There is a claim that is attributed to Plato- "the unexamined life is not worth living". While one might argue that this claim is laden with rhetorical flair, it is a nonetheless one that resonates with me in that I feel that it stresses on the importance of making conscious, value-based decisions in our lives. This is without doubt an life-long process, one in which we have to consistently check in to gauge whether we are leading lives in alignment with our values. Where we may have to shift our stances and practices in light of new knowledge and/or shifting circumstances. As a leader of a sustainable development organisation and an academic involved in furthering ethics and sustainability education, I'd be amiss if I did not scrutinise my own actions (or inaction) as an individual.
What I intend to share with you through this post, is a window into some of the key ethical choices I have made and some of my (many) failings. I would like to state from the onset that these choices are ones I have made in accordance with my values, my lived experience, conversations with others and secondary research. As described earlier, this has been an incremental process, layers built over several years of self-examination. I do not intend to contend that these are THE ethical choices that individuals need to make. Rather, I am more interested in a genuine exploration of the alignment between ones espoused values and the actions we do or do not take part in.
It is my hope that this window, admittedly focused on the practicalities of daily living, provides some food for thought ...perhaps even some inspiration for action! For the sake of simplicity, I will divide this entry into two main parts - "The Aligned" and the "Misaligned", though as is often the case in life, there are instances where there is both alignment and misalignment within the same category!
As I come from a family of teachers and have had (for the most part), a Buddhist upbringing , the value of service to community was instilled in me from a very young age. In Sri Lankan culture, there is a concept called Sharamadana which translates to "sharing ones time, thought and energy for the welfare of all". Volunteering is a key manifestation of this intent. This is an aspect of my life that I feel is well aligned. Thus far I have contributed thousands of hours of voluntary service to various community initiatives, the establishment and management of Empower Projects and mentoring both students and social entrepreneurs like Nathan Basha. Beyond it being a point of personal pride, I sincerely feel that these hours have been some of the most fulfilling hours of my life thus far. My personal approach to life is centered on an intention to live a life of contribution.
My Commitment to Friendship
This is an area of deep significance to me as I've had the benefit of some wonderful friends in several countries that have helped me overcome many personal challenges. In fact one reason I feel particularly strongly about cultivating strong friendships is because I suffered from depression (mild) in my undergraduate years. Without descending into great detail, one of the driving forces behind me overcoming this, was the presence of friends who were open to real conversations. What do I mean by "real"? Well conversations that transcend polite niceties, forced positivity or mundane (in my view) exchanges of pop culture. Ones in which I could express myself freely, especially if I was despondent or upset without feeling as though it was an imposition, a "buzz kill".
As such I am very conscious of making time for my friends and forging honest relationships. I am fortunate that I have many good friends, but I have fairly clear circle of friends that I meet regularly to check in and even use tools like this to discuss our life goals and challenges. After all, how can we be good friends without supporting each other on our respective journeys? Helping my friends make their aspirations and challenges explicit has been very valuable and often strengthened our commitment to each other. More generally, I am a heavy user of social media and while that does come with its own challenges, its been a useful way to connect with friends overseas and to be accessible to those who might need someone to talk to. To date I don't believe I've ever failed to respond to someone who needed to talk and I never intend to.
A huge part of our lives and one mired with ethical considerations! This is a facet of my life that I am yet to perfect in terms of alignment but I will acknowledge where I feel I am doing well. I am a permaculturalist and as such I am an advocate for locally grown, organic produce. This video by Michael Pollan does a great job of sumarising my stance.
My focus here is two
1) growing as much of my own food as possible. 2) Purchasing as much local produce as possible.
I've been especially successful with 1). We live in an apartment at the moment but grow enough herbs and salad greens to have a salad everyday! Yes. It is very possible. There's so much you can grow in a small space and there are plenty of resources out there to support you. I'm happy to be of assistance if you ever need any guidance. Beyond the environmental and health benefits , anyone who grows anything will attest to how deeply rewarding it is. There's been research to suggest that gardening has many mental health benefits as well, particularly when it is a communal /shared activity.
As for 2) this is a work in progress. While we do purchase organic produce, palm oil free, free range and fair-trade wherever possible, we need to improve upon where we purchase the majority of our fruits and vegetables e.g. local grocers vs supermarkets. The main "reason" here is that of convenience given the busy lives we lead. Yet from experience, this mainly a matter of creating a new habit.