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All The World's A Stage: Playing the part of "environmentalist"!

dramaturgical theory and environmentalismMy dream is to make the planet a safe and beautiful place for my children and their children to live.  Creating such a place will require ecologists, but it will also require mechanics, farmers, musicians, teachers, painters...and yes, even accountants.

Nearly every day I walk past the student union at the university where I see the same group of rather unique students gathered around an ash tray.  They wear almost exclusively black, smoke profusely, and speak loudly to each other as if on stage.  Being the curious sort, I once made my way over to introduce myself just to see if I could discover the key to how to become quite so cool (it helped that a student from one of my classes was among them).  I learned that they were all theater majors, that they all smoked the same brand of cigarettes, and that they all shared roughly the same taste in music.

In reflecting on my conversation with them it occurred to me that they weren't just pretending to be on stage as they stood around chatting, they were in fact on stage.  Each of them plays to an audience (the others around the ash tray) and each has to play his or her part.  The actors are...creative, independent, deviant, thoughtful, knowledgeable of all things theatrical, and they must be sure everyone in the audience believes they are who they say they are.  It is called dramaturgical theory, and it suggests that each of us act our way through life hoping that those around us will believe we are who we say we are.

So how do you play the part of "environmentalist"?  Let me give it a shot.  Wardrobe...layers, colors, organic cotton or maybe hemp.  Setting...outdoors, overseas, some place rugged or at least designed to look so.  Script...angry, concerned, passionate, distrustful.  Educational background...ecology, environmental studies, biology, conservation biology maybe?  Interests...travel, poetry, backpacking, kayaking.  Religion...undefined..."still on my spiritual journey."

Have I offended you (or maybe described you)?  I don't really mean to do either, but rather to suggest that it need not be this way.  Caring about the future doesn't require a climbing gym membership or a pair of hemp sandals (I'd like both for fathers day if you're wondering what to get me). Each of us, regardless of how we look or where we grew up have a role to play.

I was once asked to sit on a hiring committee for an educational organic farm.  We were looking for an accountant.  The woman we ultimately hired came to the interview (which was on a picnic table in a field) wearing a power suit and high heels.  After her interview the committee tore into her.  I just listened for a while until someone finally said something like, "she seems too much like the business type."  I very impatiently asked if they were looking for an accountant or a new member for their country club.  They got the point.  We hired her and she was amazing!

My dream is to make the planet a safe and beautiful place for my children and their children to live.  Creating such a place will require ecologists, but it will also require mechanics, farmers, musicians, teachers, painters...and yes, even accountants.

So here's an idea, how about we recognize that we don't get to decide on the cast for this play.  We are all going to play our part (regardless of what that part might look like; rich, poor, democrat, republican).  What we do get to decide is what the play is about and perhaps even how it will all turn out.  I think if we just stop arguing about who gets to perform, we'll find we have all the actors we need to do something really remarkable.

Vincent M. Smith

  • http://www.silentsprings.com Vincent Smith

    I agree that looks do matter, but they are so amazingly deceiving. Take clothing for example. Someone may ultimately conclude that buying organic clothing is a better option for their health and for the health of the planet and if you know what you are looking for you will recognize the brand of these companies. On the flip side, you may run across a woman as I recently did who was wearing an article of clothing I knew came from Wal-Mart, but it was only in conversation that I learned she had pulled it out of the free box at our local recycling center. It is also possible to buy a white shirt, black suit, and red power tie all made from organic cotton/wool and yet I can imagine a number of my friends judging the person wearing them. We can be ourselves, but we just need to be better versions of ourselves!

  • http://www.silentsprings.com Vincent Smith

    Thanks David. I believe I will make a difference just as you have. We don't always see it and we certainly don't always feel rewarded for it, but we can do good in the world. A few days ago in a class I made a passing mention of you and your work in the Middle East. After class an older (50 something) student came up to me and said, "I just love middle eastern studies. What is the name of the man you were talking about?" I gave her your name and she said, "Oh, I just loved his book on Jerusalem." You just never know but that you might be the change you were hoping to see in the world!!

  • David Galbraith

    While you acknowledge that Shakespeare beat you to that observation, the interesting thing is that after all these years nothing has changed. I admit that I too played the game as a university professor enjoying with some pride the popularity of my classes (unwilling to admit that they were required to graduate). With retirement I hit the speaking circuit fueled with the applause as I made my exit. And now I now find myself edging towards Shakespeare’s final scene, “sans everything!”

    I’m impressed with your determination to make a mark in the world. I believe you are a player in one of the few professions that will allow you to make a difference. Heaven help us if you can’t because the alternative will be nothing less than a Shakespearian tragedy.

  • Joel

    Great post. Yes, I feel like I'm trying to play my part. Even my measly recycling is half-ridiculed by some as "getting all granola", but I don't go around in hippie garb, I do commute to work by bike (sometimes), I don't picket establishments that sell mass-manufactured meats, I do grow a garden and favor organic options. So, yes there's gobs more I could/should do, but I'm playing my small bit part, and don't feel the need to adopt with any stereotypical look.
    Having said that, I will say that I do believe that ones actions and lifestyle should eventually start showing up in how they look too--but I'm distrustful of looks only, and recognize that many are on different positions on their path.

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