I work with a lot of self-proclaimed “liberals.”

I use quotation marks because, as I have gotten to know these specific people over the years, I have found that to them, “liberal” apparently means simply voting for democrats and bitching about whatever the republicans are doing. I, being an avoider of adhering to labels, am perplexed by this because if that’s really all it takes to be what they claim, then perhaps they should identify themselves as “anti-Republicans.”

To me, claiming to be a liberal suggests perhaps embracing some life habits that coincide with your liberal ideology. You know, walking the walk while talking the talk. In other words, putting your money where your mouth is.

For example, I work with a woman who identifies herself as a liberal. She is big on environmentalism and is often outraged by the effects of our expanding society on clean water and air, at the legislative attacks from the right on the laws that protect our ecosystems, and at corporate malfeasance that results in habitat destruction, urban sprawl, and expensive waste removal. And I agree with her on all of that.

But one day as we discussed these and other issues in the break room at work, I noticed her brewing a cup of tea. She retrieved a new disposable cup from the cabinet, steeped her tea in it, added sugar and then retrieved an individually wrapped plastic spoon (with plastic wrapping), opened the spoon (throwing away the wrapping), stirred the tea with three quick twists of her wrist, and then threw away the spoon.

This woman drinks a lot of tea, usually three cups a day at work alone! As she spoke to me about the latest republican ploy to dismantle our environmental protections, I stood silently, shrieking inside as I calculated the numbers. 3 cups of tea x 5 days a week x 50 weeks per year = 750 cups + 750 wrappers + 750 spoons that go in the trash every year…just from her…just at work. She’s venting to me about environmental transgressions and I’m witnessing her perform her very own landfill stuffing right before my eyes! If everyone at my company did that we’d be scrapping over 12,000 cups, wrappers, and spoons every week!

Inside I could not help thinking, “Really? She can’t reuse the cup or spoon? Or she can’t bring in a reusable cup and spoon and dedicate them as her own little tea set?” But outwardly I just keep nodding in agreement while I’m dying inside.

Not long ago I had a conversation with another colleague who was a DIE HARD Barack Obama fan. He is from Illinois and was a strong and vocal supporter of the freshman senator in his bid for the presidency. I don’t know if he would call himself an environmentalist, but he is certainly aware and concerned about the causes of global climate change. He advocates for renewable, low-carbon emission energies and for us as a country to pull our heads out of our asses when it comes to how we create and waste energy. And again, I agree with him on all of that.

Then one day, he was talking about a vehicle he was considering for purchase. I own the same vehicle and mentioned this to him. He asked me a lot of questions; what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I paid, and so on. Then he asked me if I had any concerns about having enough pickup or acceleration. I said no, I had found it to have plenty for all of the necessary scenarios: entering freeways, passing cars, and so on. He followed with, “You have the 6 cylinder then?” I said no, I have the four. His face soured. Apparently, he had driven the 6-cyl. and felt it to be lacking. Since he had mentioned that it was meant to be a family car for his wife and three kids, I asked why he felt he needed such acceleration, at a cost of roughly 8-10 mpg. His reply? “Because I’m used to driving a Lexus GS.”

So, you’re concerned with climate change, right up until it costs you some acceleration on your vehicle? Acceleration, mind you, that you will seldom if ever need, especially in a car that is conveying your wife and three young children.

Now, I’m sure some of you might be thinking, “Who is he to judge? I’ll bet he’s made some life choices that don’t follow the liberal code!” To this I would say, 1) I don’t claim to adhere to any written ideology and 2) this isn’t about who is the real liberal as it is about hypocrisy and the American (if not human) state of mind that makes it okay to express concern about an issue and then completely ignore your own personal effect on that very issue.

One might conclude me to be a conservationist, and even an environmentalist. No, that doesn’t mean I spike trees, or live in them; nor do I chain myself to bulldozers before they tear down a forest (though I might be willing to do so). But contemplating our global society and the imminent threats of the overpopulation problem, I do apply the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra to most of my consumer decisions. I consider my impact on this planet, its ecosystems and waterways, and I reference that consideration when I make personal choices. Sometimes I rationalize an action, yes, but most of the time, I change what I do so that it coincides with what I know to be true.

I do this because of two things: a very wise man from India and cognitive dissonance.

Gandhi said, “You must BE the change you wish to see in the world.” And he is 100% correct. There is no argument to the contrary. To act in a way that is contrary to how you want the world to be is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

About 10 years ago, after I had realized the truth in Bapu’s words, I started experiencing cognitive dissonance as I contemplated my actions as an American consumer. Chemical pollution is threatening our ecosystems; nonetheless I was buying and using environmentally harmful chemicals (because they are cheaper). Plastic bags are polluting oceans and rivers and killing wildlife: yet I was buying products packaged in plastic all of the time and bringing them home in plastic bags. Gas usage, recycling, investment options, where I chose to shop – all of these old habits came into question because I had seen the results of hundreds of millions of Americans doing the same thing I was doing. How could I look at pictures of dead marine animals, strangulated by plastic bags and then use another 10 or so on my next trip to the grocery store?

Frankly, I don’t know how others do it. Specifically I am talking about those who know better, who claim to be informed, who claim to care. After all, they care enough to talk about it, to be upset about it, to vote against it. But I guess they don’t care enough to actually change their ways. Do you?

I dare you to examine your own habitual decisions closely and look for some, even one, that you always knew to be wrong. Be it shopping at a store that pushes local shops out of business, or driving a car that gets horrible gas mileage, or buying corporate-produced food instead of supporting a local farmer, or using plastic bags instead of corn-plastic to pick up your dog poop.

Find that one thing and then I dare you to change it. I’ll bet you can. And I’ll bet you’ll feel better once you do.

Advertisements