What does it mean to be conscious?
Being conscious is to be deliberate. Intentional. Purposeful.
Too many people live without intent. Living without too much thought about how they live - how their life impacts on others, or the world at large.
As a society we lived this way for too long and the results have been disastrous; businesses, pouring toxic waste straight into the ocean (where did we think it went after that?), dumped rubbish (much of it reusable or recyclable) creating new mountains and polluting soil and air, the slaughter of endangered creatures for a tiny piece of their anatomy we could make money or create status from– tusks, musks, skins, blubber…We even turned a blind eye to war and holocaust and blatant racism, accepting with apathy ‘whites-only’ bathrooms and water fountains, and people being forced to sit at the back just because of the colour of their skin. It has been happening right under our noses for too long.
Thank God for a movement of consciousness.
Conscious living is active, deliberate and intentional. Conscious consuming is the same. It requires us to think about the things we buy and why we buy them, to consider the things we use, and those we discard. It makes us stop and think twice before we throw a plastic bottle into general waste, and consider who is actually paying when we spend $5 on a brand new T-shirt made in China or India or Bangladesh.
Conscious consuming makes us say no to paying $1 a litre for milk even though it makes our budget a little easier, knowing that on the other side of that dollar is somebody’s hardship, heartache or struggle.
Conscious consuming makes us think twice about paying $2 a kilo for tomatoes (do you know how hard it is to grow food? How can anyone be making money at the other end of that? And what shortcuts are they taking to ensure they can feed their family on such poor returns?).
Conscious consuming makes us drive 45 minutes to an independent supermarket even though there is a supermarket giant 2 minutes down the road. Because I believe in something bigger than my budget, my convenience, my time.
Being conscious is not being elitist or self-righteous; it is simply a decision to think about your life and your world, to determine your values, and act accordingly.
Conscious consuming means that when I watch a documentary about a certain phone company allowing its poorly-paid factory workers to acquire serious illness from the chemicals they use, or learn that it takes half a tonne of soil to get the metallic components needed for just one mobile phone, the next move is mine. What am I going to do with that information? Will I now go without a phone? Will I personally boycott the phone company? Will I change my habits in other ways? Doing nothing is not an option. Now that I know, I must act in some way.
We can no longer afford as a society to simply look away.
We are obligated to think, to move, to act, and to shine a light on the truth; to live in such a way that reflects our values, and not just to hold a few ideals lightly depending on the circumstances and how comfortable we feel.
Comfort, after all, is relative.
But what can one person do? My single actions mean almost nothing in the scheme of things.
History demonstrates that one person has always been the reason for change – Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Emily Davidson, Gandhi, Jesus Christ, Galileo…. The fact is it takes just person to start a movement. One person with an ideal, and a heart-felt passion to see things change, who puts action behind their words, and inspires others to do the same.
You think you’re just one person, but how many like-minded people are there around the world who want the same change you do? Maybe 3 or 4 in your inner circle, perhaps a dozen in your community, 100 in your neighbourhood, 500 in your city…
It’s just one straw, said one million people.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Want to become a more conscious consumer? Here are five questions to consider.
What are my values?
What do I believe in? What do I stand for? What is important to me? Where do I draw the line? And what can I start doing today to better reflect my values.
What do the things I spend my money and time on say about me?
Are my actions and habits a reflection of who I am and what I really value? Would people be surprised to know what I do with my time and money given what they know is important to me? Do I need to rethink my habits and make some to live more congruently with my values. There is freedom and happiness in living authentically.
What am I teaching the next generation?
What do my choices tell my kids? Do my kids know what my values are? Am I demonstrating to the next generation that I care about the world and others, and am I carving a pathway for them to act justly, and be involved in change? What do I wish my parents taught me to do or act or say differently?
ABOUT THE THINGS YOU BUY
Who made it?
Who is at the start of this transaction? They have a name, a face, a family, a dream. Work backward through your purchase and consider what each person or business along the way was paid. For example, the $5 you paid for a t-shirt might have been bought in to the store for $3, so the distributor might have bought it for $2 and the factory might have produced it for $1.50. Taking into account the cost to run the factory and pay for the fabric, how much did the maker likely get paid? And how much pressure is on them to produce a product within this budget?
How does this affect me/the environment/the world/the producer?
What does my purchase of this product say about my values? Am I contributing to a better world or am I condoning poor working conditions, sweat shops, illness, environmental pollution, slavery (Did you know there are currently around 46 million people in slaved in human trafficking, forced labour or sexual slavery around the world)? Am I happy to be supporting a company that pays producers less than the cost of production, or less than subsistence wages? Did this product require toxic chemicals to produce? They might not affect me as an end-user (or perhaps they do), but is it likely someone along the process is ill because of this product?
What are the values of the brand, do they actually follow through on those, and do those values align with mine?
Many brands don’t seem to have a set of values aside from the goal of making you look good and making themselves money. But do you want more from the companies you support? Do you know what their mission is? Do they have one at all? If they say they are committed to a particular mission, how are they demonstrating that? Do all their actions and offerings support their values, or is there a misalignment? And am I happy to support a brand that doesn’t support my values, or contribute to a better world?
Do I actually need it/love it?
Yes, you probably need a phone. And a car. And groceries. And clothes. But you can be conscious in the way you make these purchases. Do you really need it? Do you actually love it? Is there something more meaningful I can spend my money and time on?
We can longer afford as a society to turn the other way. It is time we all became became conscious.
There is power in it to change the world.