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Change the world

By Kate Holden

I recently visited the St John’s Oxfam Office (a cramped couple of rooms above Food For Thought on Duckworth Street) for a volunteer information session. Somewhere between there and a recent conversation with a somewhat narrow-minded individual has led me to think a lot this week about my lifestyle and its effect on others.

A number of Oxfam’s current campaigns focus on climate change and its effects, especially on the less fortunate people of the world. At first glance, the environment and poverty don’t seem to be related issues, but in fact they go hand-in-hand. I know this is going to sound harsh, but the fact is that they both stem from the longstanding negligence of us westerners, and it’s about time we all start taking responsibility for that.

This idea that, because we live in Canada, the problems in the world don’t affect us and thus aren’t our problem, is garbage. Aside from being completely false, it’s an incredibly selfish way of looking at the world.

I know that the general response to this is that it’s not your fault as an individual, and it’s not. Our governments are failing us with their endless bickering about nothing and then doing nothing about it, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, step back and see it from the individual perspective – what can you or I do today that will make a difference?

We’ve all been brought up to think that having lots of stuff equates to success, and the shinier and more expensive your stuff is, the better. And this is the problem. If everyone used only what they needed, there would be more then enough of everything to go around and at a fraction of the waste. But unfortunately that’s not the case.

I know that some scientist somewhere proved that global warming is a hoax, and maybe it is; what we “know” is an inconstant thing. Or maybe you buy into this “survival of the fittest ideology” that if the poor people of the world can’t pick themselves up by their bootstraps, then that’s just natural selection at its finest.

But what’s wrong with being conservative? What’s wrong with minimizing waste and thinking about the welfare of your neighbour? If “natural selection” doesn’t promote the continuation of these principles, then what hope is there for the human race? There’s really no excuse.

Of course changing your entire worldview is not easy. The way we think has been programmed into us from the moment of birth. It’s not going to happen over night and it’s not simply going to happen of its own free will – but the world is in desperate need of change. We’ve all got to realize that there cannot be “I” without “we,” there’s no “me” without “us.” We’re all in this together. The earth is all we have and we’ve got to start preserving it and preserving each other.

No one’s asking you to buy a goat, move to the wilderness and become a hermit. Just make some small changes in your lifestyle and open your mind to new possibilities. Remember that you can’t grow unless you’re uncomfortable and things that seem the most challenging at first often end up being the most rewarding. There are lots of things we can do that are not only good for everyone, but also good for your wallet, your health and your soul!

I don’t need to list off tips for you, I’m sure you’ve heard them all before and if not just spend a little time with Google or even YouTube. There’s also lots of information to be found on the Oxfam, Seeds of Change, and the Slow Food movement websites. An easy start would be to just take 10 of those minutes you’d usually spend on Facebook or Twitter or whatever and spend them reading the news or researching a topic of interest. If we all made that change alone I think it would snowball into some pretty great developments.

We all have struggles and it’s hard to stay focused on the bigger picture when you feel like you’re at the bottom of the barrel, but we already have so much. The very fact that you’re reading this means that comparatively you live a pretty charmed life.

We’ve also all gone through times when funds were tight and we were forced to live on the bare minimum. For example, most students have very few possessions, none of them shiny; we walk, bike or bus most places; we avoid buying anything and if we must we try to find a previously loved version. With the exception of maybe a smidge too much partying, we’re (albeit mostly unconsciously) pretty environmentally and community friendly. And for the most part, we’re happy this way. Happiness is not contingent on how much you make, how big your house is or what kind of car you drive. You live a very secure life, so stop focusing on the material and figure out what’s truly important. Once you’ve done that, commodities won’t seem so exciting anymore.

There are any number of cheesy, over-used quotes I could throw in here to drive my point home, but, again, you’ve already heard them. Just start listening.
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