Shifting Gears / When it's worth sweating the small stuff
We've been lucky this summer. Many perfect warm days and cool nights, interrupted only briefly with high temperatures. Half the country -- the half that feeds us -- is burning up. We are in a bubble here in so many ways. Our unbearably hot times will, inevitably, come. But while we are in this bubble, well, all we seem to see are rainbows. A strange thing occurs in Westport. Amazingly, we enjoy intermittent and apparently random cool breezes as we walk past some of the Main Street shops on these warm summer days. How pleasant. How strange.
The arrogance and disconnection from what's really going on in the world is felt so refreshingly as one walks down our major shopping row. High-end stores, with their air-conditioning elegantly on and doors open, beckon. "Enter," of course, they are saying. It's a little seduction, leaving those double doors open. Just a marketing technique. No harm. Remember, we live in a bubble.
As I passed one of those open doors a few weeks ago, I naively thought that a customer must have left the door open unknowingly and that no sales person had noticed. So I closed the door. Just an impulse to save on their electric bill as well as the wasting of electricity. As I walked back past a short time later, the double doors were open again. On subsequent walks down Main Street the same phenomenon occurred. Several shop doors hospitably left open. Clearly, I just didn't get it. So, I've been thinking a lot about just what I didn't get.
Westporters are smart -- exceptionally smart. Their smarts have led to good fortune. Just look at our ravishingly successful schools, our stellar homes, our happy, child-filled cars. Note the renown of quite a number of residents, the influence and power of so many, the generosity and ability to make things happen. This is no head-in-the-sand, ill-informed, backwoods town. Quite the opposite. Westporters are well-educated, well-traveled, well-informed, and, to a large extent, concerned about issues greater than themselves.
So why do the stores that want their business think it is a good idea to blatantly flaunt the waste of energy in a year of record-breaking temperatures, fires, floods, droughts and tornadoes? Perhaps the managers of those stores just didn't think. Ya think? Perhaps they thought it was a cool idea. Well, in a way, it is. Perhaps they believe that flagrant displays of waste send a positive message of arrogance and entitlement. Perhaps they think that Westport shoppers will rush right in to buy and could care less about the global warming crisis facing us. Possibly.
However, I have a much higher opinion of the people in this town. I believe lots of us would prefer more of the conservation/consideration/water-bowl-on-the-sidewalk-for-your-puppy-dog approach. Several years ago, customers nationally told GAP to clean up their act and commit to fair-trade practices in their overseas manufacturing. (They're still trying.) Starbucks makes it a point of honor to consider the rights of their coffee growers and their environment. The town of Westport has banned plastic bags by all stores. Striving to live within the bigger universe is, undoubtedly, the best long-term marketing approach for any business. Otherwise, there is no long-term.
One might ask, "What difference does it make -- a few shops blasting their fossil-fuel-driven cool air into the street? Given the scale of the problem, does it really matter what anyone does?"
In a sense, everything matters -- how we live and treat the world defines us. At the same time, it is important to not sweat the small stuff. How to know the difference? What matters and what doesn't? How we choose to answer that question is less important than choosing to ask it. To not even consider such questions seems as tragic and empty and as mind-dead as trying to solve global warming by air-conditioning the streets.
None of us, by ourselves, can do big things. On a global scale, everything we do is small. We could feel hopeless or blase. Or, we could each just do our small acts -- for good or for harm, whichever we choose.
One last thought emailed to me by a friend: "You think you're too small to make a difference? Try sleeping with a mosquito in the room."
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.