Tuesday, August 7, 2007

For the Common Good

These last couple of days have presented an opportunity to do some hard thinking about what I like to say matters to me. As in past years, we do not yet have our window air-conditioners installed and running. Some years we have given in and used them and some years we haven't and I have been thinking about that choice. This year particularly I want to make it through the summer without them, though that decision is not without its share of grumpiness and second guessing.

This year I feel acutely aware of our energy use choices. The realization that the collective "we" and the individual "I" cannot afford to continue living as though there are no consequences for those choices is sinking more fully into my consciousness. I have grown up in a generation that was told early on that we could have it all, that limits and boundaries were unnecessary and that whatever we felt like doing was OK. We railed at authority, we presumed we knew best and we slowly lost touch with the concept that a penalty would be paid for our selfishness. In fact, the word "selfishness" was almost a foreign concept in the age of "grabbing all the gusto" one could out of life. We know better now, or we surely should.

When my mind starts wandering, it often turns to the benefits and consequences of technology. It especially turns to the consequences and that is when people often say, "Well what about....?" What about medical advances? What about communication advances? What about transportation advances? All true, of course. It is human nature to want to improve methods, make life easier, invent new ways of doing things and that the tendency reflects our creative spirit I have no doubt. But human nature is also self-serving and hasty, sometimes, and does not always want to explore the negative ramifications of some new possibility. Unfortunately, along with the gains technology has brought us, it has brought a string of consequences that is already all too familiar.

Which brings me back to muggy summer weather and choosing to try and cope without the air-conditioners packed away in the basement. I do not feel noble in this decision. I feel hot and tired and grumbly sometimes. I particularly felt that way last evening after the heat of the long day and after monitoring my two miniature dachshunds all afternoon to make sure they were not overheating on their short forays into the backyard. In fact, last evening I was wondering if the decision was worth it. Are we using less energy in the running of the whole-house fan in the evening than we would be if we were using the window units all day long? I don't know. Is it fair to inflict my crabby mood on my husband and children because I am trying to help us conserve? I am not sure about that one either.

But I do believe we in the developed world will be soon faced with some choices that many of us will not think pleasant. We as a people are not used to sacrificing for the common good. An obvious example of this sad state of affairs is the relatively new cultural more of disregarding the yellow light at an intersection. Stopping when the light turns yellow, as we all learned was the expected behavior before passing our driver's test, would be in the interest of the common good. Running it and ignoring the potential consequences is the self-serving, selfish choice.

I believe that for the good of the world, for the good of the people and the other creatures with whom we share this world, all of us will be soon called upon to sacrifice what we might naturally choose for the good of all. If we cannot bring ourselves to that point of caring for others as well as for ourselves, the consequences of our apathy and our inaction will be our legacy. On the other hand, if we have the will to make choices for the common good, perhaps our children's children will have a world in which they too might find the wonders and delights still present in our world today. The choice is up to all of us.

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