What a Humane World Looks Like: Taking on the System(s)

Note: I'm out of town for a family emergency, so please enjoy this repost from 3/18/2010. ~ Marsha
I've been thinking a lot about systems lately. In the "green" world there is so much emphasis on our individual choices, and it's essential that we make choices that do the most good and the least harm for ourselves, other people, other animals and the earth. But, even if we were to become model choicemakers overnight, it wouldn't be enough, because there are so many systems in place that make it difficult or impossible to make truly humane choices. We may not support those systems, but we’re still complicit in them.

Here’s an example: How many of you have a cell phone? How many of you have kids who have video game consoles? How many of you have airbags in your cars?

Now, how many of you support civil war? How about slavery? Genocide? The destruction of the environment? The killing of gorillas?

Of course we don’t – none of us does. But, there’s an ore called coltan that is used to make electronic components in products like cell phones and air bags, and one of the places that coltan is mined is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mining coltan has contributed to civil war and genocide there, to the use of slaves (including children), to environmental destruction, and, because the miners need something to eat, they hunt gorillas for food (not to mention destroy their habitat), so there’s the decimation of another species.

We don’t want to be a part of that death and destruction, but we are because we use these products. The systems in place often don’t allow for any better alternatives (other than not using these things at all).

Yesterday I had the Tab key on my laptop replaced. A couple weeks ago it just popped off in the course of normal use, and one of the little "teeth" on the back of the key-cover broke. I contacted the company from which I purchased my laptop (fortunately, it's still under warranty) and asked them to please send me a new Tab key. Nope. Can't do it. They have to replace the entire keyboard, they said (as well as send over a tech guy to do the work). I respectfully mentioned how wasteful and ecologically destructive it is to replace the entire keyboard, when I just needed a single key-cover replaced. Sorry, that's their policy.

So, the tech guy came over yesterday and replaced the entire keyboard. Fortunately, he told me he keeps the old keyboards and finds a use for them, so mine wouldn't be going into the landfill just yet. That was a relief, but still. All that waste because of the way the system is set up.

I have two sets of friends who have been trying to adopt children for more than a year now. The system is complicated, and though it's meant to benefit the children and ensure their safety, it often means those children are left in dire circumstances for much longer. My friends have had their hopes raised and then crushed many times, because -- after a ridiculously long process -- they were told they might be able to adopt children X and Y; but then, those children are given to someone else instead. Repeat. And, it's not like anyone is intentionally trying to prevent children from finding good homes -- just the opposite. But the way the system is set up impedes that process and discourages more people from adopting.

Look at all the systems we're surrounded by: education, immigration, criminal justice, child welfare, food, housing, transportation, political, media, and so on. There are so many systems that condone and perpetuate discrimination and violence and destruction and cruelty; when you look at all our different systems, you can see how challenging it is to be able to make good choices, even when you really want to.

That's why it's so important that we who passionately want to realize a compassionate, just, sustainable world don't stop at our own choices, but strive to transform these systems, as well. Look around your community. What systems need help? Brainstorm some ideas, find some like-minded folks, and start creating a positive transformation.

A lot of my humane education work has been focused on educating and empowering the individual, but I've decided I also want to do more work in my community for systemic change. I'll keep you posted.

~ Marsha

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