On Sunday afternoon, three-and-a-half-year-old Zachy and I were out in the backyard searching for bugs. All of a sudden he looked at me and said in his most serious voice, “This is Earth. Earth is our planet.”
I nodded solemnly. “We have to take care of it, don’t we?” He nodded solemnly, too. We spent a little time talking about what that meant and things we could do, but I wondered what kind of a planet we are leaving for Zachy to take care of.
This is not a new concern of mine.
The most passionate environmentalist I’ve ever known was Chris Utterback. To her, all offenses were equally serious whether it was defiling a public space with graffiti or chopping down a rain forest.
She cared deeply for the earth and couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t feel the same sense of responsibility.
One day we were driving through the quiet Connecticut countryside where she lived and came across a pile of trash heaped on the roadside. She slammed on her brakes and we jumped out of the car, picked up the litter, bagged it and put it in the back of her station wagon.
As we got back in, I sighed and said, “Planetkeeping is a full-time job.”
Chris looked at me as if I’d said the most brilliant thing and without saying so, we both volunteered to be Planetkeepers.
Planetkeeping isn’t just a full-time job; it’s a demanding one that requires vigilance and a willingness to do more than our share simply because it’s the moral choice.
Planetkeeping is motivated by a sense of responsibility to nature and other people whether we know them or not. It goes far beyond environmental causes.
It assumes that we’ll take care of whatever is ours to care for no matter how difficult or challenging that may be. Planetkeepers refuse to be influenced by the indifference and apathy of others.
Like courtesy, Planetkeeping is learned behavior. It becomes habitual behavior to those who have determined that they will, indeed, do what they can to leave things better than they found them.
It’s a practice that is worth a closer look. Imagine, for a moment, how quickly things would change if everyone went through their days actively working to improve everything they touch.
What would happen to road rage? To rudeness? To the environment? To self-esteem? To greed? To our communities? To litter? To hunger?
It may be a long time before the majority of world citizens take up the cause to make things better, but that shouldn’t stop us from raising our own standards now.
How can we as small businessowners improve everything we touch? As family and community members?
Perhaps it starts simply with a willingness followed by a commitment to put such lofty thoughts at the heart of our activities and relationships.
Planetkeeping also demands that we stop withholding our own gifts and talents and put them to work in the service of making the world a better, happier nurturing place.
How to take up the challenge?
As Paulo Coelho reminds us in his marvelous book, The Alchemist, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve upon the present, what comes later will also be better.”
Zachy will thank us all.
Well said Barbara.
One of the few sayings my dad uses is about borrowing. “Always give something back in better shape than when you got it”, he says. And has always said.
As you alluded to, beautifully, we really are borrowing this place, this remarkable, tiny blue dot in an unfathomably vast universe – and for a very short time. Somehow we – this generation – have internalized the idea that we actually own it.
I’m not saying previous generations didn’t have their problems – two world wars in the last century, and eons of bloodshed and conflict going back ages.
But my dad’s generation, and my grandfathers’, was used to the idea of borrowing. They actually borrowed stuff. I think there was one wheelbarrow, maybe two, among the dads on our block. Everyone had their own lawnmower, but also everyone kind of knew what everyone else had – if you needed something, someone had it and you could borrow it.
Among my generation (boomers), it seems, there’s a stigma attached to borrowing – that is – are you too poor to buy it?. This goes (in my life) for everything from tree trimmers to extension ladders to books.
It’s the culture of linear consumption. The culture of “whoever has the most stuff at the end, wins”. The make-consume-waste mindset that Paul Hawken talked about so eloquently, and urgently, in “The Ecology of Commerce”.
When I look at all the stuff I have, I’m as culpable as the next person. And why should my equal in China or India or Brazil or Turkey or any other emerging nation not want what I have?
But I think we all, everybody on this blue isolated dot, have to get used to the notion of borrowing again. To “claw our way back to community” as David Brooks said in a recent interview.
We need to, again, see this earth as not something to be consumed, but something we’re borrowing, and something that needs to be returned in better shape than when we got it.
I much admire your sense, Barbara, of improving everything we touch. You practice what you preach – thank you for that.
And thank you for this post. Planetkeeping is so important.
We don’t own this place but somebody needs it when we’re done.
Keep up the good work!
And well said, Larry. Tim Russert used to talk about his father’s generation who passed along to their children the notion of leaving it better than you found it. When that becomes habitual, everything begins to sparkle…including the human spirit.