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A Toolkit for Sustaining a Positive Attitude

If you’re one of those people that agonize over the world’s many problems, and find that your awareness of current issues is threatening to turn into a black cloud of apathy and despair (rather than a fuel for positive action) then you are who I wrote this post for. Many people I know care a great deal about the environment, about animals, about people who’re not getting a fair share of the booty plundered from the Earth since the Industrial Revolution. They care, and they know about the huge challenges, and they get bitter and disillusioned. They are not the people that will change the world. The people that will change the world are action focused, and most importantly, they get the balance right. Balance is always important. Whether you’re standing in the middle of a see-saw, playing diplomat to squabbling siblings or regulating your oh-my-god-how-awful-let’s-fix-it to oh-my-god-how-amazing-let’s-join-in information intake. Never underestimate the importance of balance. Nature is all about balance, and aren’t we supposed to be learning from nature? That sounds about right. Anyway, I myself have many times slipped into a temporary state of despair with the enormity of the challenges we face. Climate change, deforestation, resource depletion and peak oil, extinction of animals, crippling poverty, food shortages, the ridiculousness of the more more more economic system, waste and pollution, habitat destruction… It just seems like too much too handle. Well, actually, all that I can think about and just about still keep a level mind – it’s other people’s apathy and ignorance that gets to me, personally. Luckily though, I manage to keep these sad bursts under control and try to stay on the optimistic side of whatever we call reality, most of the time at least. My reason: otherwise I wouldn’t bother spending my life trying to make the world more like my daydreams. People that are depressed with the state of the world stop bothering to do good stuff… And that’s very sad. So I thought I’d put together some of the techniques I use to keep up my morale – and call it a ‘toolkit’ because I think that sounds cool.

Focus on the good stuff:

Inspiration leads to action, not to mention a happier life. It’s incredibly important to learn about problems and issues – otherwise they have no hope of being solved. You should definitively keep up to date and inform yourself and others about things that may be bad but need the attention so they can eventually be sorted out, or at least improved. But it’s also important not to go overboard with all the nasty stuff. This can lead to a ”it’s all going to sh*t – there’s no point me even trying” attitude which is understandable but unhealthy, devoid of fun and critically: can bring other people down to your level or just piss them off. You don’t want to go there. Instead you should make sure you keep yourself up to date with all the great stuff that’s going on. Subscribe to Positive News, Inspired Times or a similar publication. Reading about people all over the world who are digging up their gravel and planting carrots, campaigning for peace, building eco-communities, planting edible forests, teaching permaculture in Ethiopia, installing solar panels and implementing local currencies will refill your Hope Meter. Talking to the real live people who are doing these things, or even better, getting involved with them yourself, will do this faster. I’ve heard that the news and media portray mostly bad news because that’s what sells. I’m not sure. Wouldn’t you rather hear good news? Good things are happening everywhere – get out there and see. I’d recommend a 60% good info to 40% bad info split to maximize your awareness while knowing what positive projects to throw yourself into.

Consider other revolutions:

Humanity has a history of overcoming huge challenges, of inventing it’s way out of a tight corner, and of changing it’s core values when the old ones become viewed as obsolete by a snowballed majority. Sure we can change! That’s what we do. Consider racial equality, feminism, gay rights. These battles may not be won in all places, but they are pretty much there in many. The conviction with which people have and do campaign for these causes gives me a massive source of inspiration. It’s disgusting to read about how white and black people once had to use separate buses, or how women were once considered the ”property” of their fathers or husbands, or how homosexuality used to be illegal. But looking around at how things are so different today (at least in my home country, I know not all places are this lucky) makes it visible that bad ideas can be replaced with better ones. Paradigms can shift. Time moves on and perhaps revolutions are a modern part of evolution – refining our world views as we go. So who’s to say the Sustainability Revolution can’t be the next success? And if that’s the case, then don’t you want to tell your grandchildren you were part of it?  I hope I’ll be alive to hear a small child say: ”What? People used to cut down forests to make paper, write on it once and then throw it in massive holes of stinking rubbish six times the size of the allotment plot down the road?! But that’s craaaaazy!

Break it down:

I’m pretty sure you need to realize that everything in this world is interconnected before you can get anywhere near understanding an issue. If you’ve done that and now understand too many issues too much, you might need to break it down again before you can take your head out of your hands and do something about it. Take a deep breath, and start to home in on your locale. By focusing in on the place nearest and dearest to you, you can bite off a manageable sized chunk of the world’s challenges. In the global situation you are one of roughly 7 billion, but in a community setting you’re suddenly much more powerful. The Transition Towns Network are experts in the community action approach and they’re well worth rubbing shoulders with. Start a community garden. Write to the paper. Go for local council. Hold clothes swap parties. Join a food co-op or veg box scheme. You get the idea.

Network, make friends and connect it up:

It might be that you’re finding it all too much because you feel like no one else cares. It’s easy to think that, but luckily you’re wrong. If your family, friend group, neighbors and colleagues aren’t on the same wave length as you then it can get extremely isolated. Because really, how much can one person do? Like I said, luckily it really isn’t just one person. If you feel isolated you need to network, make some new friends (not necessarily in replacement) and make connections. We’re social animals, after all. The best way to do this is probably to go to events run for and by green-minded people. A film screening of the latest environmental documentary. A permaculture day course. A talk by a relevant speaker. Whatever. many of these kinds of things include a ‘let’s-get-in-a-circle-and-talk-to-each-other’ element despised by the shy but helpful if you actually want to talk to people you don’t know. Real live social interactions are always going to be better, but don’t underestimate the power of the internet either. Whenever I get a new follower or comment on this blog I feel a little glow of happyness that someone somewhere gets and likes what I’m saying. There are countless online forums where you can do anything from lapping up composting tips to ranting about your neighbour littering to organizing eco-villages. One good thing about how industrialized and globalized our world is is how easy it is to share information with people you would never meet in person. I regularly sign online petitions that are posted to me on facebook, and I’ve heard people run whole campaigns over Twitter. Also, volunteering is a great way to meet like minded people while doing something you care about. Surround yourself with inspiring people and it becomes easy to inspire others. You are not alone – you are an integral part of a growing revolution.

Dream:

Allow yourself to dream. Don’t worry about what could happen if we don’t get off our current unsustainable course headed for disaster. Thinking about how bad it could be won’t help prevent it from happening. It’ll just depress you. Why not picture how you want to world to be? You need something to work towards, don’t you? Keep your eyes on the prize and all that. Imagine what daily life would be like in a future where we got it right. Draw pictures. Sing about it. Make a mood board. Talk about it with your friends. Write a series of diary entries as yourself 40 years into a more positive future. Really think about what you want for the world. Make sure your vision is clear and great enough to make you smile. Then hold it in your mind’s eye as often as possible. Preferably, whilst taking actions that move you a little closer to that future.

Do things that make you feel good:

As an enthusiastic follower of the environmental movement, I want my fellow warriors to be at their best. We need to look after ourselves before we can look after anyone else, or even the planet. And a major part of looking after ourselves is keeping our spirits up. My five other points do help to do this as well, but I wanted to more specifically point out that you should do things that make you feel good. Unless you like pouring toxic waste into the ocean or killing deer, in which case I strongly recommend you find some better hobbies. Personally I find cooking myself some tasty food, going for a walk in nature or listening to some Bob Marley help me out if I’m feeling a bit low. Don’t worry, about a thing. Cause every little thing, is gunna be alright… I just can’t help but be comforted when I listen to this.

I hope you found this tool kit helpful, and here’s some Bob Marley for your enjoyment!

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7 thoughts on “A Toolkit for Sustaining a Positive Attitude

  1. This post really hit home for me. Yes, I worry about what will happen to the future generations. I have children and grand children I want to have the opportunity to have a healthy happy life. But when I start to worry I remember I am doing my part to give them the tools to live a sustainably better life. From growing their own food, to repurposing used items instead of buying new.

    I look forward to a day when your vision of no more landfills may come to pass, but I don’t think this will happen in my time as there are too many people who don’t care what goes in the landfill, they just see it as going away from them, not what happens after it’s picked up from their home. I grew up with my grandparents who still did things the old-fashioned way. They shopped at a butcher shop where the meats were wrapped in butcher paper. They came home and re-wrapped the meats before freezing them, wrapping them again in butcher paper and securing with a piece of tape. Garbage was never put in plastic bags, plastic bags never entered their home. We had to be conscious of what we bought and tossed out. How far things have fallen since then.

    When you mentioned black people having to live separate, it reminded me of a story my grandparents were proud of. It was 1960, my grandfather used his time off from work each summer to travel. They were in the deep south at a restaurant when a black man came in. He was informed the black section was full and would have to leave. My grandfather became so upset that when his food arrived he asked to it to go, paid his bill and took the food out to the man waiting for seating to open. My grandmother was so proud my grandfather would stand up for another human being this way. They drove out of town and looked for another place to eat, but realized it would be the same every where so they went to a store and picked up a few things to tide them over till they were out of that state.

    • It sounds like your children are very lucky – you’re preparing them with valuable life skills that are largely overlooked at the moment but will most likely be critically useful in the near future. Like, when they’re young adults. I expect times will change very quickly over the next couple of decades, as we globally exceed environmental limits we’ve been warned about since the 70’s.

      Also, thanks for sharing the story about you grandparents, it really made me smile. Sounds like they were well before their time in this respect and good on them!!

  2. This post certainly struck a chord with me. Sometimes it just all seems so hopeless. But somehow it helps me to remember that we ARE nature… we’re not separate from it. So in a certain sense, whatever humans do… it’s only nature acting itself out – so how could that be “wrong.”

    There’s a concept in yoga where one is supposed to practice with willful determination, but non-concern for results. After all, we can’t control the results, we can only control what we do. It helps me to remember that, and try to really do that it in my day to day life.

    When I start to feel really down about things I remember this quote from Desiderata, one of my favorite poems:

    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post, and thank you for sharing that verse it’s beautiful! I couldn’t put it into words that eloquently myself but that pretty much sums up how I feel about things. Is ‘Desiderata’ the title of the poem or the author? I’d like to read the whole thing…

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