My Core Values: Sustainable Living and Beyond
In the wake of yet another horrific mass shooting, it is hard to write anything that captures the mixture of grief, outrage, and existential dread many of us are feeling.
At first, I thought about writing about the children who died, or about the uniquely American crisis of violence among young men. I thought about ripping apart any argument that would suggest that the solution to gun violence is more guns.
There are a lot of things to say. And, especially as I prepare to move to Houston – where an NRA conference is set to take place – I am aware that I am entering a context in which protest and action are necessary to my call as a minister.
But today, I want to talk about why sustainable living continues to be a priority for me even as the world burns.
Why Sustainable Living
The reason is simple, really: because talking about sustainability and ethics in the consumer industry prioritizes my core ethical values. These values inform how I move in the world, and suggest particular political perspectives and actions.
No injustice exists in a vacuum. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
When I consider the makers and processes behind any consumer good, I am subtly being formed toward a particular kind of comprehensive human and environmental ethic.
This formation, if it’s working, should push me to consider other injustices and take action in increasingly complex contexts.
Here are the core values that shape the decisions I make, including when it comes to sustainable fashion.
Because I am a Christian and ordained person in the Episcopal Church, my values are informed by Christian theology and ethics.
My Core Values That Inform Sustainable Living
1 | Every life is sacred and every person reveals God to me.
No matter their identity, income, neighborhood, age, or context, every single person on this planet has innate dignity.
They are sacred in the eyes of God, which means that my task is to acknowledge their sacredness. Every human relationship reveals something about holiness.
Every person has the capacity to co-create a beautiful, compassionate, and hopeful life with God and others. No person is a “monster,” even when they do monstrous things. And no person is wholly “good,” even when they demonstrate virtuous living.
I acknowledge my own capacity for evil through self-reflection and humility. I acknowledge my capacity for goodness by participating in behaviors that are hopeful and life-giving.
Whether supporting gun reform or looking into labor practices, I am attempting to honor the sacredness of all people.
2 | We are part of the environment. It is sacred, too.
Over the years, it has become very important for me to remember that humans are creatures. We are utterly dependent on earth’s ecosystems for our own survival and flourishing.
Historical events like colonialism, the enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution radically changed Western humans’ understanding of our dependence. It led many to believe that we should control and manipulate resources for maximum power and profit without considering the longterm consequences.
Not only is this unsustainable. It has created a culture in which nothing is worth protecting, including human beings.
Caring about pollution and toxic waste run-off matters for its own sake: because the earth and its creatures are fundamentally sacred. But caring for the earth also means caring for all of humanity, because we need healthy ecosystems to survive.
3 | Every action is political and spiritual.
As a citizen of a society and nation, it is impossible for me to have an opinion or belief that doesn’t, at some point, inform political action.
That doesn’t mean that my choices automatically align with a particular political party. It simply means that my lifestyle and relational choices point me toward certain political behaviors.
What’s more, my unavoidable identities as an American, a white person, a woman, and a Christian tie me to narratives of supremacy and marginalization that I must confront, whether I feel directly engaged with these things or not.
But each action I take is also spiritual. When I choose to ignore or try to solve a particular social problem, I am participating in a spiritual practice. Each decision I make or don’t make reinforces beliefs I have about social obligation, personal autonomy, and moral responsibility.
When I consider my actions as having political and spiritual consequences, I am urged to reflect on whether my actions match my words.
4 | Actions form habits. Habits form ethics.
When I consider whether to purchase something wrapped in single-use plastic or buy a fast fashion item, I am being intentional about my choices. With each considered decision I make, I am reinforcing a value system.
This does not mean that I have “bad” values if I make one choice over another. There are many reasons to make a choice that sustainability advocates might tend to reject. The intentional thought behind my decision is what matters.
When I make any choice that prioritizes human and ecological sacredness – including my own needs – I reinforce my values. This reinforcement forms a habit. And habits create an ethic.
So, while there are no pure ethical choices, my intention toward choices that value safety, joy, and life-sustaining principles solidify my values.
5 | Ethical and sustainable living is holistic.
Because “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,” I understand that my ethical responsibilities are holistic. I can’t just do one good thing and pat myself on the back. I am responsible for and co-dependent on others.
I know very well how overwhelming it can be to see the enormity of the world’s injustices and try to act. But it’s important to remember that none of us are meant to be saviors or superheroes. We are not supposed to act alone.
It is important for me to step up, and step out, when I see people trampling on sacredness.
But I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I need to trust that the skills, gifts, and passions of my communities will hold me. I also need to commit to holding others as we work toward greater justice and abundance for all.
Sustainable living practices urge me to connect the dots to other injustices, and to act in community.
My core values for sustainable living are the same ones I have for everything else. They force me to respond.
America is in moral crisis. Its core values reflect ideals of greed, passivity, patriarchalism, and death.
But, even when things seem hopeless, we have the power to proclaim sacredness, take action, form ethical habits, and reach out to one another in love.
The love we share is defiant. It is angry. It demands that evil and ill will be exposed. We act in hope because we know that things can change. In our relationships and small actions, we have already seen change occur.
Don’t give up, friends. I am here for you. We are here for each other.