The Tangled Web We Weave

Sir Walter Scott may not have been thinking about how this quote could relate to environmental ethics, but as I have been pondering the idea of theory and practice, the context of this quote really resonated with me. Although the original source is from the play “Marmion” and is related to a love triangle, the overarching theme of the play is conceptualized around this “tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” and the unforeseeable consequences that can potentially result from it. So, how am I linking this to environmental ethics? Well, as I stated, I have been pondering my own environmental ethic and have decided that there really is a triangular process at work. The first angle of the process, as I see it, is figuring out who I am as an individual and what my beliefs and values are rooted in. These moral guidelines should shape my worldview, which acts as a catalyst for the second angle which is the process of determining my environmental ethic. The framework of this worldview then dictates the actions that will be taken on behalf of it, the third angle. This seems simple enough until we come to the crossroads of theory and practice. If I am a Christian by day and Dexter by night, or an environmental activist who drives a hummer and lives in a plastic house, no matter how I might try to justify it, there is a disconnect between what I think I believe and what I am actually willing to do in support of my belief. Thus, I am deceiving myself and others by not reflecting, or emulating that which I say is my environmental ethic. It is essentially the old, “Talking the talk, but not walking the walk” cliche. The reality is that no one can completely avoid being a hypocrite all together, but there is something to be said about at least attempting to avert this character trait as it can have unforeseeable consequences in the pursuit of my cause. This has been my main struggle because if I am to make any kind of a positive influence in changing the hearts and minds of those around me to embrace a life of simplicity and to have a mindset to think about how actions impact the ecosystem as a whole,  I have to set the example. So, the question remains: What action am I willing to take to honor the ethic I have? It is a fickle process that I am still working through, and as a 38 year old wife and mother of 5 boys, who is a full-time student and part-time employee, I know I need to be realistic and intentional in my attempts to create change within my home and in the community. My first stepping stone is to make small, attainable outcome goals, such as supporting holistic farmers, who are preserving natural habitats for livestock and plants. This means that when I go out to eat, my options are very limited, but it is still something more attainable than my entire family taking the bus everywhere we have to go. What seems like a huge bummer, really just gives me more of an opportunity to cook at home with my family. It simply is a matter of perception as to whether the glass is half full or half empty.  As I call myself a Christian and have many hearts and minds in my own home whom I hope to inspire, I feel it is essential that I show love for and am in support of justice for all of creation. I want my children and those around me to see that they can find joy and contentment in a life of simplicity and thoughtfulness, more-so than that of accumulation. My hope is that others will see something about my life that seems worthy of contemplation and will be encouraged to set their own ethical goals. I am a firm believer  that a simple life void of the stumbling blocks of narcissism, greed and pride is a better kind of life. It helps us to engage with one another and creation the way I feel God intended. I am not sure if the changes I make to my lifestyle, or the conversations I have explaining these changes will result in any kind of profound influence, but I know that I no longer have action paralysis. I am at the very least taking steps (the journey of a thousands miles and all that) to walk the walk because I believe that the journey matters, regardless of the end result.

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  1. It is admirable to see you acknowledge the disconnect between theory and practice in your own life. I believe this is the first step in questioning the quality of one’s own ethics in that if they are truly practicing them to the extent of their own conviction. I agree that no one can live life to there convictions without being a hypocrite in some cases. But that is impossible to achieve a perfect ethical life given the degree of our own convictions. That is to say, we cannot achieve our a life completely sticking to our convictions because life is complex and circumstantial. This should not discourage us from living up to our own ethics, but motivate us to acknowledge that if we truly are putting in 100% of our effort into what we believe and practice that very belief, than we are doing our part in acting on our ethics. Which is again, an introspective question that we must ask ourselves. The degree to which we practice our belief is up to each individual, and I think it is important in encouraging others to truly achieve their convictions as to be a well rounded individual at least for the sake of themselves.


  2. Hypocrisy is an all too common word applied to environmental ethics. “Talking the talk, but not walking the walk” is an accusation that is often thrown at some doing their honest best to help the world we live in. An odd but relevant example is, while I was researching Bill McKibben for another course, I found that he was shamed on twitter for using a plastic bag during a one-off trip to the grocery store. Considering who Bill McKibben IS and what he does for the environment, this was obviously a cheap shot. Regardless, I consider optimism as a central part of my environmental ethic, and I am glad you are reckoning your actions with your beliefs in a constructive way.

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  3. I think the battle between “walking the walk and talking the talk” is something that is all too common in society today. I myself am currently struggling with being able to fully understand what it means to live out my environmental ethics. Many of us might consider ourselves progressive in the environmental realm of thought, but how progressive our we in our actions and will? I love the question in “What action am I willing to take to honor the ethic I have?”, this is a question I will continue to challenge myself with. I believe the best way to honor your own environmental ethics in action is with baby steps. The thought of removing all plastic items from a household at once can be very intimidating and may lead many (like myself) to procrastinate on taking action. I appreciate your optimism and mindfulness as you make this journey.

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