Respect for the small.

November 4, 2017 § 2 Comments

rubber bandsA single paper clip.

A sheet of paper, one side clean.

The heel of a loaf of bread.

A handful of rubber bands.

What are they worth?

They’re not worth the trouble of storing them until needed.

Not worth the effort or ingenuity required to put them to use right now.

So, without thought, we default to the easiest solution. We toss them in the trash.

This cavalier treatment of the small-but-useful object is not a constant when it comes to human behavior, but it has held steady for quite a while in this period of prolonged bounty.

Here is an adage that expressed our relationship with small but useful objects during the Great Depression:

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

If there were a saying that summed up our treatment of the objects in our lives today, it would surely end with, “throw it out.”

nuts and bolts 2We human beings respond remarkably well to any crisis that is breathing on our necks. We adapt fast.

If economic hard times come again we will return to the cautious use of resources. We will once again pay attention to things we now toss away.

It is the slow-moving, nebulous threats we fail to respond to: climate change, wildlife extinctions, pollution, deforestation, the degradation of every natural landscape.

That slow-moving, in-coming disaster is a math equation that is continuously shifting, but sometime soon it will look like this:

earth’s resources<our needs and desires.

This disaster is coming,  but without a threat as immediate as the record unemployment and wide-spread hunger of the Depression we have to find another lever to cause us to want less, use less, and use what we have at hand.

For me that lever is respect. It begins with noticing those small objects and recognizing their value, acknowledging our dependence on them and using them more mindfully. Our profligate, careless behavior is drawing down a bank account that has to support not only generations of our kind, but a natural world abuzz with life.

To “throw away” is often an act of disrespect. We throw away what we value too little to use up, wear out, make do or—and this is the option kindest to this poor beat-up planet—do without.

Here is a much funnier take on the “stuff” that doesn’t get thrown way thanks to George Carlin.

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§ 2 Responses to Respect for the small.

  • Bill Westervelt says:

    You have reached at least, this person. I feel every word that you wrote today. Perhaps I should have grown up in the 30’s rather than the 50’s and 60’s. I hang on to little items because there might be a use for them one day. Usually not, but you never know. I save rubber bands and odd screws and paper clips and way too many of those styrofoam containers and cold packs that refrigerated medications come in. Some would call this hoarding. I need to find an alternate use for some of these items, or be crowded out of my own spaces. Still, it bothers me to have used something once and have it wasted thereafter. Do you ever save old guitar strings? I do, in anticipation of the day when we someone will need a strong skinny wire to attach some thing to another or whatever. Not sure if this is healthy, but it’s one of the facets of my being, a part of me.


    • I knew you were a kindred spirit Bill–and you’ve done me one better saving guitar strings. I think the fact that people like you and I have lots of rubber bands and cold packs and all those things designed for one use points out a flaw in the way the world works, not in us. There is very little of a durable nature that should be designed to be used once then thrown away. We are choking the oceans with throwaways, wrecking the planet for the sake of convenience.

      May you find a use for those old guitar strings!


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