Cambrian: Opinion

Despite your doubts, you really can change the world

Ida Mackin, right, and Lanie Stier pick up trash in Cayucos during beach cleanup day in August 2009. You can make a difference by not using and recycling plastic, Dianne Brooke writes.
Ida Mackin, right, and Lanie Stier pick up trash in Cayucos during beach cleanup day in August 2009. You can make a difference by not using and recycling plastic, Dianne Brooke writes.

“No seed ever sees the flower.” (Zen proverb)

Perhaps you and your friends have had the same conversation as mine, “Why bother (fill-in-the-blank: recycling, not using plastic, buying less junk, writing letters to congressmen, etc.)? If I’m the only one doing that, what will it matter? What impact can I as an individual have?”

One can go down a cavernous philosophical rabbit hole in order to make life easier on oneself by not giving up some alleged creature comfort that 65 percent of the world has never even heard of, yet it is contributing to some major world catastrophe. Really, isn’t that what it boils down to? And, how lazy are we?

A recent article in The Daily Good ( got my mind twirling over such thoughts. “Moral philosophers have grappled for several centuries with a dispiriting corollary: that what you do doesn’t matter. For example, no matter how much you conscientiously recycle and conserve, your individual actions won’t make a difference. It takes millions of others doing the same, and if millions of others do it, then it doesn’t matter if you do or not.

“Philosophers have advanced various moral and ethical principles to countermand this logic, which is on its own terms unassailable. Foremost among them is Kant’s Categorical Imperative: Act in the way you would want everyone to act in that situation. This idea is common in popular morality today: Don’t dump poison down the drain, because even though it won’t matter if you do it, if everyone thought that way it would matter. Yet, underneath that morality lies a secret, nihilistic fear: ‘Yeah, but not everyone thinks that way. Actually, it doesn’t matter what I do.”

What about the small number of folks who stand in black on the corner in silent protest of war and injustice? Some ignore them, some call them silly, yet other times they may come up in conversation as a little grain of sand under someone’s skin and adjust perspectives that equally little bit. Remember, giant highway-closing mudslides usually start with just a few pebbles.

How does it feel when a stranger compliments you on your outfit or smiles at you unexpectedly or offers to help you reach something on a high shelf in the supermarket? Yes, these are not putting anybody too much out of their comfort zone but, little acts of kindness shift things.

The same is true of things like being conscientious of your purchases, more mindful of your recycling, declining as much plastic as possible in the form of straws/bags/clothing/toys/household goods. True, it is unavoidable in many circumstances but, the list I just gave – easy to do in most instances … with a little forethought.

Just that topic of plastic – plastic never goes away, but rather, breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Just because you can’t see it as a bag floating down the forest lane or a straw stuck up the nose of a turtle in the ocean doesn’t mean it isn’t still doing harm. Tiny bits are eaten by fish, which in turn end up in our bodies. Plastics repel water and attract other plastics containing hormone disruptors and carcinogenic compounds and so the build up continues. If Americans are throwing away more than 30 million tons of plastic a year and recycling only 8 percent of that, how do we begin to address that? One person at a time. You.

“I’m too old to change.” “I don’t have time to change.” “I like my chemical laden whatever and think I deserve it!” Whatever your excuse, I am more inclined to argue the point of, it does matter what you do. If you do it, teach your kids to do it. If they do it, their friends will do it and so on. Yeah, yeah, “do I really think that’s going to change things?” Ultimately, yes. Ya just gotta put on big boy/girl panties and do it!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)