People are generally good, kind, trustworthy, and thoughtful, even total strangers. Don't let a few bad apples spoil the entire crop.
A tiny mountain of sand stood in my path, created by a community of ants who probably spent years of their life (days of mine) constructing a tunnel into the Earth. The thought of placing my foot down felt wrong and selfish.
I do a lot of thinking. I take every idle opportunity to think deeply and consider what I should or should not be doing.
When I'm walking around and looking down at the ground with a blank state of mind, I'm thinking about where I want to place my foot next, what spot makes the most sense.
The other day while I was walking to the train station, I approached a puddle in the road and found two doves sipping from the waters' edge. They began scuttling away as soon as I approached, keeping an equal distance from me with each step I took forward.
Doves have always struck me as an odd creature, more relaxed, as if they love not flying, as if they'd rather not be bothered to needlessly expend energy if they can avoid doing so.
It was then that I realized I had a choice: I could walk to the right of the puddle (closer to the doves) and they would surely feel outpaced and take flight, or I could walk to the left and they would remain on the ground, at ease with my distance.
So which way should I go, left or right?
In the end, either choice would take me to exactly the same place on the other side of the puddle, but it was obvious to me that one of those two choices would have would have a drastically different effect on the world around me.
If I felt a sense of entitlement--if I felt that my being born as a human gave me some inalienable right over all other life--then I might not care which direction I stepped; I'd feel entitled to do whatever I wanted.
But the simplistic notion that all life resides somewhere on a food chain, and that anything below your spot on the food chain is somehow worthy of less respect, is ignorant to say the least.
Life is more than a hierarchical order of things.
Carrying the Best Intentions
My friend Niall Doherty--not to pick on him, but because he recently wrote something that helped me learn more about myself--quit being vegan after two years of sticking with it, siting serious doubts around the three arguments that initially led him to the vegan lifestyle.
Reading through his doubts I quickly realized why I've always found myself drawn to veganism: it's not about the effect my diet has on the environment, or about avoiding any needless killing, or even about taking care of my own health.
For me, those things are just practical and logical bonuses on top of the real reason that I gravitate towards veganism.
It's the same reason why, when given a choice, I avoid stepping on an ant or scaring away the doves: my actions, no matter how trivial they may seem, affect the world around me and, as the one responsible for my actions, I have a duty to ensure that my actions carry the best intentions.
How many people do you know who wouldn't tense up or put their foot over the brake when a squirrel or any other small animal runs in front of their moving vehicle? A small animal poses absolutely no threat to the person inside the vehicle, and yet we risk danger to ourselves by slamming on the brakes or swerving on the road.
When our subconscious is presented with a choice between life and death we instinctively choose the action that preserves life, because non-violence is an integral part of human nature.
While all life has meaning, purpose, and value, a human existence grants me something unique to the animal kingdom: the ability to make conscious choices based on rational and empathetic thinking.
Because I'm human, I can choose left or right based on conscious thought.
Because I'm human, I can look at the world around me and ask myself how my small, seemingly insignificant actions today will affect the bigger picture tomorrow.
I'm able to think about how my actions are going to affect not only me, but how they're going to affect everything around me, and not just for today or tomorrow but for generations to come.
No other species on this planet can make such conscious and globally empathetic decisions. No other species can consciously recognize that its actions may be copied by others and therefore amplified to create change on a greater scale.
Setting a 'good' example that I would want others to follow is important to me, but so is feeling good about the choices that I make. Making choices that I'd want others to follow, it just so happens, usually leads to choices that make me feel good too.
I doubt that anyone saw my instantaneous decision to walk left around the puddle, but it felt good, just like stepping over the mountain of sand and choosing to eat plants instead of animals.
Perhaps I think this way because of an innate understanding that what affects everyone and everything around me eventually ends up affecting me too.
Globally Conscious Personal Choices
Earth is an ecosystem, a community of life, and we're all born with an innate understanding that what affects the community eventually affects us too.
Good choices, then, are those that are not only good for us, but also good for the community.
For most of human history, our community has consisted of a few hundred people, or a few thousand at most. Today we're living in a global community of more than 7 billion people, a community where what we buy, what we eat, and what we choose to do with our time has a measurable affect on all corners of the globe.
It's not enough to just think globally. We must also live globally and that means making globally conscious personal choices, choices that are made while being conscious and informed of how those choices will affect everyone else.
If everyone on the planet copied your personal choices would that be good or bad for the global community?
In terms of self-reliance, the Internet is arguably the most important invention since the knife and the wheel. Never before in all of recorded human history has a single tool made so much available to an individual. And yet, despite the powerful role it plays in increasing our self-reliance, the Internet would not exist without everybody else.
The dictionary defines 'friend' as "a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection". A bit further down there is another definition: "a contact associated with a social networking website".
One reason I recently deleted my Facebook profile was that having so many "friends" on Facebook was turning everybody into a contact.
I began to recognize that in the name of simplicity, social networks are severely degrading what it means to have 'friends' and that they're slowly, friend-by-friend, psychologically training us to believe that 'friend', 'contact', and 'acquaintance' are all same. They're not.
Friends are more than contacts.
(Note that I haven't entirely abandoned Facebook: I'm still sharing my work through my Facebook Page.)
It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will look to the sky and see airplanes a bit differently than you do now. It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will hear the roaring hiss of a jet engine and look up with a new sense of admiration for who you are.
I’ve watched thousands of airplanes fly over me. I’ve flown in hundreds of them. I’ve watched the earth float by beneath me, studied how these machines work their magic, how humans build their wings, and how pilots master their controls. I’ve even been lucky enough to pilot one myself.
But when I hear one going by, no matter what I’m doing, I still stop and tilt my head to the sky with a childish sense of wonder and watch this mechanical work of art float past (a rather dangerous distraction when I’m driving; I’ve lost a hat this way).
On several occasions in the past few months I’ve found myself on the beach, gazing at the birds and watching as they glide across the ocean. Seconds later I’m presented with the opportunity to observe a similar bird, this time a manmade one, its shiny metal body and heavy engines pushing itself across the sky.
How are these manmade creatures of flight different from those found in nature? They’re both built for the same task: to fly, to temporarily defeat gravity and make use of an invisible force, to float through an invisible landscape.
The natural creature is certainly the more elegant and it’s far more attune with its surroundings. While it blends into the landscape and reacts to the flowing currents of air, its clumsy mechanical counterpart pummels through with sheer force, relying solely on the most basic and most fundamental principals to stay aloft.
One creature was created by nature, the other was created by us, a creation by a creation, a new species of flying creatures designed, engineered, and built entirely by humans. We saw birds flying through the air and we wanted to experience that flow, to obtain that mobility.
For thousands of years we tried manufacturing feathers. We tried making ourselves as light as possible. We tried jumping off cliffs and making contraptions that seemed to mimic the wings in nature.
Everything failed and many lives were lost, but we continued building, testing, risking, and experimenting.
As we began to understand the invisible landscape, we learned to combine visible shapes with invisible forces. We manufactured structures from whatever materials were available and even began inventing and shaping materials that didn’t exist naturally.
Elegance wasn’t nearly as important as function. What mattered was obtaining flight. And so we took to the skies in birds made of wood and metal, eventually refining our models and smoothing our designs.
When I look to the sky now and I see an airplane flying over me, what I see is an example of what it means to be human, that innate desire we all possess to recreate the things we hold with respect and admiration, that need to prove to ourselves and to others that nothing is beyond our ability.
We create because that’s who we are. We live our lives making choices and decisions based on hopes and dreams because we believe. We believe that even the remote possibility is entirely possible, that despite all the odds, the impossible is only two steps away from possible.
To create, to turn thought into action, to push and fight and struggle against all logical reason and bring life to visions and ideas, to shape hopes and dreams into tangible moments of reality and string them together one by one, to learn how to fly when we were born to walk, that is what it means to be human.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk around on another planet?
Imagine building a machine, placing it on top of 600,000 lbs of liquid oxygen and explosive rocket fuel propellents, then launching it into outer space and guiding it for more than 8 months and 350,000,000 miles.
Well, that's exactly what NASA has done and their little robot, Curiosity, will be landing on Mars today.
This isn't just another robot going to Mars. This is a machine, built by fellow human beings of this generation, sent out toward the stars in search of answers to questions that our species have been asking for thousands of years.
And you can watch it all for free, from wherever you are (thanks to another wonderful invention by our species), using nothing more than what you're using to read this.
Tune into NASA TV online today, August 5th, at 11pm EST / 8pm PST / 3am UTC. The rover has successfully landed! In case you missed it, I recorded the whole thing. You can watch it on YouTube or see the embedded video below.
The 'sustainable model' that I try to gauge myself against is that of equality for humanity. If it’s not sustainable for everyone, then it’s not sustainable.
When I find myself doing something on a regular basis, I ask myself the question, "Is this sustainable for humanity?" I try to imagine, to the best of my ability, replicating what I'm doing across all humans on earth and then I try to decide if that’s sustainable.
"Is this particular food I'm eating sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to sit and eat the same meal with me today?"
"Is this method of transportation that I'm using sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to ride it with me today?"
"Is this project or job or career that I'm pursuing sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to pursue the same project, job, or career with me?"
"Is buying a brand new paperback book at the bookstore sustainable enough for all 7 billion humans to buy one with me?”
“Is what I’m creating or producing on a regular basis something that 7 billion others could create or produce alongside me?”
I keep asking myself this question, over and over: "Is this sustainable for humanity?"
It's almost impossible for me to know with accuracy what’s sustainable for everyone, but at least by asking the question and framing it in context of all humans I gain a better understanding and perspective around my lifestyle choices.
Can 7 billion humans consume meat while still maintaining a sustainable ecosystem for the planet? Nope. So clearly non-meat diets are the way to move forward.
Can 7 billion humans drive their own combustion-engine vehicle while still maintaining a clean environment and healthy planet? Nope. So clearly public and mass-transit systems are the better, more sustainable option.
I don’t know how all the pieces fit together. There are so many variables that go into answering such big questions. But that shouldn’t stop us from asking them. Simply asking the question always yields a feeling in one direction or another.
Applying a little knowledge and commonsense goes a long way towards guiding those feelings in the right direction. By asking the big questions and allowing their answers to shape our decisions, we’re far more likely to do things that make sense on a global scale.
A little over a year ago I began asking this question on a regular basis. It all started when I was purchasing a pair of minimalist running shoes online.
As I contemplated the $112 price tag, I began to wonder if such a choice made sense on a global scale.
Assuming everybody on Earth could afford such a purchase, could the Earth itself support the manufacture of that many shoes made of those same materials?
It quickly became obvious that given a scenario where all humans had to wear the same shoes, we would collectively find a much cheaper solution using materials that were already in abundance and which already needed to be reused.
This solution would maximize durability, allow everyone to make repairs and alterations to their footwear with the most basic tools, and ensure maximum ergonomic compatibility with the human body.
Did such a solution already exist? Certainly after thousands of years something as basic as footwear must have evolved to the point where it was sustainable, right?
I used the greatest resource of knowledge humankind has ever created and did a little research online. I learned about the Tarahumara, the native American people of northern Mexico who run hundreds of miles a week using sandals fabricated from old rubber tires.
I’ve been wearing and running in my own handmade pair of huaraches for over a year now, making repairs and alterations as necessary and being quietly reminded with each step of that decision I made after asking the question, “Is this sustainable for humanity?”
If we all gauge our decisions against a backdrop of equality for humanity, then we will recognize the significance of our individual actions and those actions will naturally gravitate towards what makes sense for everyone.
It used to be that we were so disconnected from each other that it wasn’t possible to find globally harmonious solutions. It used to be that everybody would make decisions based on their local knowledge and access to resources.
But now, in a ever-growing global society where an increasing number of us have access to resources from anywhere on the planet and the collective knowledge of humanity, our individual choices matter more than ever.
How we choose to live, what we choose to do, the things we choose to buy and eat and consume, all of it has an ever-increasing impact on the rest of humanity and those of us affecting things on that global scale have a new responsibility to work towards what is sustainable for everyone.
To work towards a future of global social equality, we must start by making decisions that reflect a respect for that equality and we can start by asking the question, “Is this sustainable for humanity?”
Are you online or offline? Are you connected or disconnected? Are they your online friends or offline friends? Which persona do they know you by?
I believe the online/offline duality is an unnecessary, even dangerous, concept to live by.
Relating to the world, and to each other, in terms of real and virtual, to our presence as online and offline, and to our state of being as connected and disconnected, simply removes us from the real reality: we are here.
We are all here. When I communicate with you online, I'm still connecting with you.
When I go about my day, I don't differentiate between being 'online' and 'offline'; I'm just me, here, living in the now. I may use different tools at different times for communication, but I'm still one person, communicating in one reality, in one universe, with one group of human beings.
Sometimes I connect with people in different physical places and sometimes with the people right in front of me. But they're both in this world; one isn't less real than the other.
The Internet is a medium for communication. When we see someone standing several hundred feet away, do we consider them less real than if they were standing in front of us?
When we pick up the telephone and call someone close to us, do we feel alienated from that person, as if they're not quite real?
The medium for communication can change, but that doesn't change reality. There is no duality.