Thursday, August 20, 2009

Love the Ambiguity

On our way from Long Beach, WA, to Portland, OR, we spied the many, many clearcuts that dot Route 26. My sister and I pointed these out to my nephew. We both said we were not big fans of the practice.

Henry, ever the font of wisdom said, "Well, people need to do that so they can have jobs."

We explained selective logging - which is also controversial -- and he didn't quite seem satisfied.

"Well, so logging is good and bad," he said (or something close to that). "People need jobs but we also need trees."

I found it interesting that Henry, at 7, had reached the crux of the environmental controversy, and seemed OK to live in the ambiguity inherent in that controversy.

And why not?

As Americans, we're not usually thrilled to be swimming in Lake Ambiguity. We like to dichotomize - right/wrong; success/fail. As I was walking on the beach, this week, however, I began to think about how this dichotomizing hurts our movement. In fact, it hurts the other side too. And all movements/counter-movements.

When we are so invested in success/fail; win/lose we actually NEVER get to win. And neither does the other side. Take, for example, the emissions bills that have been weaving their way through Congress. So, maybe they don't go as far as we, on the greener side of the fence, would like. And maybe they go too far, as the people on the other side of the fence see it (on their side they have astro-turf rather than grass).

It doesn't make any sense to me, however, to be disappointed when such bills pass one or the other houses of Congress. Even if the bills don't include everything we hope for, these bills are beginning to pass. We endured years in which that wasn't even a possibility. Instead of being bummed out that we haven't passed the perfect bill, let's love the ambiguity.

When a baby is first learning to stand, we get excited when she grabs onto the coffee table and pulls herself to her feet. We celebrate. Clap our hands. Let out a little "yahoo". But we don't expect the baby will need to grab onto a coffee table for the rest of her life. We celebrate and then we help her stand on her own. We encourage her to walk. We look forward to the day when she will run.

Well, folks, in case you didn't get the metaphor - our movement is the baby. But instead of celebrating when she pulls herself up, we're grumbling because she's not running yet. But why don't we love the ambiguity? Celebrate our victories. Clap our hands. And know the entire time that we are still in a middle place, still haven't reached our goals.

In her seminal book on feminism, Fire with Fire, Naomi Wolf talked about how even feminists got fed up with a movement that appears humorless and dissatisfied with even small victories. Then it became a movement with which people didn't want to affiliate themselves. I fear that environmentalism, to many who haven't yet bought it, looks the same way. Humorless. Boring. Hard. Guilt-inducing. Celebrationless.

Well, I'm pretty sure I'm not humorless. I'm pretty sure that trying to be green is exciting and fun. There are lots of things we can do that are easy. And though I admit, sometimes I do feel guilty, I try to do the best I can with the resources available to me. I like to celebrate. I think we all should, for just a moment, celebrate the progress we've made as a movement. Then set our faces forward, and move on to the next step, enjoying every moment of the struggle and ambiguity.

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