Friday, May 11

The Power of One

No Impact Man's post Wednesday got me to thinking about the power of one person to change the world. Mahatma Gandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are evidence that it can be done, Theodore Kaczynski is a reminder that -- paradoxically -- one can't do it alone. The Lord of the Rings is a modern epic about the tension of everything important resting on the shoulders of individuals and the power of community and belonging to support and balance that load. Turning the tide against Sauron, against fascism, against global warming, took and takes both.

Our power is leveraged by the number of people we are connected to. Stephen Covey calls the things we can change directly our "sphere of control" and the things we can affect through people we know our "sphere of influence". As Rebecca Manley Pippert writes in Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World, we need a diversity of relationships and people in our lives -- people we are connected deeply enough to that we can talk passionately and intimately about different perspectives on the world -- to really have the give and take that changes minds.

My sphere of control includes the power to burn less fossil fuel, consume less, and demand food that is grown sustainably instead of in a monoculture. I have the power to eat locally and in season. That's a blip in the global picture. One point of light, in the language of the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

But then I also have the power to talk to 10 good friends about the choices I'm making, present a workshop on shrinking your carbon footprint to 100 people, and report on my experience with different attempts to 1000 people.

In addition, if I am willing to let others be critical of me, I have two other opportunities:

  • At home, I expect to have to talk to my HOA at times. (I have not determined whether they can actually keep me from installing solar, but I expect to do a presentation either way.) and I expect that as solar goes up, as I argue for less grass and more community spaces in our complex, I'll get to meet some strangers who are truly curious and who might be sparked to action. I don't expect to change the world through rock music, but I think I can take one tiny subdivision and start them thinking about being a pre-existing green community as new-built green communities start going up around us.
  • At the church I'm involved in about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and spark some more changes. I think I can find some folks and start a re-localization effort in my town, which is in danger of thinking of itself as only a suburb, rather than as the 100+ year old town it is.
As I said after I got my last power bill, the specific, tangible effects may be slow in coming. But in ISP class this week we were talking about "passionate indifference" which means staying engaged and passionate about things without getting invested in how others respond to us.

I come from a not-very-socially-skilled background. I won't blame that entirely on my family, some of it is a gift. But I've been very aware of the process it's taken me to be able to live in a house with friends. Coming to understand that there's a benefit to being engaged with others is part of that growth.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.