When introverts care about sustainability

You wouldn’t know it looking at me, but I believe in the value of community building. I believe we each belong in an inclusive society and that creating such a society is the best way to counteract such things as suicide and depression. Pills might prevent you from killing yourself in the short term, but it’s the people who don’t feel alienated that stick around for the long term. And it’s community-building that makes it worth sticking around.

I’m not your typical community advocate; for one, I’m not an extrovert. Hanging out with a bunch of people all the time is not my idea of fun. I like my solitude – in fact, I love it sitting here in front of my living room window staring out at the ocean with nary a person to interrupt me. But I know that solitude by itself doesn’t work. I work hard to interact with other people every day. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work outside of the home, for someone else. It’s my way of ensuring that whether I want it or not, I must interact with others.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doing a certificate in Community Sustainability Development. Sustainability is one of those catch-all phrases that means everything and nothing. But in a nutshell, it represents an approach to life that is about conserving what we have rather than considering everything disposable. It’s about recognizing that our well-being depends on living in harmony with our environment. And it’s acknowledging that our present and future generations can only thrive if we commit to environmental, social and economic practices that support everyone rather than a greedy few.

Sustainability, in my view, is not the enemy of capitalism. But it demands that we re-think what we value. Because how we spend every dollar we earn is a much better indication of what’s important to us than the results of, say, a provincial election where only 52% came out to vote (I’m talking of course of the BC election in Canada. Every poll in town said the NDP would win, but the voters voted Liberal. Because the people who voted weren’t the ones answering the polls, clearly. Else they were lying).

What I would like to help build is a community that welcomes diversity because it sees the value in bringing together a rich tapestry of people of all walks of life (immigrant, settled, aboriginal, gay, bi, straight, male, female, intersex, transgender, able, disabled, upper class, middle class, working class, white, black, brown, red, yellow or pink). Cities thrive when different kinds of people come together. I think it’s one of the reasons people flock to cities as much as they do. People come mainly to find work but also because of a (maybe somewhat naive) belief that exciting things are *happening* in the city – and no one wants to miss out on the action. Ideas thrive in cities because of the diversity of voices we find there.

Cities are living laboratories where we each get to be an experiment or be the experimenter. We can become socially engaged, help change policy, or we can become part of the city landscape, shaped by other people’s policies, other people’s decisions on what matters and what doesn’t.

In Vancouver, this was brought home to me recently when the Parks Board finally decided to establish a task committee to make community spaces such as community centres, gyms, pools more transgender friendly. I can’t tell you how relieved I am at the possibility that future generations of trans people won’t have to deal with gender segregated change rooms and toilets, one of the reasons I and many other trans people avoid going to these types of spaces. I didn’t think it would ever change, and didn’t think I could make much of a difference one way or another. Thankfully other people saw it differently. And because of them, change is finally happening.

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