Raising Ecologically & Socially Responsible Kids

Most parents work hard to give their children a better life than they themselves had. I've been reflecting on this as we begin to understand that human activities are indeed responsible for the Earth's changing climate. The UN's recently commissioned Climate Report issued a code red for humanity, but the good news is they say there is still time to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change if we come together and do the necessary work. After all, what kind of life will our children, and their children, lead if they are constantly faced with unbearable heat, threat of wildfire, decreased air quality, drought and food shortage, worsening hurricane seasons, floods. Are we working to give them a better life?

Recently, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati said that the manner in which we live our lives, our lifestyle, our daily habits, is where most of our individual power lies in mitigating the effects not only of the pandemic, but also of climate change. Our daily habits, our lifestyle, when positive and constructive can benefit our own health greatly, can significantly reduce the carbon footprint this life leaves behind, and can be a great inspiration to others. 

It is the same with raising children. If you are a caregiver, you know very well that what "monkey see, monkey do." Every day, our children are imbibing our values and commitment to the Earth simply by observing and participating in the lifestyle the family lives. When I lived in Swami Niranjan-ji's ashram in India for over 3 years, no one ever sat my class down and said, "here are the principles of Yoga Ecology that we live by and here are the reasons why." No. We lived the given lifestyle and we imbibed it's wisdom. We dove into the flow of ashram life, observed its guidelines, and eventually gained insight into the importance and the effects of the practices.

The ashram is a perfect model of living responsibly both with others and within nature. One acquires an acute awareness of the limited nature of Earth's resources. All water for drinking, bathing, cleaning, laundry, toileting, showering, teeth brushing, cooking, comes from the well. If the well became low, we had to manage our water usage, or there simply wouldn't be enough water to drink, to flush the toilet, to brush the teeth. I became very aware of my dependence upon nature for survival; in ashram, one is not so removed from that.

Even electrical power had to be managed. It was not taken for granted; it was very much appreciated. It wasn't uncommon to experience frequent and long rolling blackouts, and when that did happen, you just had to accept it. Power was limited and precious. "Okay, no power. 50 degree weather, and no fan to help with sleep. Sigh" What's more, one had to adapt to the temperature of the current climate. We did not spend power for the purpose of heating or cooling the buildings nor its water supply. If the weather was hot, you dressed accordingly and the water for drinking and your shower was hot. If the weather was cold, you slept with so many blankets that turning over could throw your back out, and the water for your shower was cold too (and I mean COLD). Yet, in this way, we learned to harmonize with nature, realized our total dependence upon nature, and thus blossomed a great appreciation and protectiveness of its resources. 

Oftentimes, there are hundreds of people living in ashram at a time. Resources are limited, and we became very aware of the impact to our fellow residents if we took too much of something for ourselves. For example, if I took longer than a 3-minute shower, there may not be enough water left for the next few people coming in after me. If I take an extra serving of food at dinner, there may not be enough left for those eating last. And if I wash too many clothes at once, there may not be enough room on the laundry line for others to hang their clothes to dry. In this way, consideration is developed for others and a measuring and discipline develops in one's actions and behaviour.

Having this experience living in Ashram has been the most powerful teacher of living a socially and environmentally responsible lifestyle. One develops a great respect of their place within Nature, as well as a great respect for others and their responsibility toward them. This is the manner in which I strive to educate my own children about their own social and environmental responsibility. By living a correct lifestyle.

My kids are still little, so we make sure to point out and explain in simple language why, for example, we are turning the water off (instead of letting it run) while we brush our teeth, soap our hands, or wash the dishes. "If we use too much water for ourselves, there might not be enough water for other people. Because there is only enough if we all share." We even say this when we go to the toy store to plant seeds about the yogic observance of aparigraha, or non-collecting. "If we buy too many toys, then there may not be enough toys for all the kids who want to shop here. Better we are happy with just 1 or 2 today." And when we leave a room in the house, we make sure to turn out the lights. "What do we do when we leave the room? We turn out the lights to make sure there is enough power for everyone, because there is only only enough if we all share." We find opportunities to talk with our kids about the importance of reducing the amount of garbage we create through consumer buying etc, "because the garbage has to go back into the earth, and that is not good for the earth." Finally, my kids have little jobs around the house to help reinforce those ideas, such as turning out the lights themselves when they are finished in a room, and knowing to throw their banana peel in the compost bin (versus the garbage or recycling). 

It may seem simple, but it slowly begins to build an awareness, a habit and a familiarity in the child about their connection with and responsibility to others, as well as their dependence upon the Earth's limited resources. They learn that their actions have consequences, for better or for worse, for themselves and others and my hope is this will culminate in attitudes and expressions of gratitude, appreciation, and social and environmental responsibility as their generation strives to leave a better world for their kids than they are inheriting from us.

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