In an episode of the award-winning AMC series Mad Men, there’s a scene in which the main character, Don Draper, is enjoying a leisurely picnic in the park with his wife and children. They look like an all-American family, plucked straight from the pages of a 1963 Sears catalog. Upper-middle class. Nice clothes. New car. Well-behaved children.
We see the family prepare to leave, and the mom says to the little girl, “Sally, pack up the checkers.” Responsible parenting, I like that.
And then, the all-American family reveals a dark side. With all the swagger of a major league baseball pitcher, Don does a wind up and hurls his beer can down the hillside. As he heads up to the car toting the ice cooler and other picnic gear, the mom grabs the picnic blanket, gives it a hearty shake, and sends the paper picnic dinnerware tumbling to rest on the grass.
For what seems like an eternity, the camera remains locked on the scene as they pack up the car and drive away. Meanwhile, their pile of trash remains strewn along the hillside.
The first time I watched this scene, I felt an odd tension building up inside of me. Surely they’re not going to leave that trash lying on the ground. C’mon folks, go pick this up. What? You’re driving off? Seriously?
All I could do then was laugh. But it was an uncomfortable laugh.
What Will Your Legacy Be?
Americans in the sixties didn’t have the advantage of growing up in the age of Woodsy Owl, and the “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” rallying cry. They hadn’t seen the iconic image of a single teardrop rolling down the cheek of the native American chief portrayed in the 1971 classic TV PSA for Keep America Beautiful dubbed, “The Crying Indian.”
The Mad Men scene got me thinking about how Americans today view their responsibility for the environment. We still have many people who seem to live totally oblivious to how their own habits and actions can impact our planet. Perhaps it’s due to ignorance. Perhaps it’s due to laziness or self-centeredness.
Then I’m struck with another thought. Am I part of the problem?
If my life were played out on TV, what would people think about how I treat the environment? What would they think about my consumption of energy? Or what about the plastic bottles I don’t recycle?
So it hits me. I’m guilty too. I’m part of the problem.
However, if I’m part of the problem, is there any reason why I can’t be part of the solution?
Am I going to sell my Nissan Rogue to purchase a hybrid? Probably not anytime soon.
I could stop there, throw my hands in the air, and say, “Oh well, someone else will just have to worry about the planet.” But that’s not the legacy I want to leave. Because ultimately, whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all responsible for being good stewards of our planet.
So we each have to start somewhere. The question is, “Where?” For each of us, that answer may look different.
For example, maybe it’s wildlife conservation.
How can someone make an impact there? And how much time would it take?
What if I want to become a proactive voice for wildlife conservation in my own state of Tennessee? How much time and energy would I have to invest?
Well, in sixty seconds I’ve visited the Tennessee Wildlife Federation website. The non-profit is one of the largest and oldest organizations in the state dedicated to the conservation of Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources.
I’ve clicked on the link to the TWF official Facebook page, and shared one of the page’s articles on my Facebook wall. With a few hundred Facebook friends, I just helped raise awareness for the issue of privatization of public lands.
In another sixty seconds, I’ve returned to TWF website, clicked the orange “Donate” button at the top of the page, and made a small contribution. And while it’s not exactly the size of gift that would compete with a donation from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, it’s something. It’s a start for leaving a legacy.
Here’s the thing. When it comes to the challenge of preserving our environment, most of us won’t have to dig too deep to discover we’re part of the problem. However, if we’ll each spend a little more time digging, we can quickly start to see how we can each become part of the solution.
So what can you do in the next 60 seconds?