how I love thee…), I found that my second ice cream choice, a McDonalds hot fudge sundae, comes from a company voted several times as the world’s most unethical company. From destroying rainforest to building farms for their cattle to illegally underpaying staff, they are a wasteful and shameful company from a respectable business point of view. I knew their food was fatty and unhealthy, but this will seal the deal for me never going there again.

My first ice cream choice, Streets’ Magnum series, I found listed in the great iPhone app “Shop Ethical!” which is a searchable database that tells you all about most food products sold in Australia and rates them for their ethical behavior. Streets is a Unilever subsidiary, and Unilever have a poor ethical score due to animal testing and human rights issues, and generally poor ethical practices, shameful for one of the largest companies in the world.

The backup plan of potato chips would have either come from Doritos (owned by Pepsico who sit near the bottom of several responsible shopping guides and ethiscores; though I could’ve gone with CC’s who get a decent score) or salt n’ vinegar ones from Smiths (also Pepsico; Samboy or Kettle would be ok). There are some alternatives to the unethical companies but you have to know who is owned by whom. For example, between the infamously dubious Nestlé, Mars and Kraft companies, there are hundreds of subsidiaries that you probably don’t realise have these irresponsible umbrella groups controlling them. When I was looking for dog food in Coles today, every single bag of dry food was owned under Mars & Nestlé even though there were all of: Purina, Lucky Dog, One, Beneful, Pedigree, Pal, Chum, My Dog, Good-o, Optimum and Supercoat. In addition to boycotting these companies, best to write the producers and suppliers and tell them what you think as it’s the only way they’ll know that we want some change to take place. I wrote Coles today to tell them this.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I safely convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by denying myself of these treats (which in itself is very good practice) and instead had some fresh bread dipped in balsamic vinegar & fresh, local olive oil. ‘Twas tasty for my tum too; better yet, it was tasty for my conscience! 🙂

Struggling, but kinda not…

Just a quick note on simple living when you’re a freelance artist and always kind of broke: it’s better than being kind of broke but with a mortgage, kids, a massive credit card debt and other sizable monthly expenses! That’s what I’ve been telling myself of late as I struggle to find work and am just getting by financially. If I had any lifestyle other than a simple one, I’d be forced to get a job I didn’t want, working too many hours and becoming a slave to my work and my debt. I might get myself out of debt, but then I’d be working too much, lured into spending frivolously, and then so the snowball grows…

Anyone reading this who makes a decent living financially is probably thinking I’m an idiot, suffering when I could be working in order to pay for the “good things” in life. There are times when the idea of greater financial security sounds appealing, and perhaps I just need to organise myself a bit better still, but the hardest part I struggle with that scenario is the working/commuting for 1/3rd of your life (plus sleeping the equivalent) and just squeezing in the real living we should all be doing. And by “living” I don’t mean shopping, I mean spending time with family and friends, following hobbies and creative pursuits, being altruistic and helping the needy or at least people around your community, being healthy with lower stress and greater chance to be relaxing and enjoying life – the real good life.

The great thing I’ve learned about my new lifestyle is when I get in a financial pickle, getting myself out of it is 10 times easier when the hill is not so insurmountable, like it was in the past. I’ll admit that sometimes I just want to go out and have a nice meal or just not have to think so carefully about my cash-flow, but when I think about the sheer number of things I have on my list of hobbies that I’d like to achieve/finish, I could never go out again and still not get through half of them! On top of that, I want to be able to spend time with my girlfriend or other friends at the drop of a hat and not be stuck at work, only fitting people in in evenings or weekends. I live for flexibility in my life!

Anyway, I’ll tighten my belt this week, push through a couple of pending jobs to get paid, and then a relatively small sum will carry me through for a couple of weeks. In the past, that same amount would last me half as long or less.

Green Smart Pots

I was in South Australia’s McLaren Vale wine-growing region recently and met a lovely gentleman and olive farmer named Tony who sold us some tasty homemade olive oil and then proceeded to show us some of his organic veggies. He had this amazing veggie patch with beautiful, healthy herbs and veggies all growing in these plastic tubs. He mentioned a business that his uncle had started called Green Smart Pots which were what we were observing here which have a clever self-watering system especially designed for Australia’s strict water restrictions. Little “wicks” draw the water up from the base and keep the plants healthy without over or under-watering them. This sort of thing has been around for awhile, but these were excellent designs that we could see working beautifully with our own eyes.

This is something I have been putting off due to being in a rental house situation and not wanting to alter things too much. That, and also not wanting to put a lot of effort into a garden only to leave one day and not be able to take it with me. This system definitely solves both problems and gives people with even the most modest amount of space a way to grow their own food and steal back from the big grocery stores the expensive, chemical-covered, food-mile laden and generally poor excuse for fresh veggies and herbs that they peddle!

Actions + words

Sometimes I think it’s easy to say but not do (when really you should), while other times you do but don’t tell (when really you should).

I find it’s so easy to either say or think that I should be doing something a certain way (like being more ethical, doing more exercise, helping people, eating more healthily, being more pro-active with many things, stopping unproductive behavior…to name a few), but then get stuffed up when it comes to putting these things into practice. Conversely, some activities are easy to do (eating unhealthily guilt-free, spending too much time on Facebook, enjoying the company of friends), even ones that might have been difficult in the past or are sometimes difficult for other people too (living simply with less stuff, earning less, shopping a bit more ethically/organically/fairly, focusing more on other people than myself), but don’t get talked about.

For example, today I woke up with a wretched pain in my back from an albeit long, 13-hour workday shooting a wedding yesterday. Fair enough, I was on my feet nearly the whole day, but the pain was made worse due to my aversion to exercise. Even simply doing a few crunches every day will strengthen my torso and keep my back from bearing all the load. I know this stuff, but I don’t just do it. A few minutes a day will save my ongoing pain and yet I just can’t get myself to expend the effort. I even say these things to myself while sitting in the kitchen eating a block of chocolate (Fair Trade chocolate, at least!). Sigh. These words are something that need some action attached to them!

On the contrary, I have surprisingly easily slipped into a low-consuming life, becoming quite adamant about staying away from consuming holy lands (aka. shopping malls), taking a hard line about racking up credit card debt, building my own furniture, being careful what I eat and how much I eat out, and being satisfied in general with less. While I act this out every day, it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve been talking up this lifestyle (in this humble little bloggie-blog!), something I still feel a bit funny about though as I am not pretending to know what I’m talking about.

Perhaps what I’m trying to decide is when is it important to just act with no words, when is it good to have words but no action and when do you need both?

I’m always quite happy to lavish my lovely girlfriend, Heidi, with lots of thanks and praise for guiding me into this more responsible world of frugality and giving, but she has learned with her lifestyle choices that sometimes actions need to speak for themselves. As I believe she quite rightly assumes, people are very reluctant to be told that they are doing something wrong and should change; they need to just see how it works for someone else and feel inclined to question why you do what you do. Seeing that this way of living or things that you’re doing makes them happy or less stressed or just feels right, might incite them to do it themselves, or at least ask more questions. One can always hope that if it’s a good thing, the idea or action will cascade through to their friends and so on and so on

Maybe words and actions are both required sometimes though; I was just reading from a brilliant and well-written book The Rough Guide to Ethical Living, and they suggest that it’s all well and good to eat organic, shop Fair Trade and make other ethical decisions about where your food and products come from, but sometimes the action of making the right choice needs to include a message that communicates what you’re doing. Simply making the choice doesn’t specifically tell one brand or retailer why you’re not shopping with them (if it’s due to their brand/product being seen as having poor production practices, eg. treatment of people or animals, poor emissions, or marketing practices); you need to not only make the purchase, but indicate what your problem is with the other brand/product. Even more ideal and impactful in terms of acting and telling is to cut your own carbon emissions then writing to your local MP and “encouraging them to lean on the government to pass legislation which requires everyone to reduce their greenhouse emissions.”

This is sound advice; I think I’m going to get into the habit of regularly writing to retailers (like, Coles – boycott Nestlé!), writing to brands (like, Nestlé – irresponsible marketing practices!) or MPs about a variety of green/sustainability things. I hope anyone reading this can challenge themselves to put into action at least one thing that they have been telling themselves to do but haven’t acted on it; or conversely, if you’re doing something great but no one knows about it that’s ok but you could be influencing a whole lot more people with being a bit more pro-active with letting them know about it! But don’t listen to me (yes, listen to me! heehee).

Not Buying It

I’ve just been going through a mini bout of poverty: no jobs rolling in, Christmas costs just past, bills to pay, etc. So I’m down to a few cents in the ol’ bank accountaroodle. But it’s all good. Great actually to be firm with myself about delving into credit just so I can live comfortably rather than tightening up and just doing less, spending less and eating what’s left in the cupboard Not Buying It book cover(it’s surprising how many meals you can make when you think the cupboards are empty! In fact, during my housesitting period, I chucked out countless boxes worth of old food from people’s cupboards that could’ve saved them $$ heaps on buying new stuff when they didn’t need to…anyway, that’s another story!).

Coinciding nicely with buying less and just dealing with it, Heidi and I have started reading a book called Not Buying It by Judith Levine. It’s started off a bit doom-and-gloom as many of the books I’ve read of late about climate change and unsustainable practices are, but it looks to be an interesting read as she chronicles a year of her life not buying anything that is “non-essential”. She keeps a chronological journal that shows how she does through a whole year of reducing her consumeristic behavior.

In general, but especially when money is hard to come by, I like this thinking. I’d love to try doing a whole year of buying only “essential” stuff but I imagine it’d be hard. With less income rolling in, I guess you’re forced into that kind of action anyway, made even more obvious when you see how homeless and under-developed nations live like this all the time. Of course, this sort of “experiment” is the extreme as most of us don’t choose to live such a hard life, but I suppose if we all pulled back just that extra bit and reconsidered the true necessity and impact of every non-essential thing we buy, we’d be making some headway with the global crisis.