The passion of youth and complacency of middle age

This post was inspired by reading Here I Stand.

At the ripe old age of 35 I find myself growing complacent. Maybe disillusioned and cynical as well. Apathetic is another word that comes to mind.

When I was young and idealistic (some might say naive – and be that as it may, there’s an upside to believing in good and believing we can make a difference) I had a myriad of causes. I started my own environmental detection agency and went around my school reading labels of cleaning products to check if they were environmentally sound – which admittedly was a fairly useless endeavour, perhaps particularly at a Steiner school – but at least I was trying. Me and my friends held a raffle to help save the rainforest and sent the money to WWF. I participated in various marches, and joined the socialist youth party. I wasn’t quite sure how to save the world, but I was searching for a way to contribute and I believed that I could.

Where is that fire now? That passion, conviction? The belief that you must unwaveringly fight injustice and speak up against it?

I’ve talked about the SEP field before in a slightly different context. Then it was about the line between fiction and fact, fantasy and reality. But it also works in more nefarious ways. I agree there is a need to be somewhat realistic about what we’re fighting for and if there’s a point to it, otherwise you end up naively railing against every perceived injustice without accomplishing much else than making yourself feel better and/or tiring yourself out. But I think most of us err too much on the side of complacency. As the Norwegian poet Arnulf Øverland says in one of his most famous poems, “you must not tolerate so well the injustice that does not affect yourself”.  Any injustice, any war and poverty that doesn’t directly affect us becomes somebody else’s problem. We find a way of ignoring it and going on with our lives as if nothing happened.

I appease my conscience by some slight monetary contributions to charities. And I make excuses for myself: we don’t have children, we don’t have a car, we eat mostly vegetarian, surely our carbon footprint is much smaller than average in the west? Maybe that’s true, but does that give me a free pass to ignore everything else? No. Those things are easy for me. I don’t want to have kids, a car would mostly be inconvenient, and while I like eating meat there’s plenty of vegetarian options I love too.

Maybe my cynical side is right. Maybe signing campaigns for Amnesty International or the WWF doesn’t make any difference. But it also doesn’t take up much of your time.  Maybe there’s some truth to the argument that nobody should have to beg on the street in a first world European country with good social aid. But people still DO. And I for one find it incredibly hard to believe that someone would choose to do that if they had any other means of making ends meet. There’s always someone that falls outside government aid for whatever reason, and they need your help or at the very least your compassion. All human beings have a right to be seen, and to be treated as human.

I’ve been thinking about what I can do. What is realistic, what is actually helpful? And I have decided to start small, by focusing more on things I’m mostly already doing, but doing it more, and more consciously. Maybe by putting it in writing I feel more committed to following through and being consistent. Accountability and all that. So…

I pledge to:

  • Speak up against ignorance, malice and injustice when I hear it
  • Educate myself on the issues when I’m unsure what is going on and who is right and wrong
  • Buy organic and environmentally friendly food and other products as much as possible
  • Reuse and recycle what I can
  • Vote against or protest against any bill, law, or politician that wants to take away our rights and our freedoms under the guise of protecting us
  • Keep going out and doing things and not let fear of a terrorist attack stop me from living my life
  • Meet everyone with kindness and understanding, and be open toward the people and the world around me rather than shut everything out because it’s difficult to deal with

Surely in my complacent “middle age” I can do these little things? These little things that if we all start doing them become large and world-changing.

What are your pledges? What should I add to my list?

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