A few weeks ago, I was preparing to board a last-minute flight to a part of Mexico I’d never been to, along with someone I barely knew, who I’d met through a corporate intramural sports team during my summer interning at a Fortune 500 company. A Trinitonian and Trinity University alumna had just recommended a book to me.
Her name is Kim Nguyen. The book is called “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” by Rolf Potts. I have yet to finish the book. Several sections of it so far have encouraged me to rethink certain ways that I approach life, work, travel and self. Consider the following excerpt from Chapter 3, “Keep it Simple”:
“In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Initially viewed as an ecological disaster, this catastrophe did wonders to raise environmental awareness among average Americans. As television images of oil-choked sea otters and dying shorebirds were beamed across the country, pop environmentalism grew into a national craze.
“Instead of conserving more and consuming less, however, many Americans sought to save the earth by purchasing ‘environmental’ products. Energy-efficient home appliances flew off the shelves, health-food sales boomed, and reusable canvas shopping bags became vogue in strip malls from Jacksonville to Jackson Hole. Credit card companies began to earmark a small percentage of profits for conservation groups, thus encouraging consumers to ‘help the environment’ by striking off on idealistic shopping binges.
“Such shopping sprees and health-food purchases did very little to improve the state of the planet, of course – but most people managed to feel a little better about the situation without having to make any serious lifestyle changes.”
Coming back to school at Trinity for the start of a fall semester is quite like the new year of the academic calendar. For some, it’s the champagne-popping-at-midnight variety of new year. For others, it’s more along the lines of a most festive annual existential crisis. Many eyes sparkle with the freedom of self re-invention, whether it’s the starting of something new or the desire to break an old bad habit — is that an “I promise I’m going to do every single one of my assigned readings this year” I hear? How about some more reasonable, self-aware and achievable resolutions for this semester?
In the spirit of keeping it simple, think about what Potts means in this excerpt. He claims that many Americans have “convinced ourselves that buying things is the only way to play an active role in the world.” How can you contribute to positive change, both in the global world and in your immediate local lifestyle, in ways that do not rely on consumption?
Here are two things I’m going to do that I invite you all to join me in: Do not buy a single new article of clothing for the rest of 2017; do not buy a single plastic bottled water or plastic bottled beverage unless your life depends on it. For the average Trinity student, each of these goals are easily attainable with some amount of self-discipline and creativity. To arrive at this school, one must have a bit of both. To succeed at this school, one must have a bunch of both. Thus, we are able to fulfill these small but impactful back-to-school resolutions. So why will the vast majority of us choose otherwise?