Since the release of the No Impact Man book and film I have been privileged to be in conversation with many groups. And always, someone asks me with great earnestness, “What can I do?” Many times, in other words, people ask me for how-to-save-the-planet directions.
“Just start,” I say.
And then I pause while they wait expectantly for more guidance.
“If you were to just start, without waiting for someone like me to come along, what would you do?” I ask finally.
Because, while I want to help and I want to support, I don’t want to put people back to sleep by giving them connect-the-dot directions that don’t require them to engage their spirits. I trust my listeners and my readers to figure things out for themselves way more than I trust myself to give them ideas that are appropriate to them.
After I ask what people would do if they didn’t wait for someone like me to come along, there is another pause.
Finally, I might say, “Look to yourself for guidance. What would you like to do?”
And then a person might say: “I’d like to start riding my bike to work” or “I’d like to campaign against bottled water” or “I’d like to start a compost pile in my building” or “I’d like to tell people we should love each other more.”
Then I laugh. “So why are you asking me what you can do? Just start.”
Most of us already know.
We know. You know.
Underneath the worry and the despair and the fear of doing the wrong thing, we are all imbued with a wonderful compassion and wisdom.
I love the word “inspire.” It has the same route as to respire, to breathe. To be inspired means to have the breath within in us. The breath of what? Some might say God. Some might say something else. But the breath is within us. The compassion and wisdom is there. We are all inspired, filled with the breath.
This is why I try not to give directions: I do not want to risk replacing someone else’s deep wisdom and compassion with my shallow ideas.
It could be said that,in many ways, the trouble we find ourselves in is actually caused by too many off us following directions. I don’t want to give more directions. There isn’t a shortage of directions.
One day, for example, a teacher raised her hand and said, “I want to teach second graders how to recycle. What should I do?”
But I am not a teacher. “You are the expert here, not me. You have much more of what is necessary to teach second graders about recycling than I do.”
What she needed, what we all need, is the ability to trust ourselves. That second grade teacher simply needed to trust that she was enough, that she had enough to start.
Each of us already has what we need to save the world inside of us. It’s a simply matter of trusting the impulse and putting one foot in front of the other without necessarily seeing where the path will ultimately lead.
A Buddhist might say, “Trust your True Self.” A Christian might say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” There is no need for directions. We all have a True Self. We all have the Kingdom of Heaven within us.
So many of us have nascent ideas for what we can do to help our communities or our planet, but we don’t start because we are waiting for permission or directions from someone else. But we don’t need permission. We don’t need directions.
We can find our own paths.
We can take charge ourselves.
We can simply start.