Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Affluents Anonymous

Coming to Terms with One's Responsibilities as an Affluent

They say that denial is the first sign. They are right.
The immediate reaction of nearly every person who encounters the APLS acronym is denial. I am not affluent. The word affluent is elitist. It is exclusive. It does not apply to the poor farmer in India who cannot afford to lose a few grains of rice. They are right.
The term "affluent" is all of those things. It is also us. And we must accept that term, embrace it and the responsibility that comes with it.
We sit before a computer now. Likely one that we own. It is connected to an electrical outlet and to the wealth of the Internet. We are likely sitting in a home, an apartment, an office or a public place, such as a library. We are safe here. Protected from the elements, from guns and stray bullets, from fires that might rage out of control. Outside, our streets are paved. Our vehicles locked and parked neatly on the side of the road. Police and firefighters patrol the streets, rendering them safe. We know how to read, to write. We attended a safe, clean school where we received a useful, meaningful education. But none of these things are free. There is a price. One that we cannot, must not, shirk with denial.
We must come to terms with our affluence. Even if it is not personal affluence. Even if we are not affluent compared to our neighbors or the family down the street or the celebrity on the cover of People magazine. Even if we cannot afford to go on vacation this year. If we have to drive less because gas is now too expensive. If our cell phone is three years old and previously operated as our toddler's favorite toy. If we cannot buy our children new clothes for the coming school year.

We must recognize that, technically and globally, we are the rich. And not just rich. But the richest of the rich. We are members of the first "mass affluence class" in history. Our place in a wealthy Western society has conferred many benefits.

But with those benefits come responsibilities. With our education comes duty. With freedom comes the demand for action.

We are, all of us, in a unique situation globally. As the affluent of the Earth, we can wield enormous power. As the educated, we can bring awareness. As the free and protected, we can bring peace, justice and the ability to adapt to climate change. We have all of those things in our power for one reason and one reason only: because we are affluent.

Unlike the mother in Sudan who cannot afford to feed her children and so she sends the older ones away to beg for food, we can afford, not only to feed ourselves and our families, but to demand better. We can choose. We can tell our supermarkets that we want more choice, more local, more affordable organic, more sustainable. We can opt for produce over processed. We can put seeds in the ground, in pots on windowsills, in a community garden, at a relative's house or in our child's school garden. We can go to the farmers' market, sign up for a CSA, barter with the neighbor on the corner with the overloaded fruit trees.
Unlike the batey (sugar worker) in the Dominican Republic, who can barely walk but still must cut sugar cane, we can vote with our dollars. We can choose to buy only fair trade, only organic, only local. We can tell our supermarkets that we will not buy what they sell. We will not eat their GMO-laden cereals. We can use our wallets to create an alternative food economy that is just and sustainable.

Unlike the father in Pakistan, who does not know how to read, we can read. We even have time to read up on recent laws and policies. We have the ability to write letters. To spread the word when injustice looms. To fight with our pens and keyboards.

Unlike the teen in Rio de Janeiro, afraid to leave her home for fear of being gunned down, we can turn off our televisions and go outside. We can go to City Hall and speak. We can attend a rally and demand something better. We can march on our State Capitols and wave signs calling for no more coal, for no more mountain removal, for preservation of the Endangered Species Act.

Unlike the subsistence farmer in China, who sees injustice but cannot afford to speak up, we can take action. And we can see further. Through our media outlets, we can see poverty, struggles, unfairness around the globe. We can demand better foreign aid from our governments. We can take a dollar or ten a month and donate it to Goods 4 Girls, the Central Asia Institute, or other organizations, that can and will make a difference. We can look to the leaders of those organizations and recognize greatness in them - and in ourselves - and we can step up to create, manage or organize similar organizations when appropriate ones do not exist.

We have the power to do all of those things and more. To make this planet one we are proud to pass on to our children. To preserve wild places and farm land. To save the bees and maybe even the polar bears. To educate youth on the importance of farming, the value of a lighter lifestyle, the necessity of viewing the world as a whole. To shift our paradigm and with it, the paradigm of the world, away from one of market limits to one that acknowledges environmental limits, owns up to the true carrying capacity of this planet, and recognizes that we are entitled to our fair share and our fair share alone.

We have the power to do all of these things . . .

But first, we must accept who we are. We must accept our place in the world. Acknowledge the benefits we have received and bow our heads to accept the yoke of responsibility that comes with those benefits.

We can do it.

We are the affluent and we are anonymous no more.

This post will be my submission to the APLS Carnival. The topic this month is Affluence and what it means to us. Please send your submissions to aplscarnival(at)gmail(dot)com by September 10th for the September 15th carnival, here, at Green Bean Dreams.


Burbanmom said...

wow. AMAZING post. I feel both empowered and laden with guilt. Welcome to the Church of Climate Change, eh? Gotta go put something in the coffers.

fearlesschef said...

Excellent post... it made me cry for those to do not have the opportunity to be affluent, but also for those who choose to do nothing with theirs.

greeen sheeep said...

That was an incredibly well thought out post. WOW.

After reading that I am no longer ashamed to consider myself Affluent; but rather, I want to use the vast resources I have for the benefit of someone who does not.

Great piece!

Simply Authentic said...

so well said. thank you. these are the same thoughts that have been behind my reasons for a more simplistic lifestyle. we have SO much in comparison to the rest of the world, and yet generally as a whole society, we are unhappy. how sad that we take and take, yet are unfulfilled. maybe if more would take on the responsibility of giving and caring for the planet and others, that would be the fulfillment they need. wonderfully said.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Thanks for the Goods 4 Girls plug. Again, I am being inundated by requests. Just when I think I have too many donations to distribute, someone comes out of the woodwork and needs, oh, something like 1000 pads. It sounds like a lot, but really, that's only serving 200 girls. But, that's 200 girls who no longer have to worry about their period again for a very, very long time.

Abbie said...

Great post. We should all re-read this again on Thanksgiving so we all have something to be really thankful for!

Mary Hunt said...

Because we are affluent and arguably created the machine that perpetuates "stuff," it's up to us to either put down the latte of consumerism or work with companies to create products that have as much impact as an organic apple. Not everyone is going to care or try consuming less. The answer is to shift the manufacturing to sustainable products.

Thanks for the reminder of how lucky we all are. Just being able to type my words on a computer for all the world to see is still a miracle to me.

Candice Davis said...

Great post! Keep preaching your message! It's the simple truth, though it may be hard to accept. As for me, I don't have guilt about my affluence, but it does help to be reminded of the responsibility to do more with what I have. Thank you for reminding me of my power.

Green Bean said...

Burbs: Before you know it, YOU will be one of those missionaries you were trying to keep out. ;-)

Fearless: Absolutely. Those who have the ability and turn their backs on it are missing out.

Greeen Sheeep: Thank you! I intended to write the usual reasons why I think affluence is okay and then it hit me. We are shirking our responsbilities if we deny the resources we have and fail to use them for good.

Simply Authentic: Yes! Maybe we could then find fulfillment. Studies repeatedly show that giving (time especially but also money to a degree) leads to a sense of belonging and accomplishment. Taking? That is what has landed us where we are at.

Crunchy: My pleasure! You do a great deal of good with G4G. I completely understand how 1000 pads isn't that much. Let's get some more pads over to those girls! I hope some readers will use this post/comment as the impetus to donate.

Abbie: Oh Thanksgiving. The Green Moms Carnival (anyone can blog for it) is having gratitude for its them in November. Maybe I should have saved this for then. ;-) Nahh! Plenty more to be grateful for.

Mary Hunt: So right you are about not everyone being on board. I'm a little bummed out tonight because my neighbor was trying to "go green." She bought a push mower and we went in on an electric edger together though she was still using commercial fertilizers. After a couple months, she decided her lawn didn't look nice enough and rehired her gardeners. I was so disappointed to smell the blower and mower fumes this morning and wake up to their loud buzz instead of the noiseless push mower. :( My husband pointed out that a green gardener would be a good business opportunity and I suppose he is right. Many people will simply not get off the convenience wagon so we need to think about helping companies transition over to a lighter footprint (e.g., the footprint of your organic apple).

Candice: There seems to be a great deal of guilt with affluence. That was my motivation behind the post. Guilt is worthless. Resouces to make a difference? Priceless.

belinda said...

Hi GreenBean,

I have to say I was so surprised the first time you commented on everyone objecting to being described as affluent. My first thought went something along the lines of.. Um, well yeah never really thought about it too much but yes, yes I am. Thank you for illustrating that its not a one way street.

I am thankful every day about the fact that was born somewhere that gives me a wide range of choices. I get the luxury of making many choices through the course of my day.. and generally do my best to ensure they are the most responsible I can achieve with the information that I have.

Kind Regards

Rosa said...

Thank you, this is beautiful.

There is a whole apparatus in place to convince first-worlders that we don't have as much as the people next door, and that we are powerless, so it is hard to sit up and say "but I have an awful lot, and it makes me powerful"

I'm going to link this everywhere i can manage.

April said...

I want to own up to my affluence and use it for peaceful means. I want to export a lifestyle of contentment, not of discontentment to the rest of the world. Thank you for your beautiful post and the inspiration to keep pressing forward!

Green Me said...

Such a wonderful contrast to the "we are broke" mantra I grew up listening to...and that my parents still repeat. My parents "who are broke" and own two homes in mortgage. And have children, and grandchildren, and food, and clothes, and...goodness.

I think you have really hit on something here, such a wonderful way positive way to turn around the mainstream "keeping up with the Jones" perspective. Thank you!

Green Bean said...

Belinda: what a nice way of putting it - "I am thankful every day about the fact that was born somewhere that gives me a wide range of choices." I like that.

Rosa: Thank you. You are so right. It is screamed at us daily that we don't have enough. We need to shift our vision closer to reality.

April: Yeah. Let's export happiness.

Green Me: I have a family like that too. We're all "broke" when in reality we're all rich as can be. I hope I've hit on something and that this idea spreads.

daharja said...

Personally, I don't like the term 'affluent'.

We should call ourselves what we are: stinking, filthy, bloody RICH.

We're rich.

I've got so many possessions that I cant count them. And I certainly didn't count my pennies until I started Rioting For Austerity - and even now my lifestyle ain't exactly 'austere'.

If I want something, I buy it. And I don't need to go into debt for it - we have the money to buy most stuff we want outright.

Holiday every year? No problem. New car? Yep, we could do it. New clothes? Tell me what I want and I'll go buy it.

However, I think my real wealth has come since learning to recognise just how RICH I actually am. My real wealth has come from realising, despite all the difficulties in my life, just how blessed and fortunate I am.

Nup, I'm not 'affluent', and neither are you. It's about time we quit the spin, and told the truth about ourselves. We're rich.

[gets off soapbox]

Plapdip said...

all of you have too much time on your hands. you're what phil gramm, that idiot, aptly characterized as Americans: WHINERS.


whom you are so sanctimoniously sobbing for.

Candice Davis said...

I'll take it that plapdip was, of course, joking, since he/she is also spending a bit of time on the "damn internet" and hasn't a clue what anyone else does with their time.

Was there a "sanctimonious sobbing" party to which I wasn't invited?

Bobbi said...

Excellent. Powerful. Keep rallying the troops.

Melinda said...

I agree with you. This is a very powerful post. I have been to that batay in the Dominican Republic (the batay is the squatter village of Haitians who work in the sugar cane fields), I have seen how others live in comparison to us. And I have devoted my life to changing the world so it is not so one-sided. Since the middle of high school, I have made it my goal in life to make the world a better place, and I have searched far and wide to figure out how best to do that. This is something I feel very passionate about.

I am lucky that I was born in a wealthy country, and I have known it since I was small. I have also known that I am here on this earth for the purpose of creating positive change. This is my path in life, this is what I work for with my blog, my work, my lifestyle, and my every being. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about how to do more, what medium will work best, what can I do next.

My problem stems in our defining ourselves by our wealth. Because that is what has led us down the wrong paths, always wanting more wealth, always consuming more, always feeling somehow better than others from whom we take.

I have been changing my own life to re-evaluate my relationship to money and things. I have been reaching across the world to bridge our divides and work together to solve problems. I do not want to be defined by my monetary wealth, I want to be defined by my humanity. Because that is what will get us to world sustainability.

It is my strong belief that becoming united by our humanity is what we need most on this planet.


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