Friday, November 21, 2008

Embarrassment vs. Pride at Acting Ecologically

When I was growing up, my elders often said things like, "How you act reflects upon all of us. Wherever you go, you represent us, and you owe it to us to make a good impression on the people you meet." I learned to conduct myself impeccably whenever I was in public.

Today, I live in a very different place, and hardly anyone knows or cares which "us" I belong to. I now represent only myself. I tell myself it doesn't matter whether I'm the model of decorum, and most of the time I believe it.

Despite this change in my environment and attitude, I'm still very reluctant to be seen doing anything that might raise eyebrows. When the cashiers at a store with bulk bins treated me like I was a troublemaking freak for having brought my own containers to put bulk items in, I was so embarrassed and upset that I haven't gone back to that store. Sometimes, I go past recyclables without picking them up because I don't want the people I'm with to think I'm strange or somehow unclean for picking up dirty beer bottles. I'm reluctant to do anything to rock the boat or make it obvious that my values and practices are anything other than mainstream values and practices.

At the same time, I'm proud of my green activities. I'm aware that there are many people living more ecologically than me, and I'm not trying to claim eco sainthood, but I do feel proud that I've made steps in the right direction and continue to learn more about how to lighten my footprint on the earth.

I seesaw between pride in acting ecologically and embarrassment at doing things that are out of the ordinary. I'm proud to have collected 128 recyclables and 37 reusables in October, but am also embarrassed to be seen picking up other people's trash. I'm proud not to drink from disposable cups, but am embarrassed to be the only person in a cafe drinking from a glass jar instead. I'm proud to walk, cycle and use public transit instead of driving a car, but am embarrassed when I meet teenagers who own sports cars and all I have to show is an ancient bicycle. There are many other instances of pride coupled with embarrassment.

I've been trying hard not to let my embarrassment get in the way of acting ecologically. Thankfully, most of my recent efforts have had positive outcomes. I found a small store where the cashier is very nice about me bringing in my own containers for bulk items, and now I shop there despite the higher prices than those at the store where I was treated like a freak. I've continued drinking from the glass jar, and no one has said anything critical of it. I still cringe at picking up recyclables in places that are especially public, but am doing it anyway.

I just wish I could turn off the voice in my head, the one that says I'm a representative of a group of people who need me to behave like a respectable professional so I don't bring shame on all of them.


Danielle said...

Hello! Here is my reply to your comment on my blog/this entry:

I also pick up pens and things that I find, and use these. I don't like to accumulate new plastic, but these don't count. I figure that if I take them, I know that I will use them. If I don't take them, they might end up in a landfill (or ocean!). I really identify with what you say on your blog about the paradox of pride and embarrassment - I am proud to use things to extinction, but I am embarrassed to pick up others' trash.

Tanya Seaman said...

Hey -- I understand the awkwardness of taking containers to the store, having the cashier call over the manager to teach how to handle tare weights, etc.

But guess what happens the next time you go back? They know how to do it, and they recognize you! There IS an upside. And as No Impact Man's wife said, people start to engage you and are curious about why you do this.

I do understand the pit-in-the stomach embarrassment because I don't like to be singled out or have attention called to me. So you have to be prepared for this, suck it up, and plan to give a great answer. You know that your containers are sturdier and seal better than whatever bags they provide, and maybe you don't have to go "all environmental" on them if that makes you feel uncomfortably self-righteous.

Just some thoughts to make it easier!

Cousin Yellowstone said...

Thank you both for commenting. I'll keep working on overcoming my embarrassment and will try to see the silver lining in the situations that make me cringe. Tanya, you're certainly correct about people recognizing me now. I'm not sure how many people actually understand my motivations for picking up trash or bringing my own containers for bulk items, but a significant number of people in the neighborhood are now aware of me and my odd behaviors. I hope it can ease the way for the next "crazy" person who engages in the same practices.