Correcting our outlook

What if it turns out that the arrow straight, ever upward material improvement of our lives isn’t a good idea? What if steady augmentation of what we own has been a tragic malfunction of the industrial revolution and its epoch of epic natural resource waste, of pollution that threatens life on earth, and an utterly unsustainable divorce from our natural systems and, for so many, the wasting of our physical health?

By trying to jump-start again the onward-and-upward trajectory of our consuming lives are we possibly missing the chance for a momentous correction?

What if instead of trying to steer the ship of expectations back into a familiar mainstream we discovered that we were sailing not on any Cunard liner where first- class passengers enjoy the caviar and dance band while the rest of us are only cabin class or even steerage on the ship of a line no one had ever heard of?

What if instead of some hierarchy measured by acquisitions and consumption we considered that for a century and a half we’ve sought satisfaction by standards manipulated by advertising and promotion so that we never pay full price for anything – a market that has steadily consumed the capital of the planet as if no cost attached to that?

I ask because at this time of dispiriting unemployment and under-employment we may be looking in the wrong direction to improve our own troubled lives. Might this not be precisely the time to re-focus what we seek from life?

Might we ourselves together with the advocacy sector and government not shove off in a way that lowers some expectations and raises others – “others” especially of health and self-resourcefulness?

I have in mind something that happened to me in 1977. I was living in Miami and found myself broke. I gave up my car for a bicycle. I was 46. I moved into the apartment of a friend’s house. I began to go everywhere by bike. My perimeter shrank. I had time on my hands. I started exploring around Florida.

I traveled with saddlebags that contained a camp stove and a sack of brown rice and lentils. I found vegetables free for the asking. I learned that my critical state of mind about Florida relaxed. Instead of constant complaining, I began wanting to improve things. I lost 30 pounds and grew stronger.

Before long, I met others interested in bicycling and helped start what became the Florida bicycling movement. I learned about Florida’s exceptional state parks system, wrote a book that launched the Florida bed-and-breakfast movement and wrote about my travels otherwise. I became involved in state trails.

Instead of the public relations agent I had been, I became advocate of nature-based travel. At the end of my transition, I came back up the other side. Instead of feeling deprived, I knew that I had never felt better. I helped create ecotourism awareness within the mainstream of Florida tourism.

For more than 30 years now I’ve worked with much of the conservation movement of Florida. I’ve consulted with not-for-profits, with state agencies and with county and city governments. Maybe most importantly, I can speak with the conviction of one who gave everything up in order to re-make myself.

I never did this to persuade others about similar moves. But I can’t help thinking that at a time when the cycling and trails movements have seen their donors and general fortunes decline, that maybe advocacy groups themselves have been hooked into the economy of endless consumption, that foundations lately flush with the funds of a bubble economy are attempting their own paradigm busting corrections.

What if cycling advocacy organizations now encouraged people to think about exploring America by bicycle, not while on vacation but instead while not otherwise at work? What if moms and dads saw the opportunity for themselves and their kids to hit the road, the blue highways, the rail-trails, the route of the East Coast Greenway to experience America close-up and themselves?

Of course this isn’t for everybody. Of course loonies will be out there threatening cyclists who share the road the same as they’ve always misbegottenly done. Indeed, the times are hard. What I suggest involves risk. Maybe people otherwise ready to consider such moves will figure how to minimize risk acceptably.

Government could encourage such moves. Dennis Markatos-Soriano indicates ways in his recent posting. Many of us and our entire society might be better off. When good times resume, we might no longer measure the quality of our lives by how much we consume. We might re-define what constitutes good times.

Herb Hiller

hiller@funport.net

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