Friday, November 5, 2010

In praise of hypocrisy

In yoga class, after putting down my water bottle, I noticed a stink bug crawling across the mat of the woman beside me. “They’re everywhere,” the woman said, after putting the insect outside.
Flickr: Dendroica cerula
I agreed.

“My house is infested,” she added. “We have so many stink bugs, a couple of bugs go down every time we flush the toilet—they’re falling off the furniture, the ceiling and the rafters.”

I waited a beat.   I think: I should keep my mouth shut, and leave well enough alone, but I can’t resist.  OH MY FRIGGING GAWD—I could not LIVE like that—why don’t you call an EXTERMINATOR?”

Only I said it really nicely, using a more diplomatic and roundabout choice of words.

I did sort of expect her reaction—she kind of looked at me like I wanted to personally spray DDT on her house. When I pointed out that there are environmentally friendly pest control services in the area she seemed to be reconsidering her decision.

So there you have it. I’m an environmentalist who squashes--and sprays--bugs. I’m a vegetarian but every now and then I will have a Fage yogurt.  The saddle I ride in is made of leather, and although I try to make a point of avoiding some stores and brands, I can’t swear that every thread of every fabric on my body was manufactured in an ethical fashion.

I realize that for some, the fact that every person’s life is fully of small hypocrisies like the ones I just listed, is ‘proof’ that it’s pointless to care. The type of people who, for example, if they meet a vegetarian who says he or she sometimes eats fish, go apocalyptic: “omg!  The REAL definition of a vegetarian is someone who eats NO MEAT whatsoever!” As if it would be better for ‘the cause’ if this person ate half a pound of bacon everyday for breakfast and didn’t call him or herself a vegetarian, so long as the purity of the definition was unsullied.  Who cares?  I wouldn’t even label myself as anything, were it not for the need to explain why I’m not eating the main course at a dinner party. (But for the record, no, I don’t eat fish).

And, given the environments in which most people my age grew up, many of us have fond memories of getting McDonald’s coupons for hot fried apple pie while Trick-or-Treating, or hacking away at Carvel ice cream cake in the summertime. I haven’t had those things in a decade—it’s time to make new memories, and to move on, now that I know the environmental and nutritional costs of those products, and the fact that my palate has changed. But it doesn’t mean those memories still aren’t wonderful and special.
Flickr: brandon shigeta

Growing up and living in the world, a fairly impersonal world, where it is hard to track the source of every product we consume, means that none of us are pure and all of us are ethically tainted to some degree. However, as someone who first decided to ‘try veg’ at thirteen, I can definitely say it’s much easier to find environmentally safe products and produce than it was when I was a teen, thanks to greater awareness and a shift in consumer’s buying habits.

Perfection is overrated and trying your best is underrated.  Regardless of what I strive to do and become, having high standards enables me to move forward, to take myself by surprise by my ability to change, but demanding perfection only results in stasis and being overwhelmed…
Flickr: Andy Polaine

And perhaps someday I WILL be able to do a headstand in yoga class, too.