Yes, this is about me ruining someone’s good intention, not the other way round. It will sound terrible, I know, but hear me out nonetheless.
Actually, it is about more than one good intention. See? Terrible! In the last months I have become more and more aware of the waste and accumulation around me. I have talked about it before, because I honestly don’t know exactly where I should go with my concerns. All the great intentions (ha!) out there, all the advice on how to transform one’s life, they are all accounts of what worked for specific people with specific needs and specific circumstances and specific skills. Will that necessarily work for me? No. I need to find what will.
However, one thing that I did “adopt” more or less is refusing. I have been taking in less and less stuff, and the stuff that I have taken in is stuff I absolutely do not regret: mostly books, and a few items I actually needed and have been using almost daily. So, like I said, no regrets there.
Another thing I have become more inclined to do is borrowing and lending. I have been jumping to occasions to lend people stuff, when possible, and I was secretly feeling very good about myself. However, a while back, a mom from the playgroup I volunteer for and attend with Kid 2 asked if any one of us had a knight costume that her son could borrow for a school event. I volunteered Kid 1’s costume. When it came to returning it, after missing each other a few times, she finally dropped it off for me at the playgroup. I took the bag home without giving it a single look. Later on, I saw that she had put a box of chocolates in the bag, as a thank you for helping her out.
I love chocolate, but boy, was this unwelcome! See, the horrible part I mentioned. But here’s the thing: we are living in an age of reckless and thoughtless consumerism that has got so much out of hand that there are actual social movements to resist it. Think minimalism, think zero waste. I’ve also been following these, like a docile sheep, and I have to say, they make a lot of sense. I’ve also been deploring the degradation of what a community means, and sharing is, I think, a first step to getting closer to its roots.
I wanted to help out a mom with an item that is seldom used. This way, I was increasing the value of my purchase of the costume, and avoiding an unnecessary new purchase by someone else. Win-win. I was happy to do it. I wanted to hear thanks, my kid had fun at the event. I absolutely did not want anything in return. Another bad thing about having received some thank-you-chocolates is that it sets a precedent. If I borrow something next, will I also have to offer something in return? The unnecessary purchase I thought I had helped avoid had become an unnecessary purchase of a different item. Therefore, nothing has been avoided. Consumerism is just as strong. And it left me feeling bad about the whole thing.
On to the next good intention. I have started to replace a few items around the house with more natural ones. (I wanted to write sustainable, but changed my mind at the last minute. I can’t define sustainable, and I have no way of actually knowing how sustainable the stuff I buy is. So I chose to use “natural” instead, because it is true and somewhat more verifiable. I still think the alternatives I went for are in any case better than cheap plastic.) This is a slow process, as I am not so happy about throwing everything out and replacing it. So it’s one damaged/used-up item at a time. Patience is a virtue, they say… Anyway, I ordered one such item and it arrived in a small box (hurray!), with no plastic bubble wrap (hurray!), and with a thank-you chocolate (hu … wait, again?). While I appreciate the fact that these are small businesses that are happy with any new customer, that they want us te feel valued and special, that they want us to go to the extra trouble, and expense, of purchasing their products and not the more convenient ones, I don’t want anything more than I ordered. It’s sweet, it’s a nice gesture, but if I am going through the trouble of looking for more natural and less damaging products, if I am looking for less packaging and less waste, why would I appreciate extra stuff that I did not ask for?
You know the saying about the road to hell. In this case, I am the likely one to end up there for not appreciating those good intentions. I’m kind of ok with that. It may be more impactful, and definitely more visible and spectacular, to say no to the big things, but it’s the small ones that accumulate more easily and more quietly. I find it disheartening to be making an effort to do the right thing, only to be thanked with tangible things, things I never wanted, things I was trying to avoid.
I will end with a good intention I did appreciate: after the purchase of another natural item (don’t judge, this has happened over many months, not in one week), I received a personal message from the owners of the business, written down in pencil on the inside of the box. I loved it! I did feel special, I did feel valued, and, most importantly, I did feel like the people in this particular business actually stand by the values they promote to attract their customers.