Thursday, December 01, 2011
Greening of our Inner Environment
Much of my forays into frugality and sustainable living were thrust upon me. While I would spout words of wisdom about simplicity and my burning desire to reduce my ecology footprint, in reality I was pursuing a life of overconsumption for years. I am grateful to the universe that those days of “consumption” are behind me. I am also grateful to all the forces that put me into the position where choosing to live simply and frugally was no longer a choice but a necessity. In the course of my journey, I have come to see that forces that appear to be devilish can sometimes lead you to enlightenment, while forces that appear angelic can often lead you straight to hell. One such lesson was with corporate sponsorship of green initiatives. Of course, green here implies the external greening, not the inner greening that I pursue as a calling.
This started with a post I wrote on saving money by driving efficiently. On a whim, I submitted that post in a contest inviting entries for green initiatives. As I went to submit the entry, I realized from the format of the entry that this was primarily for projects that were in the form of innovative products or initiatives that can be taken up by government agencies. I had no clue how one can implement a blog post on driving and fuel efficiency tips, but I submitted it all the same, more to disseminate my thinking to whoever would be reading the contest entries before deciding what they were worth.
A month or so later, I got a call asking me to come for a presentation organized by a media group, and that my entry had been selected. Having been immunized to such calls by telecallers offering everything from insurance to timeshares at holiday resorts, I dismissed it as promotional spiel. To my surprise, when I got back home and checked my email, it turned out that I was one of 10 finalists from Hyderabad from over 4000 entries. I was informed that I had just the weekend to come up with a presentation that would be judged by a panel of experts, to decide on the 6 national finalists.
I thought about several ways of putting my views across in a way that would get me to the next level, but every time I started with that focus, my presentation turned into a business pitch. Finally, after some deliberation and opening of the eyes, I decided to follow my heart, and share nothing more than my views on creating a greener environment by addressing the root cause of the problem, our selves, aspirations, beliefs, values, and ignorance. I set it all out as a slide show in the prescribed format that had headings like USP, Budget, Funding, Partners, Viability, Ease of Implementation, Expected Outcome, and the like. It was quite amusing to put forth a proposal to clean and green our selves in this format.
At the end of it, I shared it with two people whose opinions I value for their honesty and impartiality. They sat through the slide show patiently and then asked me what on earth I was trying to say. I realized that I had to start over again. Time was short, so I quickly edited my slide show down to almost nothing and began writing a short speech that I planned on reading out.
The presentations were rich and varied, ranging from the high school miniproject to the mad scientist magnetic levitation mass transit system, along with a few blatantly commercial pitches. However, it was a source of immense learning. When my turn came, at the end of a gruelling afternoon that had stretched into the evening, patience had worn thin for all, as had attention spans. However, as I had by this time clarified my thinking about why I was there, I was glad to get a captive audience to read out my little speech. My presentation revolved around building a community of everyday green heroes who would share their journeys in the form of tips and tricks that can be applied by anyone to simplify their lives, reduce consumption, and move from a having orientation to a being orientation, an idea put forward by Erich Fromm. I recommended downshifting, reassessing the need for multiple income families, letting go of carbon emitting luxuries, and the like. The audience listened patiently, glad that the day was coming to a close.
The panel of judges included environmentalists, government officials connected with social initiatives, scholars, and even an actress I had never heard of but who was obviously a big star, judging from the reactions of people. The only question that the eminently qualified and cultured panelists had for me at the end of my "impassioned plea" was a reaffirmation of how far down the path of purposelessness we have gone as a civilization. Picking up on my suggestion of family members making more quality time for the family by letting go of multiple income earners, I was asked, “Mr. Dasgupta, it is a very good idea that you are suggesting that people can leave their jobs and be present to the family, but what will they do sitting at home, surf channels on TV? Do you have any suggestions for what they can do?”
I was unable to respond to this question purely out of shock at the question and the person it came from and I expressed my shock and inability to answer. This question was something I had never reflected on since my brain was always clamouring for more time to do all the things that I dream of. Going through the entries for the indiblogger contest on “if you had two extra hours a day, how would you spend it,” I realized that I am not alone, and if the intent of all those who have blogged about this in the past several weeks even comes close to fruition, we will find our inner selves much greener (and cleaner, as if washed with a popular detergent) than we can imagine.
Update: Two weeks later, I received a token of appreciation from the sponsors. It contained ridiculously expensive skincare products. There was a fairness cream, an anti-wrinkle cream, and a volume boosting shampoo. I looked at the prices and got a shock of my life, these products were just under 1000 rupees each. That made me curious about the ingredients, since the packages were pretty small. I looked them up and found that several ingredients are not approved or considered safe for use in US and other countries. I looked at my dark skin, my wrinkled face, and my dull hair, and thanked god for liberalization and globalization and open markets. Where would I have hidden my face, my wrinkles and my lifeless hair without these policies?