Not Evangelism

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lapses, Relapses and Celebrating Success

There's a phrase I like, a lapse is not a relapse, meaning that a single slip-up is not evidence of habitual, systemic behaviour. One small misdemeanour does not undo months and years of work.

Being environmental, as I've said before, is a continuum, a gradient. There are shades of green. It's simply not a black-and-white thing.

So when we slip-up (and we do, being human), it doesn't stop us being environmentalists. It doesn't change our core principles, our beliefs. Sure, there are those detractors who are all too willing to fall upon our slip-ups, usually as evidence that we can't be truly environmental because we've had a small lapse.

A Lapse of my Own

Last week, I was spotted (outed!) walking out of a supermarket with a carrier bag. Yes, I was caught there unexpectedly; my wife had asked me to get more things. I didn't have my reusable bags with me. And believe me, it hurt no one as much as it did me to take one of the carrier bags that I've avoided for years. But that doesn't take away from the fact that I've been consciously - actively - taking a position on this for years. Refusing bags at every turn. Using boxes. Carrying my own bags made out of canvas or linen.

Whatever the reasons, it was still a lapse.

And I've been vocal about my choices over the years - not criticising others, so much as sharing my own principles - so there are those that are quite happy to pick me up on it when I slip up. Which is fine. So long as I have a reason for my behaviour - and I mean a reason rather than an excuse - then I'm comfortable answering their questions. I have nothing to be defensive about. My principles are intact.

These are my own principles, after all. I live by them because I chose to. When I compromise them, or fail to meet them, I'm answerable to the highest authority in my life - myself. Compared to that, there's not much anyone else can say (but they do).

Dealing with a Lapse

All of us at some time may - despite our best intentions - just fall a little short of our own personal standards. We can't do everything, not all the time at any rate. And we needn't kick ourselves for our little lapses. We can celebrate what we do, not castigate ourselves for what we don't.

That doesn't mean we get to hide our mistakes. We have to admit to them, and figure out why they happened, so we can stop them happening again.

Over on TreeHugger, they put it like this:
...[when] you slip up (or just plain can't be bothered), don't fall into a state of depression or despair. Just analyze what factors contributed to you falling short of your goals or intentions, and then figure out ways to circumvent those circumstances next time.
(from The Lost Eco-Art of Cutting Yourself Some Slack)

My commentator was kind enough to say that seeing me with a supermarket carrier bag is something he hasn't seen in nearly a decade. Which is kind of proof that my efforts are being noticed, are making a difference. But I'm not going to lose sleep over it. On balance, I'm happy with my choices and my positive actions. If I pick up a carrier bag occasionally, if I miss recycling something every now and again, I still believe in the same things.  I'm going to keep doing what I do.

A lapse, after all, is not a relapse.

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