Walking on the beach last week in my undisclosed vacation spot butting up to the Gulf of Mexico, I noticed two teen girls, say around age 17, walking toward Todd and me in string bikinis. Suddenly, one of them bent down and gently picked up a big piece of plastic lying on the beach and kept walking.
Looking at the other carrying an empty cup, I realized that in addition to getting appreciative looks from the guys on the beach, these chicks were doing their part to change the world. They had tans, long straight hair and nothing geeky in site, but they were tuned in enough to know that it just ain't cool to walk by a piece of trash on the beach and not bend over and pick it up. It's basic.
As Todd and I walked along—we were already carrying a Styrofoam cup we had scooped off the sand—I thought briefly about my neighborhood. Often when I walk in Fondren in the morning, I am so disheartened to see piles of cardboard and cans and bottles and all sorts of recyclables piled out for the trash truck.
Those sad piles are in front of beautiful homes where there clearly is space for a recycling nook if the occupants would just make time to do that simple, good thing. (You can get stackable bins, after all). Instead, they just assume that someone will come take their garbage away and not give it another thought.
The irony, of course, is that someone will take most of those recyclables every other week if they will take time to separate them and put them in bins (see Melia Dicker's primer "No Hassle Recycling In Jackson" to see how easy it is to recycle in Jackson).
Of course, people who do recycle—like Don and Becky Potts, or Luke and Charlotte Lundemo, whose bins often remind me to run home and put mine out—don't tend to have as much garbage to sort and manage in the first place. They choose products with less packaging, they take their own bags to the grocery store, they don't allow clerks to bag one item. They do good by creating less trash.
Then there are those who, like Melia and others who created this Good issue, have fun doing good for the Earth and its inhabitants.
Todd and I try to do this. When we lived in Colorado, we would take our recyclables on Saturday, then pick up a "growler" of amber beer at the brewery nearby—our reward. When we leave that beach condo someone is gracious enough to loan us every few months, we load up our bags of recyclables we collected during our stay and take them to the recycling bins near the post office on our way out of town. It is habit; it is easy; it's good.
I keep cloth bags in the car for shopping. The plastic bags I get when I forget go back to Rainbow for re-use by other customers. In our office, we keep recycling bins, and each week a different staffer is in charge of taking it all to the bins behind Rainbow; your name comes up once every couple months or so. See how easy doing good is?
But doing good is about so much more than recycling. It's about kindness to people, animals, the Earth. It's about fighting injustice and forgiveness. It's about mentoring and pushing for media literacy (over sensationalism and stupidity). It's about shopping locally, and supporting our own in whatever way we can. As a small business owner, I cannot afford to shop or eat at every place that advertises in my paper every week, (or at the locals that don't advertise), but I sure can encourage others to. I can build a network of local people and services to recommend, especially to newcomers. (I recommended my doctor, Dr. Joseph White, to Melia, after she moved here from San Francisco recently, for instance. I tell people to go to the Greater Belhaven and other farmers' markets.)
I can also remind others, hopefully without judgement but with passion, not to go to Wal-Mart or some other huge-box outlet to save a dollar or two, when we can spend our hard-earned money right here in Jackson with local entrepreneurs (like Greg and Kathy McDade for groceries, or Lester Hailey at Beemon Drugs), who re-invest the money into our community. I was on the board of an excellent do-good organization until recently that bought supplies and goods for board meetings at Wal-Mart, even as we sat around a table and talked about doing things to strengthen our community.
I can't comprehend such a disconnect.
Of course, that doesn't mean never shopping in a chain or online (which does nothing to help our communities and increases the carbon footprint of the goods you buy). But it does mean we each can have a "good" hierarchy for ourselves. For me it works like this: Most frequent grocery runs are at various McDades (Maywood has the most organics, but the others are increasing) and Rainbow Co-op.
About once a month, I go to Kroger for stuff that's hard to get other places, and certain things on sale (always check their clearance shelves, too). Kroger has good union policies, and also allows members of the Mississippi Independent Publishers Alliance to distribute there—another way to support local businesses (see http://www.jackpedia.com for a list of businesses that have resisted the Gannett Corp.'s efforts to kick out local media and allow MIPA members to distribute).
When it comes to hardware, I choose an Ace Hardware first because they are members of cooperatives that honor principles of local ownership and community support. (And for great keys, trade with S&E Lock & Key in Fondren.) If I need a big-box hardware retailer, I go to Lowes because they give money to progressive causes. (There is a Home Depot in Jackson, so at least go to that one if you need a Home Depot, in order to keep more sales taxes in the capital city.)
We don't have to be a hero who risks our life constantly or goes on angry tirades to do good every single day. We can just decide to get up every day and be a good citizen.
In fact, it's the least we can do.