All the Little Things Matter

It’s hard to tell if what we’re doing matters. What if none of it does? When we pick up a single piece of trash in our path or donate an old shirt to a shelter; does it make a difference? The short answer is yes but getting to this point has taken lots of thought and mindfulness. I would say just in the few short months I have participated in a sustainability class my mindset has shifted from “no big deal” to “all the little things matter”. How did I get to this point? What ways of thinking can we shift in order to be mindful with our actions? It’s not an easy transition. Shifting from thinking that nothing we do matters, to a way of thinking that allows us to see that everything makes a difference. Maybe we don’t see the impact we are making right away, maybe even not at all; but it’s there. A change cannot be made without a starting point. No matter how small that change might seem, a start is still a start. I was thinking about it in comparison to every big shift our nation has made. The industrial revolution, walking on the moon, or the Civil Rights movement: we wouldn’t be where we are today without those people setting the change in motion. James Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny, starting the shift of a mindset from a slow-paced industry to a highly efficient one. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon; a place no person even dreamt of going. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke his mind to thousands of people and started the peaceful response to a violent problem. All three of these people probably had moments of doubt. They, too, more than likely thought to themselves “What if nothing I’m doing ends up making a difference?”. Changes that seemed so miniscule at the time have shaped our nation into what we are now. Not all shifts are so publicly expressed. I know what you’re thinking, picking up trash in your town isn’t going to turn you into the next Martin Luther, and you’re right. To put it bluntly, no one is going to notice the changes you make. Nobody except you. Doing good when no one is looking: that’s what this all comes down to. We as humans, in the times we’re living in, are looking for a get rich quick, gain appreciation, act publicly world. We live in a time where everything is bigger and better, even our actions. We refuse to act in private, everything must be televised. This might very well be the biggest thing holding us back when it comes to a mindful view on sustainability. We can’t act without the knowledge that someone is watching, we crave validation. I am very guilty of this. It’s easier than you think to slip into a mindset that puts us in an ‘if, then’ lifestyle. If I do this, then I will get recognition. Sustainability cannot move forward with this mindset because there is no way to acknowledge every little act. Due to this fact, people will simply not participate in the small things. So, we have our two setback mindsets; “nothing I do matters” and “I won’t get recognition for this”. These are the ways of thinking that are holding us back. It’s not that we don’t want a sustainable lifestyle; in fact, most people have no skin in the game. Whether we are completely sustainable and change our modes of production and transportation, or keep it the way it is now, the everyday human would not care either way. But in order for them to change their specific practices, they want something in return. We are all guilty of this. Once we get over our need for validation, it will be an easy transition into just doing the little things just because. Not only will it be an easier transition, but we will notice the little things in our lives starting to increase. Our quality of life will gradually increase because we will shift our mindset from one where we are the center of attention, to an outward attention focus. This will create a more grounded effect leaving us feeling at peace with our decisions and the way we are living. In order to critically think about the way we are living and the effect we are having on our planet, we must step back from ourselves and view it from a distance with unclouded vision. Selfishness is typically a negative word, but it is something that is completely inevitable. It’s not that we need to become completely selfless, it’s that we need to realize when to take a step back and realize we can make a bigger change not just for ourselves, but for the future. It’s hard not to think about what will happen if a change is not made. It has been said over and over again that without making a change, at the rate we are at, the planet will not see the 2100’s. It’s scary to think that the generation following me is going to live in a world where heart break and tragedy are the norm. And for our generation, it is hard to imagine a life that is not full of poverty, over crowding in cities, and an inflated market. But that was the life that our parents lived. They were not worried about the things we are now, and our kids will not worry about the things we do. It is changing faster than we could have ever imagined and it is scary. After taking this sustainability course, I am so much more aware of where we will be if a big change is not made, and soon. It is a scary thing to think about. And yes, I feel a little as though mentally I have taken a step backwards mentally, because I am now horrifyingly aware of where we are headed. I am hoping this is one of those situations that gets worse before it gets better, and I’m sure it will. I will begin encouraging my circle of influence to change small habits as well. Maybe I’ll give them the validation human beings crave in order to create a positive response and encourage them to continue. Once you acknowledge the path you are headed down, you then have the option to change that path. Whereas if you never become aware of the road ahead, it is going to be very hard to change. I guess one thing I can say is that I am confident that we as a nation will take the actions necessary for turning around. We have never been the people that ignore change that needs to be made. The only thing holding us back at this point is making a start. Start where you are now. Start small. Every little thing you do to act, no matter how big or small, it matters. I know it may not seem like it, but that’s okay. Just begin. It’s going to take a lot of change, but no person’s actions are insignificant in any way. You may not get the recognition you deserve or even want, but we need to realize that in spite of this, a change must happen. Once the changes start, our quality of life will drastically increase. It may be hard now but remember all the little things matter.

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