I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes just for one day
I, I will be King
And you, you will
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us just for one day
I, I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns, shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
And the shame, was on the other side
Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever
Then we could be heroes just for one day
A few weeks ago there was an article about “conscious consumerism” making the rounds among my friends and acquaintances. I know this because it was sent to me several times via email, Facebook, and also mentioned in person. The article, written by a woman who had dedicated her life and work to studying and practising ethical purchasing practices, spoke about how, ultimately, conscious consumerism is not particularly useful when it comes to effecting real world change. The individual’s decision not to participate in an unjust system does not dismantle that unjust system, so it is perhaps better to put our energy into trying to dismantle it.
Now, the reasoning behind people sending me this article varies from person to person, and some of their motivations were not entirely pure — what’s the point, Caitlin, in what you’re trying to do? You can’t fix it, so don’t bother trying.
That particular line of reasoning is actually considered a logical fallacy, mind you: if you can’t make it perfect, there’s no point in doing anything at all. It’s called the Nirvana Fallacy — heaven, or muck. Hero, or villain. Nothing in between.
I think the discomfort around pointing out the ethical quandaries in purchasing practices goes back to the idea of being inconvenient. I’ve been ruminating on this recently. It’s something the article touched upon as well: the strength of these convictions tests the relationships around you. Many people joke about how having a vegan at the party is no fun. What most people don’t realize is that it is probably the least fun for the vegan, who’s usually either taken a very defensive stance, or an apologetic one.
Navigating your way between staying true to your feelings on these matters and not alienating the people around you can be a struggle. It’s hard to hold onto convictions without coming off as judgemental of the decisions of others.
But I also know that I’m candid about how concerned I am with how my personal decisions (consumerist or otherwise) affect the wider world. I easily get neurotic about it. And so when certain friends sent the article to me, I knew it was a gentle reminder that I don’t need to sweat blood over everything. I am lucky enough to work in an environment where a fundamental part of my job is working toward educating people about these unjust systems, and teaching different ways of challenging them. You’re trying, these friends were telling me. They were also telling me to calm down, but in a way that was meant kindly.
And I know those friends are right. Tying oneself up in knots over these things is ultimately unhelpful for everyone involved. The underpinning of that anxiety can easily be a kind of self-obsession: wanting to make all the right decisions yourself, irrespective of the general consequences. It spikes anxiety levels, irritates loads of people, and doesn’t actually help those who are suffering — which, ostensibly, is the point.
I know I’ve reached that conclusion many times. I’ve probably reached that conclusion in the pages of this paper many times. But I’ve been thinking about St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises today, and I realized something about myself that pushes all of this a step further.
You see, I’m not a particularly contemplative person. I remember a time on retreat where we were supposed to have an hour of silent prayer and I ended up eating popcorn in my room with my sister and one of our friends, instead. I say the rosary . . . never. Well, rarely. Mostly when something’s gone terribly wrong. Recently I’ve taken up mindfulness meditation as a type of centring prayer. I do it every morning. I suck at it. I’ve learned about St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises. I’ve never done them. I don’t spend enough time praying — and not in the sense that no one can ever spend enough time praying. Literally, I spend, like, no time praying.
The fact of the matter is that, for a devout Catholic, I’m kind of terrible at being spiritual in any conventional sense. I’m a physically engaged person and I have wicked ADHD. Contemplation has never been my strong suit.
But really, that’s sort of the point. Because what I’ve realized in all this is that, for me, the act of “calming down” about conscious consumerism and personal choices is not to care less about these things. Each of these things is an ethical choice, and one that carries weight even if the act of trying to make those ethical choices ultimately doesn’t dismantle those unethical systems.
If I accept that God is in all things, and that love is in all things, then my choices should rightly take into account God and love in all things. This concern, this care, this sometimes sweating blood over seemingly minor things — like whether or not to buy a Mexican avocado. I realized today this is how I pray.
Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings