Thursday, July 13, 2006

Creating a culture

As I suggest in my profile, my mom was kind of a pinko hippie. Berkeley educated, lived in Laguna Beach before it was rich. She co-founded World Repair, Inc (or "WRI", which also stood for "we recycle it"), a 3-person recycling firm in the 70's that focused on newspaper. At the time, recycling was something of a fringe notion, as I recall.

That's curious in a way, because recycling in various forms (and under various aliases) has been around for ages. Perhaps the recycling programs that were promoted during WWII helped to cast recycling in a poor, even desparate light, so that later, as we began to enter the consumption age in the 50's, people felt that a rich country like the US just didn't need to deal with scraping-the-barrel behaviors like recycling. Nevertheless, over time recycling infrastructure has been built up to the point where it takes fairly little incremental effort to recycle a substantial fraction of our residential material waste, and even many businesses support it. Recycling is now a part of mainstream culture. Yes, more can be done, and support isn't universal; the nature of mainstream is to be in the middle. But there are labeling standards adopted in the retail goods industry to support it, and most households participate at some level. Kids grow up putting bottles, cans and paper in different receptacles than other waste.

What we need is a similar development in a culture of international goodwill. Many forms of goodwill exist and are even thriving, but for the most part they are engaged in by relatively few kind souls. It seems that engagement is modest at the local community level (soup kitchens, thrift shops, activities for poor kids) and falls off even more for activities that involve other countries. (This is my perception; links to statistics regarding involvement in good works activities would be much appreciated!)

So how do we go about growing that culture? What would it look like to have a culture of good works embedded in our lives? Well, that sounds like fodder for a few good posts.


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