Where Logic Meets Love

Big Heart, Small Steps

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

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Big Heart, Small Steps | Faith Permeating Life
I am an incurable perfectionist. I blame this in no small part on the fact that growing up I was labeled by family, teachers, and friends alike as The Responsible One Who Follows All the Rules. This became key to my identity and was a significant contributor to my being a compulsive rule-follower today.

The problem is, as I grow older and read more books, articles, blogs, and the like, and listen to informational podcasts, I find that there are always more things to feel guilty about not doing.

Right now I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which is superbly written and well-researched, but manages to make you feel like everything you're putting into your body is not only so lacking in real nutrients that it's practically poison, but it's going to bring about the downfall of the United States -- nay, the world!

The premise of the book is that Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating only locally grown and raised foods. It helped that they had moved onto a farm, already had a lot of experience with farming, and lived in a community of farmers. Certainly, everything she talks about in the book makes perfect sense. Rather than eating a variety of species of foods that have been bred for their tastiness and ability to withstand natural diseases, we in America generally choose from among one or two species of each type of food, which has been bred to allow it to be shipped in refrigerated trucks across the country so we can have any food we want at any time. In the process, we're sacrificing taste, taking in far fewer nutrients than we realize, encouraging the use of farming practices that are detrimental to the land and to animals, and supporting the consumption of far more fossil fuels than we actual use getting ourselves around. Just to name a few problems.

I am all for becoming a "locavore," as it's called, but it seems there's no really easy way to go about it. The more I read, the more it seems to require extensive research, a lot of frustration, and being very pushy with your local grocery stores and restaurants. Oh yeah, and it costs a lot of money. Right when we're trying to cut down our grocery spending.

I mean, I get it. It's totally worth paying more for food if you're supporting your local community, getting more nutritious and tasty foods, and sticking it to The Man who is putting us all in massive trouble if our few main species of corn or soybeans ever got attacked. (Potato famine, anyone?) And I am all for "slow food," taking time to prepare meals as a family and make things from scratch, and learning about where you're food comes from. It's just that it's... exhausting to think about.

I know that's a terrible excuse.

The thing is, this is just one of the many things we "should" be doing. There are too many things to get upset about in this world, and if you think about too many of them at once, it's so overwhelming it's paralyzing. Education, for example. Have you seen Waiting for "Superman"? It's heartbreaking, not just that there are so many problems in our public education system, but that it seems near-impossible to be able to do anything about it. Even within my own college it can be like beating my head against a brick wall to try to do anything on behalf of students sometimes. The difference being, those students have a choice -- they can leave. And, unfortunately, many of them do.

When I think about it, so much of how I spend my time is already chasing after the "should"s. I mean, that's what much of my happiness project is based around. I exercise twice a week. I floss. I recycle. I vote (just today, in fact!). I go to church. I knit prayer shawls for my church ministry. I support a World Vision child. I listen to daily NPR podcasts to keep up with world news (but have no time or energy to do anything about it or even care too strongly). I made an emergency plan and am slowly assembling emergency kits. I just signed up with VolunteerMatch to edit educational materials, but I was thinking I should also try to find an opportunity to help unemployed people with resumes and cover letters, since I really enjoy that and have a year's experience teaching that.

I could add more to the list, but the point is that there will always be more things I'm not doing, that I feel guilty about not doing. So how does one decide how to allot not only time but caring? You can't care about every problem in the entire world or you'll go crazy. I think the world would be a better place if everyone cared very strongly about one issue, but people want you to care about their issue, and as much as I may agree that something is a vitally important cause, everything can't be my cause. I have too many causes already. Educational quality. Gay rights. Preventing alcohol abuse. Comprehensive sex ed. When we become parents I'm sure I will add open adoptions and some aspects of parenting to that list.

I care about having a fair healthcare system. I care about not denying people access to food and shelter because of where and to whom they were born. I care about finding a way to promote faith without completely alienating people.

Do I care about the government's scramble to agree on a budget? Or what's going on in Libya or Yemen? Or Japan? Do I care about people who don't have enough to eat across the world? Do I care about global warming? Yes -- and no. I care, but don't judge me if I'm not doing anything about it. I am one person, and I am doing the best I can about as many things as I can.

This brings me back to the food issue. I found this article on 10 steps to becoming a locavore. I'm willing to take a few of these small steps. Am I terrible person if I buy a few things from a farmer's market, educate myself about what's in season, plan to have a vegetable garden and raise some chickens when we finally have a house, but I still want to eat at Taco Bell every few months?

I don't think so. I think everything in life, for the preservation of sanity, has to come down to compromise. It's OK to alleviate your guilt by taking small steps toward solving a problem, even if you're not willing to become a gung-ho champion of the cause. If everyone cared deeply about one thing, and took small steps toward improving a few other things, we'd all be a hell of a lot better off.

What do you think? What do you care about, and do you ever get overwhelmed by the things you aren't caring about? Or is it just my crazy obsession with following rules?


  1. I agree. My brother and sister in law are vegan and are the kind who make you feel guilty for putting "bad" food in your body and it drives me nuts. yeah, I'd eat better if I had a personal chef to do the shopping and cooking. But I don't. So I take baby steps like I just signed up for an organic produce delivery plan (first box comes today, whoot!). As my mom likes to say "Don't should all over yourself."

  2. @Becca
    As my mom likes to say "Don't should all over yourself."

    Haha, I love it! I will tuck that away for the next time I start telling myself, "I should really _________."

    I love the idea of an organic produce delivery. Mike is in charge of shopping and cooking (and has just subscribed to a meal-planning site that's supposed to save us money), but I think something like that could be a great next step for us once he's got his system and regular spending figured out.

  3. As I like to say, "I can only do what I can do." This post is so right on! Thanks for helping lifting the burden.

  4. Argh, I needed to refer to the post after this one and proofread! Here's what I meant to say: Thanks for helping to lift the burden.


  5. @lifemultiplied
    Haha, no worries, this isn't a job application. Actually, that's part of the whole point of proofreading a job app--to show that you put more effort into it than you would a blog comment :)

    You're exactly right--you can only do what you can do. Nobody should feel guilty because they can't do everything. Thanks for commenting!

  6. (I'm a different 'Becca than the above. Hello, other Becca!)

    One step at a time! Some of the things I do now seemed "way out there" 10 or 20 years ago but made sense when I got to the right point. Have you seen my article "The Evolution of an Environmentalist"? I still have lots of things I know I could do better--like, I love long hot showers, and I eat some over-packaged frozen foods--but I try to focus on the good changes I HAVE made because the pleasure I get from them is much more inspiring than guilt!

  7. @'Becca
    I hadn't read that article of yours before, but it's great. You are definitely one of my inspirations in making small changes in my life--there are a lot of little things I think about doing, and then I read your articles about how you're already doing those things (like taking reusable containers into restaurants) and I think, OK, I can take this step too!

    It's helpful to hear that you now do things that seemed too "out there" in the past. I keep reminding myself (like my happiness commandment, "there is time") that I'm 25 years old, and if I'm not doing everything I'd like to be doing health-wise or environment-wise right this minute, it's OK. I'll get there :)


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