Two of my favorite definitions for us humans are these: (1) from an ancient college textbook: “Man is an ingenious assemblage of portable plumbing;” and, (2) from the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica: “Man is a seeker after the greatest degree of comfort with the least expenditure of energy.”
I will respond to the second definition.
For years, we have received warnings from the “prophets of doom” about the impending crises of hunger, overpopulation, pollution, dwindling natural resources and expanding military budgets. One of our presidents has suggested that probably we will exhaust our oil and gasoline supplies during our lifetime.
We all too easily respond, “ho-hum,” which means, “So what? Who cares! Sez you or Whatever.”
We prefer to ignore the doomsdayers. As long as we can do our own thing, get our own needs met, we’ll let the rest of the world go by. Maybe we have too many personal problems and choose not to think about our greater responsibilities to the nation and world. Or maybe we’re too busy, too pre-occupied, too ingrown, too secure in our own little world. Or, as a last resort, perhaps we hope that “they” will find a solution before the inevitable happens.
Such myopic thinking drives us into our personal Fantasy Land and Dream World.
We have conditioned each other to think about and plan for little beyond today, and act as though our lifestyle will never change. Yes, back to Fantasy Land once again.
So, what must happen before we take seriously the rapid decline of our national resources? For example, we know that our water supply has begun to dry up and become polluted. How do we respond, daily, to conserve water? Of course, the day already has arrived. Has our lifestyle changed in any way that we use water, or heating oil or gasoline or food?
Milton Meyer, in The Progressive magazine many years ago, listed some of our water uses then: Bath, 36-40 gallons; shower, 25 gallons; automatic dishwasher, 16-25 gallons; washing hands with tap running, 2 gallons; shaving with tap running 20 gallons; teeth brushing with tap running, 10 gallons; toilet flush, 5-7 gallons; washing machine, 40-60 gallons.
We can debate the accuracy of these figures. No matter, we’re talking about a tremendous amount of water compared with the lack of water that contributes to the death of many throughout the world everyday.
Now, if we take the way of least resistance, as did many during the rise of Hitler (that is, why worry, the Nazis aren’t coming for me, only for my Jewish neighbors.), we will do little or nothing until some higher authority tells what to do, when and where to do it.
If we push that decision to its logical conclusion, we will respond as did the fellow who, when asked about his commitment to the church, said, “I’ll do anything you want if you’ll just let me keep my boat.” His statement of faith, not so subtlety, promotes and even encourages a repressive government, a dictatorship, if you will.
Such behavior may repulse us. Yet we contribute to it by our failure to act before someone tells us what to do and how.
Some, however, catch a vision with energy and enthusiasm. These people willingly (literally, by their will) risk themselves despite the odds, and rejections, and consequences. They have heard the voice of the apostle Paul, or a similar voice, urging us to “take the initiative — overpower evil by good.”
That is, overpower lethargy and apathy by making new decisions, rather than sitting around waiting for others to decide for us.
The poster, with my additions puts it this way: “Not to decide (my future) is to let someone else decide (for me).”
Wayne Keller is a member of The Olympian’s 2013 Board of Contributors. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.