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Network for Peace through Dialogue

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March 19, 2015 | Third dialogue in Our Common Ground program series

"What are a few material things you absolutely have to have? What are a few things you could do without?

In this dialogue, we began to examine what changes we will have to make in our lives if we are to live in a way more in tune with the rhythms of without.

To open the evening, we viewed a short cartoon available on YouTube entitled "Man." In the cartoon, a creature resembling a human male is welcomed to the planet and soon begins to act as if it belongs only to him. He violates other creatures and uses his creative power to manufacture tons of stuff that soon becomes a garbage heap. In the end, however, he is destroyed by his own self-indulgence.

In response to the cartoon, dialogue participants were asked to say one or two words to describe their response. Some words were "domination," "arrogant," "greed," "sad," "accurate," and "complicit."

We then turned to the questions posed for the evening. In order to begin the exploration of needed changes in our way of life, the questions were: What are a few material things you absolutely have to have? What are a few things you could do without?

All of this information led Peggy to think about her relationship with the environment and make changes in her daily life. She read "Diet for a Small Planet", a book that argued that if instead of feeding grain to fatten livestock for us to eat, we ate the gain ourselves, there would be enough food to feed the world. After reading this book Peggy chose to eat very little meat. In addition she started to buy cleaning products that were biodegradable and to change what fabrics she wore.

Following are participants' responses:

  • One thing I definitely want is heat to keep me warm in cold weather. As for what I could do without, I think of clothing. Early in my years in a religious order, I wore a habit every day and had only a small drawer of other belongings. That didn't seem difficult. Now I have more clothing than I need. I could also eat a simpler diet.
  • I absolutely need my computer and my phone, but I don't need the most up-to-date gadgets. The constant new models cause a lot of pollution.
  • Two months ago I gave up meat but was eating fish. Since then I have learned about the damage of over-fishing and maybe I should give up fish, too. As for things we need, I think we need refrigeration. I need a word processor, although I worry about how much paper I use.
  • I need a word processor because I'm a writer. I live in the suburbs and this winter because of all the snow, I have learned to live without a car. I might continue to use it as little as possible. I don't like what happens to people when they get behind the wheel. Trains are wonderful and I get some exercise walking to the station.
  • I need a communication device to reach out to my friends. I could do without a lot of extra clothes and cosmetics.
  • I need good shoes because I like to walk, especially on an annual retreat I take where I go camping and walk a lot. I need space of my own, a room where I can get away from everyone. I do have more books and CDs than I need. I tend to collect bags of all sizes and have way too many.
  • What I need most is friends. As for material things, I need a cell phone and computer. Since I am a pastor, I have a lot of names in my cell phone -- 500 of them! I don't need much clothing but I have more than I need. I try to get rid of some of it but I can give away 20 sweaters and then get 20 for Christmas. I also have too many CDs and books. I could also work on giving up my selfish ways.
  • When raising my family, I lived in a beautiful Colonial home in Massachusetts. After my husband died and my children were grown, I moved into a small apartment in New York. I found I didn't miss things I thought I needed. In my family, we don't exchange presents now. I have a car but I don't use it in the city and could give it up and rent one when I need it.
  • I once went to a workshop in Ghana where I visited a farming village. They carried water a long way from a river and cooked over an open fire. I need a source of water near me, though I wouldn't mind carrying it if need be. The women in Ghana frequently developed respiratory problems from the smoke and I would like a smokeless stove. I like to eat locally grown food and could do without tropical fruits like bananas and pineapples.
  • I need my dog and a punching bag. My dog keeps me sane. He's a good companion. I could do without entertainment TV. Most of the time it's poisonous and meaningless. Some people are tuned into shows about people living their lives as rich people. I could even phase out the news. I could do without fluoridated water. Studies show how bad it is, even leading to lower IQs in children. I don't need much and am pretty satisfied with the few things I have, like 4 pairs of shoes for different purposes.
  • We had a practice in my religious order of moving every three months. This prevented us from getting attached to things and places, even to the person living next to you. I do want to be able to watch the news so my world does not become too small. I could cut back on clothing, get rid of CDS. I do need relationships I'm strong on networking and communication.
  • I like silence. TV only makes me feel more lonely. I live in a tiny apartment but it's fine for me. Out of season clothes just go under the bed. What I like about not having a lot of clothing is that I don't have to think a lot about what to put on. I do need to keep family photographs; my mother took a lot of them when I was growing up and I like to look at them. I could begin using the library instead of buying books and restrain myself when browsing in thrift shops. I have a dog who keeps me grounded and out of doors; walking the dog leads to communicating with people on the street.

After a discussion of similarities in people's reflections, there were a few additional comments:

  • Individuals can set examples that others could follow. We act like we own the without but we are stewards taking care of it for future generations. We should be thinking about sharing rather than buying and owning. I teach business and my students seem more caring than my generation. They talk about creating businesses based on sharing.
  • I agree on sharing car pooling is good. But buying can be more ecologically savvy, too. For example, owners of buildings can install solar panels. Since people seem to be competitive maybe we should find a way that people compete for how well we are doing for the environment, manipulate the Alpha-male complex into being more sane.
Things that they can't do without Things that you can do without
heat cosmetics
light make-up
computer clothing - some of it
phone books - some of them
communication device cds - some of them
shoes selfish ways
word processor giving presents in the family
refrigeration entertainment TV
people flouridated water
fresh water nearby  
washing machine  
a room of my own  
vegan bullion cubes  
my dog  
my punching bag  
onion news  


What can/will I do? Give up eating fish / use the library rather than buying books / shop at the green market / share things like cars/ go for things with permanence rather than trendy things.



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