WHY DOES ALL THIS MATTER?

WORDS & IMAGE: KATE WEINER

Earlier this week, I went for a hike in the late-season snow with a friend of a friend. He was new to town and we sifted through basic get-to-know-you questions. I was telling him how much I loved working for Be Zero—the joy that making, growing, and bringing my own gave me, the power I felt during our social hours when we swapped strategies for change—and he cut me off to ask "But does any of that really make a difference?" 

This is not the first time I have been asked that question (although it's rarely an interruption). And in some ways, I understand it. We only have so much time in this life, so many hours in each day, and we want to pour our energy into endeavors that make a difference. But our barometer for determining "meaning" isn't always clear. Determining what does—or doesn't—make a difference is a long-term game. And as profoundly imperfect humans, we are profoundly imperfect at predicting the future. 

What irked me about this question wasn't only the tone—it was the assumption that an experience that has been transformative in my life doesn't really make a difference if it's not transformative for others. It's the assumption that small steps are a distraction from the bigger picture. It's true that for some people, emphasis on daily actions can be a shield from deep engagement. But I truly believe that for most people—because most people do care— "small steps" are a powerful way of priming communities for a revolution. When we see the change we are capable of, it fortifies us for the hard work ahead. 

We live in dark, uncertain, unstable times and critique can be a kind of protection, a way to legitimize our laziness, soothe our fear that we will pour energy and time into a project that won't catalyze political change or stymie climate catastrophe. It can be terrifying to think that in this pivotal moment—when everything in our world is at peak—we might take a wrong step.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take steps. We have no idea what will or won't make a difference because our rich, wild, wondrous stories are not over yet. So whenever I am asked this question—whenever someone wrinkles their nose at the idea that cultivating a circular mindset isn't impactful or that writing can't be activism or that art can't generate tangible political change— I remember that (1) what nourishes me has the capacity to nourish others and that (2) whatever good we can do, we should do. Kendall Dunnigan, my teacher at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, shared those last few words with me and I cherish them. 

Live a life that is rooted in the very real possibility that your actions have resonance. Waste less not only because it helps slash your carbon footprint but also because it brings you joy to dig into DIY. Grow a garden as much for the food security as for the dizzying beauty of watching calendula seeds transform into green buds into orange blooms. Don't doubt your own power, or shirk away from exploration for fear of critique. 

Because we only have so much time on this earth. Why wouldn't you do everything you can to heal your body, soul, and earth?