In 1989, I got rid of many of my possessions (car, stereo, etc) before spending nearly nine months of traveling around Europe, including my temporary move to London. I shed myself of possessions mainly because I wanted to be free and mobile.
In 1992, I experienced the developing world for the first time when I worked in Bophuthatswana, Africa for nearly four months. Most of our African crew lived in a nearby “shanty town” (dirt floors, used corrugated steel walls, little else) and earned only 25 or 50¢/hour compared to the $35-$70/hour the Americans were earning. It made me sick to my stomach. Before I left, I gave away to my crew most of the clothes and other things I had taken with me to Africa. When I returned to the States I got rid of a few more possessions and tried better to “live simply so others may simply live.”
Since then, I’ve tried to live with less, but it rarely seemed to help me grapple with the disparity I witnessed. I concluded that it wasn’t enough to live with less and that I needed to also give more. So, I gave.
I gave in any way I could, from donating literally 3 gallons of blood (not at one time, of course) to giving things away to friends, the Salvation Army or any other place to which I could donate. It helped me cope better for a while, but not much. I still felt like a speck in the universe. I started to feel like I was only doing it for myself and not for others. My cynicism grew.
Eventually, I became more politically aware and active, but that led to frustration and anger and uncontrolled outbursts at public events. It also led to appalling private conversations with friends that were disastrous enough to break the weaker relationships. My cynicism with the world and political system grew.
I became more environmentally aware and active and started buying things that left me with a smaller carbon footprint. I’m still driving my 2000 Honda Insight that gets 60+ mpg on the highway. I use an electric lawn mower. I feel like I used to do more, though, and I don’t even bike as much as I used to. It felt like few around me cared much about the environment. One friend told me the economy is more important than the environment. My cynicism with humanity grew.
Ultimately, my attempts at being a better person, a better steward to the environment, or more empathetic to others in the world, often feels like nothing more than shooting rubber bands at the moon.