Check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ world

This last week has been scary. In the United States, racial tensions rose as students drew attention to racism within several college administrations. In Paris, terrorist attacks left the world shocked, terrified, and confused. I have heard many of my peers, this past week, express concern and ultimately feelings of powerlessness at these latest events. I too, have felt powerless.

This feeling surrounds other issues as well. Climate change, education reform, and poverty, among many other substantial issues, all seem too large for us to tackle. “Change the basis of a culture?” We think to ourselves. “How could we ever do that?” The task itself seems insurmountable, and, for the most part, it is easiest not to think of these issues, to wrap ourselves in our safe cocoons of academics, friends, and athletics. I too, am guilty of this.

Doing an American Studies reading last Wednesday, I came across a quote that offered an empowering perspective on dealing with difficulties that seem beyond our control. Confucius, over 2000 years ago, wrote, “Wanting good government in their states, they first established order in their own families; wanting order in the home, they first disciplined themselves.” Change begins with the individual, with the creation of habits and the awareness of issues.

Instead of throwing up our hands in despair, I encourage us all to just be aware of our surroundings. It seems like a good place to start. Every single one of our actions has an impact and an effect on others and on our planet, and recognition of this consequence is key.

Wendell Berry, American novelist and environmental activist, speaks to this condition: “There are legitimate distinctions that need to be made. These are the distinctions of degree and of consciousness. Some people are less destructive than others, and some are more conscious of their destructiveness than others. For some, their involvement in pollution, soil depletion, strip-mining … is simply a ‘practical’ compromise, a necessary ‘reality,’ the price of modern comfort and convenience. For others, this list of involvement is an agenda for thought and work that will produce remedies.” I think we have the potential to be less destructive and more conscious of our individual impact on our world.

This recognition and awareness can take small forms: adhering to taking five minute showers, finishing all the food on your plate in the dining hall, being sure to turn off the lights when you leave your room, or even just turning the heat down a couple of notches. All of these aid in reducing our carbon footprint. It can be just reading the news everyday, to make sure you are informed and aware of situations outside the Colby bubble. It could just be remembering to vote in town elections, or gently reminding a friend about an insensitive joke. It could be joining Hardy Girls, and inspiring confidence in young girls. It could be going to the homeless shelter every Tuesday morning to make breakfast.

Some may argue this seems too optimistic.“It’s unrealistic,” some argue. “That kind of change is just not possible in the real world.” However, this is merely the narrative we have been taught, the narrative used by the weak and narrow-minded to explain a corrupt and broken system.

The example I will offer is the changes currently occurring in the food industry right now.  Although this in no way mirror the seriousness of institutional racism or gender bias, it serves as an example of the impact a grass-roots movement can have on the intimidating structures of big corporations or government.

In the 1970’s, when the unhealthiness of processed food came to light, Americans began to push for healthier food options. They began to criticize big brands and began to support more organic food sources. Last week, The New York Times published an article called “A Seismic Shift in How People Eat.” The article explained that the public shift toward more healthy food is currently forcing food companies to shift away from highly-processed foods. The article said: “General Mills will drop all artificial colors and flavors from its cereals….Kraft declared it was dropping artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese. Hershey’s will begin to move away from ingredients such as the emulsifier polyglycerol polyricinoleate to ‘simple and easy-to-understand ingredients’ like ‘fresh milk from local farms, roasted California almonds, cocoa beans and sugar.”

This was a grass-roots movement. It started with the individual deciding to eat healthier, then gained momentum. True to Confucius’s quote, they first disciplined themselves. Today it has led to these large corporations being forced to shift their policies, and it all started because a group of people in the 1970’s decided they wanted to change their diets. It is small steps like these that, by inspiring and empowering others, aid in the transformation of a society.