I have been doing it wrong
Living sustainably is not about living a life of voluntary misery. It is not about imposing harsh limits on your potential. Au contraire, it's about flourishing; living sustainably is about flourishing. It is about reaching a higher level of consciousness about what we humans are doing here and why.
Sustainability is the most incredible opportunity for humanity to tackle many of our psychological problems and reasons for unhappiness. It asks us the most fundamental questions of life. It asks us what life is really about and how we should live, how to make our life worthwhile, what goals to strive for, what to become as humanity, and what to evolve to.
I have yet to figure out how to live this life in the Anthropocene. I feel lucky that I feel forced, pushed, almost enslaved, to ask myself these questions every single day. Even if I don't want to, there they are. I can't stop asking: what would be "the right way" to live?
There is no script.
In "Fleaback," Phoebe Waller-Bridge has a conversation with a priest, expressing her desire for someone to tell her how to live. During the conversation, she asks the priest, "Can you tell me what to do?" He responds by saying that he can't. Fleabag explains, "I just want someone to tell me how to live my life because I think I've been doing it wrong."
Many of us have been doing it wrong. Maybe not in a personal-experienced sense, but in a relational sense - when we cease to understand ourselves and our choices as separate and entangle us with all those freaky organisms and beings (alive and not). When we acknowledge, as Stacy Alaimo put it, that we are trans-corporeal subjects in which bodies extend into places, and places deeply affect bodies.
I certainly think I have been doing it wrong. And like Phoebe, I want someone to tell me how to live: what to eat for breakfast-lunch-dinner, which job to choose with the biggest impact on social and ecological injustice, which sports to do, where to go on vacation, and which jacket to buy.
Admitting that I have been doing it wrong - thinking and writing those words - evokes a sense of failure. And with that, a sense of shame and discomfort.
I have lived a great life thus far. I don't want to have changed any of it. And I don't want to tell people I have been doing it wrong. What would that say about me?
And yet, to face the Anthropocene is to face things as they are, and that includes facing myself and my actions as I am, what they are.
"Within the scale of the anthropocene, surely all activism, all politics, all ethics, and all government policies will have been colossal failures. And yet, as Braidotti insists, we nonetheless continue on "for the hell of it and for the love of the world." Stacy Alaimo
Does facing require acceptance?
Acceptance is the last stage of grief.
Buddhism emphasizes the importance of acceptance as a means to reduce suffering. By practicing acceptance - so they say - we can break free from the cycle of suffering and cultivate inner peace and happiness.
For the longest time, I have been baffled about how to reconcile acceptance with the drive to change. Acceptance - so I thought - meant stagnation and ceasing to try things as they are. I thought wanting change and acceptance were the two sides of one coin. But what if they are two different ideas? Two ideas that are as unrelated as cups and plants?
Can I want to use a cup while having houseplants?
I don't see a problem here; no paradox.
What if the paradox of change and acceptance are similarly unrelated?
Suddenly, the paradox ceases to exist. Two ideas that can exist next to each other. Always related, yet also always separate. Opposite when I see them as a whole. Partners when I see them as wholes by themselves. Each a holon - simultaneously a whole and a part.
So, can I and can we collectively face and accept that we have been doing this wrong? And could this be our drive to do this living very differently?
And to return to the current overarching research question: can we find a way to take pleasure in our wrongness in a way that drives us to change?
Have a great week.
Instead of footnotes, I will, from now on, add nuance-notes to my texts.
When I write, I always want to add a sentence or two to every statement I make. I find nuance and a “yes-and” in many things I say. And if I did add those thoughts, it would make it hard for you to read, and I would alsoI risk that my texts mean or say anything?
At the same time, I don’t want to leave out those additional nuances altogether. Understanding nuances (which often result in paradoxes) is an essential skill I want to learn and that I think is essential to navigating this life in the Anthropocene.
So I decided to add those nuances to the end of my texts for you to read if you are interested and to skip if the text feels too good to mesh in those differences (that make a difference).
Nuance 1: I don’t think we have been doing it all wrong. So much good came out of the way we have lived - as some authors like Steven Pinker, Gregg Easterbrook, and Hans Rosling - don’t tire of pointing out. I am more curious about finding ways to integrate what has been and adding instead of refusing.