Why Sustainability is Selfish

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Imagine a beautiful, remote island as big as a football field in the middle of the sea. It’s full of eatable plants and a lake with clear drinking water. On the island lives Joe. Joe chose to live on the island two weeks ago. Along with him, he brought a whole lot of stuff that he didn’t want to miss out on. His favorite food, ravioli out of a can and Oreo cookies. Shampoo. A generator to plug in his hairdryer. And a calculator (just in case).

After a year of living on the island, Joe wants to leave. He says everything changed so much.

This is what the island looks like today: Joe dumped the leftover ravioli in the lake. Unfortunately, they had a chemical reaction with his shampoo. They poisoned the lake so the water is not drinkable anymore. The eatable plants are all in his belly and Joe forgot to plant new ones. His hairdryer died and now covers, along with all his other crap, 1/6 of the island he once called home.

Thinking about Joe, you might wonder what an idiot he is.

I agree.

Now imagine Joe living according to all the eco-friendliness you can possibly think of. Eating one plant, planting another. Treating the lake with care. Loving everything around him. Joe would still be able to live on his island. Joe took care of his island because he wanted to live there for the rest of his life. He was preserving his habitat. Not for altruistic reasons. Not because he is a nice guy. Not because he likes the plants. But for selfish reasons. For the very only fact, that he dies if he doesn’t.

Joe would be selfish.

“Selfish: a person who is concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”

We say we have to be altruistic to live sustainable, but the problem is not selfishness itself. It’s our idea that if we do good for us, it naturally has to be bad for others.

In an ideal world, sustainability would be selfless. It would be an act of kindness and altruism. We would care for each other and for the planet. And be kind to everything. Sustainability means we can’t be selfish because this will destroy the planet, right?

But what if selfishness is good for us AND others.

What if we reframe what a sustainable lifestyle means.

Sustainability is a selfish act that serves us. And others.

As long as you think sustainability is a pure act of kindness and altruism, you feel like you are giving something up for others. (Although you wouldn’t if you had the whole world figured out and you had the mindset of the Dalai Lama).

And this is why it’s so hard to make everyone on the planet go sustainable. Because people think sustainability is nothing they do for themselves. They think it’s exclusively for others. For future generations and for people living somewhere else.

But sustainability is the opposite. It’s the most rewarding way of life. It’s the healthiest, cheapest, giving-you-a-good-feeling-because-you-do-what-you-think-is-right-feeling.

Instead of making sustainability an act of altruism and loving kindness, it’s time to redefine it. Do it for the very person you care about most: yourself.

Researcher & author for eco-living. Merging philosophy, psychology & personal development with ecology. jessicaboehme.com https://amzn.to/3jDqyFH

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