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Waste Not, Want Not

June 2010
Waste Not, Want Not

With PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas

Dear PMG:

In most regards I have had a successful life. I came to the United States as a graduate student, worked in an engineering firm for two decades, built our own house with my wife, and have had the good fortune to own a small chain of motels. But now I feel squeezed by my children and my father.

My children are constantly after me to “reduce, recycle, and re-use.” I know that we have a climate change problem, so it’s not as if I’m not aware of the “inconvenient truths” that Vice President Gore wrote about a few years ago. Indeed, I put in low-flow shower heads throughout all of our motel rooms. Still, it’s not enough for the kids. When they keep after me to “upgrade” the showers and toilets in our home to low-volume versions and to trade in my Cadillac for a Prius, I want to shout, “Enough! I worked hard for all this and now I want to enjoy my life.”

And then there is my father. He refuses to wear any new sweaters or socks we buy for him. Instead, he re-knits holes in his centuries-old sweaters and walks around with “potatoes” in his socks. His grandchildren hail their Dadaji as some kind of environmental hero, but I find his frugality a bit embarrassing whenever we have guests visiting us.

I’d appreciate any suggestions you may have about how best to live in harmony and peace with such divergent lifestyles under one roof.

Dear Friend,

“You may not waste a grain of rice or a scrap of paper, and similarly a minute of your time. It is not ours. It belongs to the nation and we are trustees for the use of it.” (M. K. Gandhi).

Looks like you and your family could have taught a thing or two to the negotiators at last December’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Their goal was to establish an international environmental treaty to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Your goal, while on a much smaller scale, is to similarly negotiate a “treaty” that allows you to balance your desire to live a modern, upscale life encouraged by twentieth century American consumerism with the old-world, economical life of your father. The beauty of your situation is that as you find an acceptable solution, you will contribute to creating a sustainable life for your children and their children in the twenty-first century.

As you contemplate how best to achieve this balance, please consider Gandhiji’s use of the word “trustees.” This suggests that just as we don’t own our parents or our children, we don’t own the earth; we are merely Mother Earth’s stewards.

I imagine that if you can find a way to live harmoniously under one roof, then the rich countries, which have for a long time polluted the air and water, and the less industrialized countries, which have for centuries understood how to waste not and want not, are sure to find a treaty that will honor the new and the old.

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