Monday, April 22, 2013

Opt-Out.

   

    We are not what most would consider the rebellious type. Although we have strong feelings about a plethora of issues, you won't likely find us in the picket lines, chained to heavy equipment or sitting in a tree (unless, of course, there is some fine looking fruit up there!). There was a time when I wished that I was more outspoken. I once envied those who possessed bolder personalities and could fearlessly shout their views to the world. I still appreciate those who can.  Indeed, broad sweeping reform requires the voice and action of those who can rally support and shake an indolent political system into action. Rebels like these are both commendable and vital, but the world needs rebels like us too. We may have a quieter and more passive role to play, but our actions are no less valuable and can be equally influencing of change. I am talking about passive resistance, I am talking about the choice to opt-out.
      Our world is so connected today that it is virtually impossible to be unaware of the many conflicts and injustices in the world. We are constantly bombarded with pleas from all sides of countless issues whether they be political, social, ecological or philosophical. It is so overwhelming much of the time that I believe we have developed an apathetic auto-response to shield ourselves from the chaos. To some extent this is necessary. Our resilience, however, may be both our greatest ally as well as our greatest obstacle to moving forward. The trap of our apathy is that we can begin to feel that there is no use in trying to change anything when there is no possible way that we can change everything. This is especially true when it seems that everyone has a different solution to a problem, or even worse, there are no apparent solutions at all. This trap is avoidable, and for me, the greatest reason to side-step apathy is purely a selfish one; it feels great to live and to grow on the the principles that you hold closest.
      On the face of it, opting-out is simply choosing not to participate in something you don't agree with. But for Heidi and me, opting-out has become a kind of mantra and a life philosophy. For us it's about much more than simply not engaging in the things we don't believe in. Although non-participation is at the heart of it, it is more about taking a different course. It's about being true to our feelings and making a commitment to engage in proactive opposition. Choosing a new path really boils down to these three actions: learning, living and teaching. I would like to share one of our own experiences so that you may better understand what I mean.

Some of the fruits (and veggies) of our opt-out labors.

     For years now we have been aware that the food we purchase in supermarkets is not often produced in a way that lines up with our principles.  Sustainability, humane treatment of animals and fair wages for workers are all ideas we believe in. The problem was that for a long time our ideals did not align well with our actions. While we were actively thinking about these issues and claiming to support them, we were simultaneously purchasing products that represented the complete opposite approach. It was easy to turn a blind eye, to make excuses about cost and convenience, to not think much about our contradictory actions and simply go with the flow. Our entire industrial food system, after all, is setup to encourage us to do so. I remember on several occasions actively avoiding books and movies that documented truths about which I was already suspicious. By avoiding these truths I hoped to avoid taking on additional guilt and the nagging and intimidating push to change. I think that it was this active ignorance (a trait which I disdain) that finally convinced us to take action, or in-action as it may have been. Our choice was to stop giving so many of our hard earned dollars to institutions that go against most everything we believe in. Our choice was to opt-out.
       This decision was not a distinct point in time but an evolution over several years and it continues to be refined today. As I had expected, I was happy to shed some guilt every-time I passed on the conventional produce for organic options. What I did not expect was the way I would feel inspired to take my ideals even further. It didn't just feel good to "do the right thing", it felt great! I began to read those books that I had been avoiding for so long. Instead of burdening me with guilt, they cheered me on in my pursuits. What started as buying organic carrots when they were on-sale at the grocery store eventually led us to seeking local, in-season produce from farmers markets. Our appetite for good food grew voraciously as we began to search for locally pastured and processed, meat, eggs and dairy. Eventually, this led us to seriously pursuing gardening, hunting and raising our own heritage breed chickens to fill the freezer. It is hard to believe, but that simple choice to opt-out of factory farmed carrots has precipitated an expansive vision that truly defines a huge part of our lives. Opting-out of the industrial food system gives us both satisfaction and purpose, but the experience has given us something even more valuable. We have been given a frame-work by which we may pursue all of our principles and ideals.

Happy chickens just taste better.

       As I mentioned earlier, there are three distinct actions that have materialized from this process of opting-out. The first is learning. Learning has been ongoing and endlessly inspirational. Books, magazine articles, blog posts and documentaries have all been essential in solidifying our opinions and guiding our journey. I am not only talking about taking bits and pieces of evidence that support the views we already have, but also exploring opposing views. It's not about choosing a side, but creating your own side. It's about crafting a position that you feel is right and that is worth pursuing in every way. Our ideals are not set in stone, but should be nurtured and encouraged to evolve. Living by your ideals, the second piece, may be the most important and the most satisfying action to practice. Learning inspires living and living inspires learning. It is a wonderful cycle to get stuck in. Finally, there is teaching. Teaching is one part of opting-out that has more recenlty become apparent  in our adventures. I am not talking about proselytizing, necessarily. In fact, for many, the old idiom "teach by example" is plenty. I believe that on many levels living by your ideals is teaching. But you may find, as we have, that you have an overwhelming desire to share your ideals, visions, mistakes and victories with others in a more active way. This sentiment is not rooted in some altruistic mission to save the world. It simply feels amazing to share something that feels so right and maybe with a bit of luck, to also leave a tiny wake of inspiration along the way.
   
      Have you ever felt the desire to opt-out? What have your experiences been? What lessons have you learned? Please feel free to share. 



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