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.