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Time for Change

Text by: Kari Cadenhead

Every human has four endowments- self-awareness, conscience, independent will, and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.
-Stephen Covey
When we are children, our curiosity is insatiable. As we grow older, we somehow lose grasp of the desire to learn about the world around us. We go from taking whatever information is handed us to filtering out the things we think may upset us before the information even has a chance. This is beneficial to a point with all of the negative news the media throws at us (I'm a mother, so I know this can be hard), but unfortunately we have the habit of applying this idea to anything that makes us uncomfortable. Even more unfortunate is this habit of ignoring the truth can lead us to do damage unknowingly to people all over the world. I believe we can find that place we were at as children. We can listen indiscriminately and decide for ourselves, now as capable adults, what to do with the information.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, "What we don't do can be a destructive force." When we fear the bad and don't learn about our world environment, our inaction can cause more harm than we'd be willing to first believe. So then, why do we choose to largely ignore this truth and blindly go about our days?

As a vegetarian I have often heard, "I don't want to know where my meat comes from." This concept of not wanting to know spreads far and wide throughout our country and the planet. While we are good and loving people within our families and social surroundings, we often act the fool on the world stage. Sometimes we don't know what to do with the information available to us, or we don't know how to compartmentalize it, so we choose not to listen. Some of us can't be bothered to find the time to learn about the inner workings of the world, but more often than not, we don't want to let the information activate our consciences. Thinking that your conscience can't handle the truth is actually a good thing as it means you care. Feeling guilty is not something we humans are good at dealing with, but you'd be surprised what you can handle if you turn guilt to action.

There is no darkness but ignorance.
-William Shakespeare

The one idea I have always had a hard time with is, "It's not my problem." I imagine this is a sort of coping mechanism to deflect the feelings mentioned above, but that doesn't change the fact that "It" is everyone's problem, and what you don't know can hurt you and others. The truth is our everyday actions cause harm, and our attitudes of willful ignorance perpetuate that harm. Farmers in our country and all over the world are raising families with serious disabilities and health problems due to pesticide use, because we insist on fresh apples in February. Entire towns don't have clean drinking water, because paper mills pollute the rivers while printing up the latest, best-selling novels. The clothing we buy on a whim is made from cotton grown on land where families used to grow their only food supply. And of course, everyone has heard of sweatshops, where men, women, and even children work in horrific conditions for, literally, pennies a day, while we pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for a purse or shoes. These things, these people, are why we should open our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the world around us.

Becoming aware of these things in our daily lives is a slow practice. It isn't easy or fast or even immediately gratifying, but it is worth the time it takes to learn. There are many places to start, the first place being in our own hearts. No matter how busy we are, how tied up we become in our own lives, we need to make the time to figure out how we can take a less damaging path. This is a choice we can and should make. We need to choose to absorb the information available to us and then make a plan. We need to have conviction and self-control. Once these things are in place, it becomes easier to make the right choices. It also becomes easier to process the bad information, because we then feel as if we are becoming part of the solution and less of the problem. That being said, nothing worth doing in life is easy, and the paradigm shift your life needs to become kinder and gentler is a large one.

It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.
-Thomas Jefferson

We tend to resist change, and the list of reasons is long— lack of time appearing on it quite often. While we are busy in our day-to-day lives with children, work, school, and various other activities, we may feel worn out and unable to see where we can fit a new way of thinking into our lives. Not everyone needs to be an "activist" - each person need only take control of his or her own life. A small step is as important as a big step, and each step builds up quickly.

One of the easiest things we can do is realize we vote with our dollars. Each penny we spend tells a company we approve of them and their global practices. Giving our money to a humane clothing company tells the big box stores they are not going to get away with not having any idea of what goes on in their factories overseas. Buying organic food tells corporations we don't want farmers to be working with pesticides. Buying as few chemicals as possible, including plastics and cleaning supplies, helps keep manufacture of these products down and so companies that make them cause less damage to their workers and the towns they are in. Buying used and recycled goods is a wonderful solution, as it can reduce heavy metal mining and factory pollution, and even cut back on landfill usages that cause so many problems in poor areas of the world.

Once the plunge is made into a new reality, you will see that the time it takes to make a conscious decision at the store you are already in adds only a few minutes to your usual trip, minutes that will be less the next time you are shopping, as then you will already have your choices in mind. Aside from those minutes, you won't be giving up much else. You can still buy all the coffee, shoes, clothing, and household goods you want; they may just be a little different, and probably better.

I wouldn't suggest doing all of these things at once (or do, I won't stop you!) — but you may get burned out very quickly. The idea is to take small steps, one at a time, the most important of which is listening and learning, giving our consciences at least a chance to tell us right from wrong all the time.

It's important to remember that we can't do it all and no one should. The intention behind the action is what counts, and reaching for perfection is a futile pursuit. We also have to make compromises, because sometimes things aren't available in the form we'd like. For example, I'd prefer to get organic almond milk in glass containers, but the only available almond milk here is non-organic in cardboard and plastic containers. I buy it instead of making my family go without, and I know I will make up for it in other areas. As long as we are striving to learn and always looking forward to new ways of thinking, a new way of life will take grasp and it will become fun and easy along the way.

I implore you not to stop reading here; find your lost childhood curiosity, and go see for yourself what the world is and what you can do to make it better. All you need is a few extra minutes a day. Remember, while it can at first seem overwhelming, all of our small actions together can lead to less suffering and will most certainly make up a better human kind. There is a climate of change in the world, and you CAN be a part of it. All you have to do is believe in your human spirit, your own capacity for change, and then make the time to learn something new.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
-Edmund Burke

Kari's 10 Ideas for Simple Change
(Print this out and tape it to your fridge!):

1. Take it slow. It took me seven years to learn about and implement all of these changes into my life!

2. Use cloth rags and napkins. They don't need to be pretty (save two or three pretty ones for display). If you don't want to use cloth, then buy recycled paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper at the store- most groceries stores readily carry these things. If they don't then ask! Keep in mind Super Soft Special Extra White toilet paper isn't a luxury for the people living down-stream from the paper factory producing it.

3. Buy local and organic food. I see this advice everywhere these days, but it's still considered pretty extreme to be 100% organic. Do as much as you can, a little at a time since it can be expensive. Eat less and eat fresh. A lot of groceries are offering more and more organic foods, but don't forget about the local farmers' markets popping up all over the place. There is no nicer way to spend an early Saturday morning than perusing the brightest and freshest produce in your area. Look up your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which will deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to your doorstep.

4. Buy fair trade food. This means that whatever was grown was done so by people getting paid a livable wage in good working conditions. It is always noted on the package label and is especially important for items such as nuts and cocoa products, which come from poor parts of the rainforests. All alternative food stores have "fair trade" items, and while they are a little pricier, they are usually of higher quality (and again, just eat less - we don't need king-sized bottles of chocolate milk mix).

5. Ditch the plastic produce bags! There are fancy reusable ones available at websites like Etsy.com, but I skip them too and simply group my vegetables together in the cart. No cashier has ever complained about my apples rolling around.

6. Learn to clean without chemicals. Baking soda, vinegar, and various other natural ingredients (such as salt) work as well as comet and bleach. There are options available at all major stores for natural cleaners and detergents. If you feel you can't afford them, learn to make your own; it's simple and fun and will cost less than your traditional detergents! A note to those skeptical of vinegar: it has no smell once dry, so your house only smells like it for a very short time, and if you mix in some lemon or lavender essential oils it will smell amazing AND clean! The more you do for yourself, the less of a burden you lay on someone else to do it for you.

7. Buy from responsible clothing manufacturers. Many are taking the plunge into fair trade. The Internet is a wonderful resource for fair trade clothing. Think quality over quantity, and think down to your socks! A pair of organic fair trade socks will last you five times longer than a pair from a big-box store. This goes for shoes, dresses, outerwear, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Don't forget to look for products made by the blind community, as this is a wonderful way to lend your support. Consider gently-used options as well.

8. Buy handmade! Almost everything can be found handmade - soap, makeup, clothing, household items, pet accessories… the list could go on and on. The Internet is again a great place to find what you need, but also look in your paper for local arts and crafts markets or farmers' markets. Connecting with the people behind what you are purchasing will be heartwarming and rewarding.

9. Recycle!!! Keep your unused items out of landfills in poor areas, and pass them onto someone who can use or remake them. This also cuts back on the production of brand new items made from raw materials that are stripped, mined, or otherwise obtained via very exploited, poor communities all over the world.

10. READ. Everything. All the time. Read labels and tags, newspapers and web pages, magazines and books.

Resources to get you started:


The Corporation
Food Beware: The French Organic Revolution


'The Story of Stuff' by Annie Leonard
'No Logo' by Naomi Klein
'Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights' by Bob Torres (Not only explores animals as the title suggests, but also the human labor behind the meat industry.)


My favorite places to shop
www.amazon.com (for used books on the cheap!)