Enough with the selfie culture

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, February 2015

How about a bucket list for the Earth instead?

A month into 2015, I’m still pondering New Year’s Resolutions and also Bucket Lists. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the former, a tradition I learned about only at school since it was not part of my parents’ culture. Resolutions seemed designed to start the year off on a punitive note, like penance or a dour disciplinarian’s call back to the classroom after the holiday recess. I never really warmed up to the ritual. Who needs the added stress at an already exhausting time? 

Then there’s the bucket list phenomenon, instigated and likely first coined by the 2007 movie of the same name. Certainly there’s merit in sorting out what’s important in life and pursuing goals in that direction, a process that most people of a certain age arrive at quite naturally. But the bucket list, abetted by the ultra-modern inclination to post everything online for everyone to see, seems mostly to have become a tool for advancing narcissism and impressing others, which is more or less the same thing.

Such egocentrism is not new of course; years ago I stupidly risked my neck because of it. 

My university had a skydiving club and lessons were cheap. Won’t this be impressive, I thought as I signed up. After a few weeks of simulated training, a dozen of us were declared ready and taken to the drop zone. 

The plan was for us to go up four at a time; I opted to be in the third group. The first four came down without incident, though one of the parachutes opened lazily and I could see sweat welling on the brow of an instructor standing nearby. “This is insane,” I thought. “Why am I doing this?”

The Cessna climbed back up with the second group, circled overhead and discharged the next four. One student became entangled in her parachute as it opened and started plummeting, her feet kicking desperately to free the cords. Too late she remembered to deploy her reserve parachute and in horror we watched her fall to her death. At her funeral we learned she was her parents’ only child.

That was the end of skydiving for me. It took months to get over the tragedy and also the remorse for having toyed with my life as if it wasn’t worth a piffle, as if the thousands of hours and dollars my parents had spent raising me counted for nothing. I vowed to never again be so selfishly careless. 

As for skydiving, its appeal remains maddeningly enduring. These days it seems to be on everyone’s online bucket list, probably for the same vainglorious reasons that made it appealing to me. Which leads me to wonder: How much on the average bucket list would be deleted if we were not allowed to talk/brag about these “accomplishments”? Who would still be interested in running with the bulls or eating crocodile meat?

Enough with the selfie culture. How about changing heart and developing a bucket list for—say—the Earth, the only home we have? Here’s what it might wish for from us: 

More sanity. There’s no denying that we are a seriously imbalanced society when, to paraphrase an old nugget, we deem it less work to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it into a spoon, truck that to a store, buy it, bring it home, use it once and throw it out than to just wash the spoon and use it again—or better yet, use real cutlery.

More action. Be pro-active in any number of ways: Buy less, choose local food and goods, re-purpose, recycle, re-use, barter, walk or cycle whenever possible, stick up for the environment, clean up a beach, vote, take a stance and share it with a politician. 

More self-reliance. We are not helpless caged chickens. We can hone a practical skill, plant a garden, embrace small-scale living, keep an open mind, practise resourcefulness, stay tuned to important issues, be connected with the community, and become life-long learners.

Imagine if the Earth’s bucket list were to influence our New Year’s resolutions. “Punitive” would morph into “positive” and the outcome could make 2015 the year we finally start charting a more sustainable course for all. 

Trudy vows out loud that throughout 2015 she will rescue plastic and metal litter on her hikes and runs. She’ll recycle as much of that stuff as she can.