Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Picking up litter: it's not about anyone, not even me

I wanted to write an update on my 'be the change' experiment.  Rather than dealing with everything at once, I thought it'd be easier to look at each section of what I've committed to doing.

So - litter. I've been picking it up.  Not all of it, or frankly I'd never get as far as the newsagent, but I've been picking up bits here and there.  Nobody has said anything to me about it, so all I can report on is what goes on in my own mind and emotions.

The first couple of days, I was terribly self-conscious about picking up litter in the presence of other people.  What would they think of me?  Nutter?  Exemplary citizen?  Someone whose hand they'd like to shake, just as soon as it was disinfected?  I'm pleased to say that these self-absorbed thoughts quickly subsided.  Picking up and binning the occasional tin can or crisp packet has become a habit and, on the whole, I don't give a thought to what other people make of me for doing it.

It's easy for for my mind to make judgements about the people who have dropped litter and to invent stories about what it means about me that I'm picking it up.  This comparing and judging is unhelpful.  That's in part because it makes me resentful, irritable and self-righteous (which are not happy mind states), but also because harbouring such thoughts is inimical to my other aims of being friendly and to view people as fellow humans rather than as label-bearers.

It's been surprisingly easy to let go of those judgements when they arise: I remind myself that picking up litter is something I have chosen to do as a very small way of being the change I want to see in the world.  It means nothing about people who drop litter and it doesn't mean anything about me.

I'm also getting a greater sense of responsibility and appreciation of the area I live in.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Update - and a new experiment

I've been away for a while, so before I get into the meat of my subject, a quick update:

Since the Atheist Prayer Experiment ended, I've been meditating daily.  I've missed a few days but that's all.  I've also been listening to a lot of Buddhist podcasts and reading books.  I've reached the point where I describe myself as a secular Buddhist.

The food thing isn't resolved, but my mind has become much quieter through the discipline of meditation.  I very rarely count calories (or WeightWatchers points) and, although I still overeat at times and feel anxious about my weight and body shape, I generally rely on how hungry I feel to determine whether or not I should eat.  The  incessant food-related mind-chatter is pretty much gone and I have to tell you - the relief is enormous.

Anyway, a new experiment.  The idea for this was brought on by the death of one Margaret Thatcher.  I spent the first seven years of my life in a mining community in South Yorkshire and then moved to Sheffield, a town known as 'Steel City' until, thanks to aforesaid deceased lady, the steel industry was pole-axed.  Given the devastation her policies wrought on communities in the area in which I spent my youth, it is hardly surprising that I was not fond of her.   I'll be honest: I wasn't sad that she died.  But I wasn't celebrating either.

I exchanged a few messages with a fellow graduate of the Atheist Prayer Experiment.  Being from a (formerly) industrial region of north England, she shared my feelings about the Iron Lady.  In one message, I wrote that I'd only really be able to celebrate when Thatcherism was dead - when the selfish, acquisitive  "I'm alright Jack, I've got mine and if you haven't got yours then you probably deserve to suffer" attitude had been buried as the bastard offspring of the Just World Fallacy that it is.  Alas, I pondered, if I wait that long to celebrate, then I'll probably be put on ice long before the champagne can come off it.

We decided that we'd do our bit to erase this aspect of Thatcher's legacy.  And that's where I got this idea.

Every now and then, your Facebook friends (and maybe even you) will post the Gandhi quotation "Be the change you want to see in the world".  Possibly accompanied by a picture of Gandhi.  Or a sunrise. Or a unicorn.  Anyway - it's the sort of thing we all read, nod in agreement and then surf over to a debate forum to slag off Republicans/Liberals/members-of-a-demographic-group-with-which-we-disagree. 

So, my experiment is to be the change I'd like to see in the world, for 90 days.  Not to admonish others for not being the change I'd like to see, but simply to try to embody the attitudes and behaviours I think would make the world a better place.  Specifically, I think life would be better if people:
  1. were friendly,
  2. showed an interest in each other's well-being,
  3. went the extra mile to make others' lives easier; and
  4. communicated with each other on the level of their shared humanity, rather than as bearers of labels.
Starting tomorrow,  I'll be trying to do/be those things, in my dealings with everyone I encounter - strangers, friends, family.  Also, I'll be picking up some litter, because litter just bugs me.  I'll report my findings.  I'm sure that, at times, I'll forget I've committed to doing this and that, at other times, I'll just plain old fail.  I can be a grumpy, bloody-minded old git when I want to be.  But hey, worth a shot, I feel.