Being self-aware is partly about being aware of what one is aware of, and more importantly, what one is not aware of. We as humans get to choose what we are aware of, and what we ignore. We also get to choose whether to expand our awareness or not. Along with that we get to choose the depth of awareness on any given subject. So from the simple to the complex, we get to choose. I believe that makes us unique among living beings.
I am sitting in a relatively comfortable recliner in a semi-private treatment room at the Moneticello Cancer Center about twelve miles from our primary residence in Albertville MN. The room is about 10×10, with a curtain across a doorway which can accomodate a hospital bed if needed. There is a good wifi connection here, so I have my laptop fired up and am mostly absorbed in the reading of whatever captures my attention at the moment. When the nurses stop in, I joke with them (which they are used to by now) or discuss protocols and other medical stuff related to my treatment. The two subjects are often mixed, gallows humor being built into me, apparently part of my rather sarcastic and often caustic approach to the issues that life presents. The IV tree and IV controller quietly chug along, pumping toxic chemicals which will eventually kill me in order to save me from dying of cancer, which I will anyway. Rather odd, that. Anyway this is not about cancer awareness, but this is the environment I happen to be in at the moment….
I am reading an article regarding climate change. It is written well, very descriptive and mostly a historical account of the issue of carbon dioxide being issued into our atmosphere. The article, should the reader of this post want to read it, and I do recommend doing so regardless of ones personal stand on the issue, is here -> Losing The Earth
Awareness requires time. As does anything worth achieving of course. Choosing what we are aware of is a conscious decision when we have or take the time. Unless — the issue at hand is imminent and imperative. Then we might not have much choice… .
As I read the article, the attending nurse stops in to ask if I would like a sandwich or some other nourishment to go along with my toxic lunch. “Sure”, I say, “a sandwich and a soda would be just fine”.
A few minutes later, the meal arrives. And because I am reading the article linked to above, I am aware of the content of my meal in an other than casual way. So here is how the meal looks with this ‘other’ awareness:
Two slices of wheat bread containing three slices of processed turkey slices enclosed in a ziploc bag. Two packets of mustard, and two packets of mayo. A half can of generic Sprite like soda(aluminum can), all delivered on a paper plate. Nothing really surprising, but with my current awareness, I begin to ask make some observations…
The ziploc bag is plastic and so are the four packet of condiments. None of these are really recycle-able. The contents of the packets have had various chemicals added to them to enhance shelf life and reduce the need for cold storage. Both the bread and the meat have also been enhanced for shelf life. The paper plate is disposable and really not good material for recycling, as it has absorbed the oils and other components which came from the food sitting on it. All of this of course goes into the garbage and subsequently off to the landfill. Those are the most obvious things one might become aware of when reading an article like the one alluded to. And there are some basic questions one might ask about these observations, like:
- Is plastic the best choice for packaging?
- Is shelf life really a value added characteristic relative to the cost of delivering the product?
- Do we really need all that packaging?
- Do we really need all those additives?
But it goes a bit deeper than that for me at the moment. (My current choice of ‘level of awareness’.)
- How did we get to where we think of this as the best way to deliver a meal?
- What influences led us to this method of delivery?
- And what is the cradle-to-grave cost of these benefits?
- Was or is cradle-to-grave engineering involved in any of the components or the combination of components considered when designing the delivery method?
- Could other packaging materials be used?
- What are the invisible costs of the decisions for these methods of packaging?
- And if there are invisible costs, who pays them?
- If there are invisible costs, is money the best, or only, way of measuring those costs?
- What other methods of measurement might there be?
As these questions pop up, I realize that the nature of the questions tend to center around ‘cost’. And that realization leads to another sort of awareness: We seem to analyze everything from a cost perspective as compared to a benefit perspective. But the costs are measured in short term with a legalistic bent, and the benefits are shallow at best when examined from a long term point of view. This tends to limit the kind of questions we are likely to ask. For example: The second set of questions would be labeled by some and considered to be ‘tree-hugger’ in nature. They allude to sustainable solutions, cradle to grave engineering during the design phase and alternative measurements of the cost/benefit equation. And every one of those things adds to the front end cost of any product or service, which by the way increases the up front cost to the consumer. (All costs are eventually passed on to the consumer, one way or another. Short term costs are passed on at the point of purchase, while many long term costs are passed on via taxes (and tax incentives….note the WI FoxConn deal, again, mostly to the consumer) And yet these are valid questions. They are just not questions that we have, in general, been trained to ask. In fact, we are discouraged from asking them!
By discouraging that type of questioning, we diminish the probability of better solutions, ignoring opportunities for betterment. We engage in the status quo because we have been trained to do so. We need to redefine what it means to think outside of the box! And to do that, we need to de-stigmatize that very kind of thinking and questioning.
We have to filter our awareness and the levels at which we remain aware. That is part of prioritization of responsibilities. If one is raising a family, with kids and jobs and bills, one is not likely to be prioritizing many other issues. But as we mature and the priorities are amenable to shifting a bit, it is probably worth while to take the time to examine what we are aware of, the depth of that awareness, and perhaps explore some of those things about which we were formerly unaware.