Creating a way to feel superior to your neighbor is just human nature.
In my grandparents’ day, it was whether or not you ironed your bed sheets and tea towels coupled with how often you went to church.
During my adolescent years, self-worth was often linked to how much a person weighed, namely me. Which was ironic since my mother has always struggled with her weight. But, by golly, she had a daughter who wore a size 6, so that made everything OK. Plus we attended church every time the door opened. Self-esteem was at an all time high.
One of the great benefits of our day and age is that we have so many more ways to one-up the next guy. For example, depending on your perspective and priorities, you can feel better about either sending your child to a public school in need of kids from stable homes or a private school in need of poor kids to help level out the demographics. We do both, which puts our family on a real high horse.
But my personal favorite category of modern one-upmanship is how eco-friendly one’s lifestyle might be. Here the possibilities are almost endless, but there’s clearly a pecking order to how sustainable you really are. Probably at the top of the pyramid are those who catch rainwater in barrels, install solar panels on their roof, grow their own food (sans meat) and heat and cool with a geothermal system. Next would be those who only travel by foot or bike followed by people driving something like a Toyota Prius or Honda Fit followed by drivers of some hybrid vehicle (that’s not an SUV) who mostly shop at farmer’s markets. Then there’s the category I’m in.
The bottom of this eco pyramid is filled with people who really do want to be sustainable in most of their life, but only if it’s convenient, affordable and I can still look cool doing it. Wearing Tom’s shoes is a great example, as is buying only organic when I’m grocery shopping right after payday. Offering my reusable shopping bags to the check out girl is another sustainable practice I can pull off when I happen to remember to get them out of the trunk of my car. Making my boys bathe together also saves us tons of water each month, except when they fill the tub high enough to bathe the entire family.
But more than anything, I’m reminded just how much higher I am on the eco ladder than most of my neighbors every two weeks on recycling day. Plopping down my green bins on the curb gives me great satisfaction, as I’m able to smugly show off my superior love for the planet to my neighbors, many of whom receive the Tulsa World every day and pitch them in the trash. Seriously, I’m not sure how they sleep at night.
What’s great about this pyramid scheme is that every day you can discover yet another way to get a toehold on the next rung of sustainability, thus boosting your street cred and status among those of the enlightened, earth-friendly set.
I caught a glimpse of the next rung just last week when I dropped my son off at preschool. Bringing in their daughter at the same time was a very cool, fashionable, hip looking couple with nary a Birkenstock or dreadlock in sight. Their daughter held a terra-cotta pot with handmade flowers in it. I thought it was really pretty–surely a teacher gift designed to get their child extra attention in school.
“Oh, I love your flowers!” I exclaimed. “Are those made of felt?”
“Styrofoam,” the mom answered coolly. “Biodegradable.”