THE DISPOSABLE GENERATION
The other day I was driving home from work when I heard an old classic song on the radio. Even though I hadn’t heard the song for such a long time, I found myself singing along and remembering all the lyrics like there’s some kind of memory bank reserved just for that type of ‘sustainable’ music. I may have just morphed into my 86 year old Grandad, “They don’t make them like they used to”, he says, as he puts his old record player on and taps his foot along to the likes of Patsy Cline and artists I’m sure many of this generation have never heard of.
It got me thinking though. Many aspects of life have changed from my Grandads era and the main theme that stands out across all of them for me is this prospect of disposability. We live in such a fast paced society and as technology continues to evolve at such a rapid rate, so to does the use by date on everything from material items to our careers, relationships, food, money and values. Western culture encourages a disposable mindset in every aspect of our lives. If it’s not new it’s old. Combine that attitude with the need for instant gratification and we have a lethal concoction that is poisoning our mental health, environment, communities and true connection with Mother Earth.
This week we raise awareness around climate change with ‘Earth Hour’. One hour where we switch off our lights and take a stand against the damage our disposable attitude has and still is causing our planet. There truly is a need for increased awareness in a generation who are growing up with disposability accepted as the ‘norm’. Many of them are completely unaware of the little things they do everyday that contribute to climate change and aside from that, they struggle to see the individual impact their actions can have on the collective picture. As with any positive change, people need positive role models to demonstrate the behaviours we want to see. When the scale of the problem is so big and you’re fighting empires built on the profits of our disposable attitudes, it requires more than a few people to get the message across.
As a teacher I look at our institutions for inspiration. Our schools and hospitals for a start could create massive changes in attitudes by creating environments that encourage reduce, reuse and recycle behaviours. It’s so often that you will see these messages being taught in the classroom from a ‘do as I say not as I do’ perspective. How can we teach our kids the importance of recycling, when the very classroom they are learning it in doesn’t even have a recycle bin? How can we tell them about reducing when our canteens sell their food and drinks in single use plastics and we hand out up to 30 pages of worksheets per lesson (often more)? How can we as adults ask them to do something that many of us aren’t even doing ourselves? It’s hypocritical and kids are smart. Why would they listen or value what we are teaching when we don’t ‘walk the talk’? This isn’t to say all schools are doing this. Many schools are taking incredible measures to improve their eco-rating and it’s so heart warming to see how involved and passionate the kids are when a positive value and attitude is taken onboard as a whole school policy that really gives every student a sense of purpose. The entire energy of a place can transform to a true sense of community when everyone is working towards the same purpose and goal. What an authentic learning experience!
This is what makes me excited! The potential within our schools and institutions to set new standards and to challenge the ‘norm’. Whatever we pass onto kids in schooling environments will largely impact their behaviours as adults. That’s why I am so driven and passionate about youth education. They are our future. We have to teach them in every setting to make purposeful connections between the environments: School ~ Home ~ Community. It isn’t an easy task, because the advertising and marketing of consumerism isn’t going away anytime soon. I think back to the song in the car though and when something really resonates with you, when it attaches itself to a meaning, it stays with you and it can change you. Have you ever heard a song and been transported back in time to a memory? Teachers and adults can have this impact on children’s learning. I can remember almost every positive word of affirmation, sticker, and merit (intrinsic or extrinsic) I got growing up that acknowledged a positive behaviour. As an adult it’s no different. In the workplace or in our relationships, we need to hear when we are doing a good job too! Humans crave acceptance, belonging and love at any age. Children especially respond to positive affirmations and look up to adults for inspiration. The best thing is, you don’t have to be a school teacher to be a teacher. We are all teachers everyday through our actions. Change begins here.
One thing I am sure of is that our Earth isn’t disposable, so neither should our attitudes that affect it be. It sounds lame, but you actually have to “be the change you want to see in the World”. If your school, workplace, home or community isn’t acting sustainably, have a say about it, do something about it! I think we often forget the power in our voice (*cue John Farnham music - I told you some songs stay with you!). We think what we should do, but are too afraid to share it with someone that might be able to make it happen. Bring it up at the next staff meeting. Ask the questions or risk things staying the same through stale acceptance, a term I created based on the things we want to change but are too scared to breach the comfort zone to do so. It could be something as simple as, “I noticed we are printing off all of the daily notices, could we access these from the Ipads or computers instead? One daily change in a school that could potentially save hundreds of sheets of paper being printed and wasted. “I noticed we are still providing plastic straws, could we consider making a change here?”. One change in school and community environments that could have a huge positive impact and that I’m pretty sure the turtles would shell bump us on (the turtle equivalent of a fist pump - refer to Danae’s private dictionary).
I think it’s pretty cool to think that one person’s positive actions can become like the classic song on the radio, never forgotten. So, the purpose of this weeks blog is to encourage you to reflect on how you could be that person. What small change could you make in your home, school or workplace that could challenge the disposable generation attitude? I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes: “In a World full of trends, I want to remain a classic”. Don’t follow the trends, be the classic, unforgettable one who made a difference by standing for something.