‘Men are free…as long as they act, neither before nor after; for to be free and to act are the same’. Hannah Arendt
Of late action has been on my mind. I tend to overthink and overanalyze some situations, and I been known to debate the pros and cons of even the most insignificant decisions, such as brushing my teeth. As my father has pointed out on more than one occasion, life is just a series of decisions. But lately I have begun to believe that it is actually a series of actions. At least if you look at the way that we are affecting the planet. I read today that the average Canadian’s ecological footprint is 4.8 hectares, which is comparable to three city blocks, and that if the rest of the world lived like us, we would need at least three earths to provide all of the material and energy essentials we currently use. Also, the average energy and waste matter wasted, or caused to be wasted by North Americans, is a million pounds per year. Small actions leading to big waste is something I think we could all afford to think about. And I hold myself deeply accountable.
What is action after all but a disruption of the static state of the present. It is novelty and flush with possibility. As graphic designer Alan Fletcher pointed out in the current playful installation at the Museum of Design in London, “The person that you love is 75% water”. For human beings action is a rather large part of being human. It is programmed and hardwired into us. How else can we explain Hamlet and his painfully prolonged deliberations over what to do next. But his problem had more to do with his internal decision-making abilities than the actualization of his decisions. What about the wiley Coyote? He just couldn’t help himself and had to act, even if it landed him in hot water and in dire circumstances, time and time again.
But I am sidetracking. Lately action has been on my mind, because one of my resolutions for this year is to consume less. I have walked out of the smokey underground bar a little fogged by the cult of consumption, and I have reached a decision to consume less. The question is will my actions hold up? Can I become more of a conscientious human and less of a consumer? There are things I could do right now to reduce my consumption, and none of it actually means less action. When I think about it, in some ways it involves more action. Walking more, and travelling less by automobiles, which is easy in my case, since I live in London, and I don’t actually drive. It means going through the disciplined motion of making my lunch each day (cut the cucumber, slice the cheese or dab the hummus, wash the evidence of sandwich-making) as opposed to lining up at the vast assortment of eateries around me and walking out with more packaging than any one person needs.
Somehow I have imagined that reducing my consumption would bring with it an overall reduction in my life. But it wouldn’t. It would actually create more activity, but reduce the peripheral garbage so that at least the waste in my life (packaging, carbon emissions, energy waste) would be reduced. In my mind I imagine a Zen existence. The clutter that has come to define my nomadic lifestyle, which in principal was supposed to mean a less heavy life but seems to bring with it lotsa trailing stuff, would evaporate to reveal a chic svelter minimalistic me. Eat your heart out Greta. But wait. That is not the case. At least not yet. My room is currently being swallowed up by three suitcases, my clothing spills precariously over shelves, and I swim through a pile of work related printed documents and books I felt I had to bring along with me as travel companions. Not to mention the garden of electronic wires and battery rechargers I also had to tug over from North America. This is not the weightless existence I came to imagine would be represented by a nomadic lifestyle. Where did I go wrong? Something tells me thinking about it all on its own is not the answer. I need to begin to work through the clutter, and face up to some of my habits, which seem to add to the pile of plastic water bottles tap dancing across my floorboards.
To act, or not to act, that is the real question.