Be the change you want to see in the world.
This quote by Gandhi gets trotted out a lot by people with nothing but the best intentions. Suitable for bumper stickers, motivational posters, and sticking to the top of blog posts, it seems custom-made for all your feel-good occasions. But what does it really mean? And what would it look and feel like to really be the change you want to see in the world?
Sam Davidson and Stephen Moseley of Cool People Care try to answer these questions in their book New Day Revolution: How to Save the World in 24 Hours (hereafter “NDR”). Organized according to the typical activities we engage in over the course of a single day, NDR offers a wealth of tips, tricks, and hacks that help transform everyday activities ranging from drinking a cup of coffee to giving gifts into revolutionary ones that, in ways small or large, help create a healthier, safer, and more compassionate world.
Little changes lead to big differences
The central premise of NDR is that little changes can add up to huge differences — in your life and in the world as a whole. For instance, waking up 9 minutes earlier every day — which you can do by hitting “snooze” one less time — will give you over 50 extra hours a year to live your life with. Dropping a few minutes of sleep isn’t a difficult thing to do, but it could well have life-changing effects.
Most of the tips presented by Davidson and Moseley combine these personal benefits with world-changing benefits, such as the advice to line-dry your clothes instead of running them through the dryer. Line-drying isn’t nearly as inconvenient as you’d think — if you don’t have a yard, a collapsible drying rack that fits comfortably into a corner of your house or apartment will do just as well. That’s what I did for 5 years living in New York City in tiny apartments — anyone who has relied on laundromats for their laundry needs knows the frustration of paying 75 cents or more to dry a load and still ending up with a mess of soggy clothes! SKipping the dryer for a month can save you as much as $5 (and probably more with increasing energy costs since the book was published) as well as reducing the need for coal by 10 pounds (and reducing the carbon that coal would have released into the atmosphere accordingly).
Here’s a few more tips to give you a taste of NDR’s approach:
- Get your coffee inside instead of going through the drive-thru: It will probably take just as long, plus you’ll save the gas you’d have burnt waiting for them to serve the people in front of you, you’ll get some small amount of exercise, and you’ll get a chance to interact with customers and maybe flirt with the barrista, if that’s your thing.
- Buy extra canned goods: Grab one extra of each non-perishable food item you buy and drop them off at a local shelter on your way home from the store or into work the next day. If you have pets, grab an extra can of pet food and drop it off at the shelter. Make this a regular part of your life’s routine, so you’re constantly giving a little bit of help where it’s needed in your community.
- Carry a spoon: Turn down the plastic stirrer with your coffee, or the plastic spoon with your frozen yogurt. Instead, whip out your own spoon, have your drink or dessert, and take it home. Billions of plastic spoons and stirrers are thrown out every year — that’s a lot of plastic, which means a lot of oil, just taking up landfill space!
Putting it all together
In addition to a list of tips like the ones above, each chapter of NDR also includes a profile of a person (or sometimes several people) who have chosen to make a difference in the world. Consider, for example, Jody. Jody decided to spend one year using only what she had (barring consumables like food and toiletries). For 365 days, she pledged not to buy anything new: no new CDs, appliances, household furniture, electronic gadgets — nothing. If she found she really needed something, she tried to trade someone for it, or somehow get it for free.
(Bonus tip: Check out Freecycle to see if there’s a freecycling group in your neighborhood. Freecyclers post the things they don’t need anymore to an email list, allowing whoever wants it to come and pick it up for free.)
Obviously Jody saved a lot of money. And that would be a big difference in most people’s lives. But Jody didn’t stop with saving money — she took the money she wasn’t spending on consumer goods and gave it to charities that work to alleviate poverty in both her own community and abroad. Her idea was pretty simple: stop buying the cheap goods whose availability is premised on the exploitation of cheap labor around the world, and use the money she saved to help make up for the effects of that exploitation.
The final word
New Day Revolution is, for the most part, a worthy read. It’s beautifully designed, well-written, and engaging. The tips can be a mixed bag — most people will find at least some of them that are either distasteful to them or impractical in their own lives. That’s almost inevitable, though, since NDR doesn’t really hew to any particular political line — it’s hard to cover all the bases without occasionally hitting a sour note for at least some readers.
In the end, though, it’s not so much the content of NDR that’s important as the concept. NDR advocates drawing the lines between the way you’d like the world to be and your own individual practices. They even provide a blank chapter for you to add your own thoughts and ideas — and a website, New Day Revolution, where they’re posting more ideas and you can add your own (click “Chapters” and add comments under the relevant chapter heading).
New Day Revolution is a helpful, easy read. It would make a great gift for a recent high school or college graduate, or perhaps for a new parent or anyone who’s trying to bring their lives more in line with their values. While I can see re-reading it for inspiration now and again, none of the tips are so complex that you’d need it as a reference, so feel free to follow the authors’ own advice (on page 88) and check it out of your local library.