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Decommissioning Our Lives

My mother, the furthest thing from a hoarder, collects napkins. And straws. My family has a ritual of meeting on Saturday mornings for coffee, and when it’s time to leave, she collects everyone’s unused items and tucks them into her purse.

To be clear, Mom and Dad have no problem purchasing napkins from the store. My mom simply hates waste. While she certainly cares about the environment, her actions are more a matter of practicality and purpose. You will find stacks of these unused napkins in my parents’ cars, their garage, and my mom’s sewing room - anywhere a small spill might require ready access.

It’s probably not surprising, then, that after a recent trip to the local Dairy Queen, I had difficulty throwing away the unused plastic spoon included in the bottom of the sack. I found myself conducting a weird anthropomorphic exercise in which the spoon was lamenting the fact that it had not fulfilled its destiny. This led me to consider how incredibly well designed single-use items are. Cheaply made, purposeful, and ubiquitous, like Forky from the movie Toy Story 4, they long to be used and then discarded. The less notoriety the better. Still, one would have to imagine that among all of those discarded single-use items, at least a few of them would be wondering, “Is that it?” The same could be said for other consumer goods that have lost favor with their owners resulting in a trip to the trash bin.

Fortunately, there has been an awakening among many to preserve our planet which includes a rethinking of a number of previously reflexive practices including waste disposal. Staying on the topic of single-use items, for example, efforts are being made by manufacturers to utilize more compostable materials, and many restaurants are curbing their distribution practices regarding condiments, napkins, and other items.

This awakening has been fueled in part by the leadership of schools and universities where sustainability efforts have been a focus in the classroom and in campus operations. Whether it is lunch service composting programs, alternative energy initiatives, or intelligent lighting solutions, when schools model with intention what is being taught in the classroom regarding our environment and sustainability, students witness firsthand how their efforts matter. In my opinion, this is one area where those involved in education, both public and private, have earned high marks.

The ethos of the Church compels Catholic schools to dive deeper still. The protection of our common home, the term Pope Francis uses, is not simply a social good, it is a moral imperative that cannot be properly addressed without recognizing the imbalance in the ways in which environmental degradation most negatively impacts the poor and voiceless. Laudato Si states, “[St. Francis of Assisi] helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human...Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.”

By framing our teaching and sustainability efforts through this others-centered lens, students in Catholic schools and universities are challenged to think more critically about issues like, What trash do we produce and where does it end up?, Who has access to water and how is it used?, and What are greenhouse gasses and why do they matter? This does not suggest that there be universal agreement regarding a response. Reasoned people can and will disagree. However, it does emphasize our need to respond, and to do so with generosity.

The Church’s call to build God’s kingdom animates our work. Thus, the large-scale sustainability efforts of Loyola University as laid out in their climate action plan A Just Future makes a difference. So too does the small community garden and composting program at St. Bonaventure's College, a K-12 school in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Spring is a time for cleaning, and this often includes decluttering. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest taking a modified page from the playbook of tidying expert Mari Kondo. For the next 7 days, every time you throw something away - whether it’s a napkin, a plastic spoon, or an old bike that has been sitting in the garage - first thank it for its service. Then let it go. I realize this decommissioning exercise seems hokie, and the purpose is not to make you feel badly every time you toss something out. Some things just need to be thrown away. The intent is to simply increase awareness regarding the amount and types of trash we generate, the virtue of those items, and the ways in which we as a society manage their continued existence. As the KonMari Method suggests, “Thinking deeply about each item you discard will affect how you live and acquire new things moving forward.”

Decommission, count your blessings, and live accordingly.


CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual

vol 3 issue 8


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