Just...Don't Do It
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Just...Don't Do It

People are always telling me that the solution to the world's problems is to drive less, spend less, and stop creating consumer bubbles. But I don't see why. I've built my whole life on bubbles: a tech bubble, a real estate bubble, a financial bubble. When each bubble pops, there's always one more.

Still, every now and then, I encounter some bearded and wild-eyed Jeremiah passing through the desert of my illusions. He tells me that I'm living all wrong, that what I've been taught from birth about unlimited possibility and the ever-expandingness of everything is…unsustainable. If he glares fiercely or quotes a terrible prophecy, a really good Jeremiah may give me pause for five or ten minutes. Then I reply, "Of course my lifestyle is unsustainable. But didn't you ever hear the phrase, 'just do it'?"

The other day I found myself at a large convention hotel in Orange County. You know the kind: Many escalators and miles of hushed carpeting. Upstairs there was a conference on Just do This and down on Banquet Level II, a seminar on Just Do That.

It's easy to get lost in such a place, and even though I carried a free tote bag and hunted for a talk on How To Do Something Really Important, I arrived in the wrong room and found myself accidentally listening to a man with a beard. Sure enough, he told me not to do things.

In fact he said, "The solutions to humanity's worst problems lie not in what we need to do, but in what we need to stop doing. Sometimes it's obvious: War. Pollution. Global warming. Destruction of the oceans and forests. Sometimes it's less obvious: hunger, for instance, is often caused by multinationals that convert local agriculture from food to cash crops." Often if we'd just stop, life would improve.

"Whoa," I thought, "this guy must have a stake in me not doing things." But he wasn't hawking a book or an eight seminar series. In fact, he'd spent most of his career working on food issues for the poor.

You remember the poor…they appeared in Slumdog Millionaire.

This Jeremiah's name was Jonathan Sheff, and he spends most of his time on a monkish retreat in Big Sur. He'd just posted a website called GlobalSabbath.com at which he intends to convince the world to adopt the old Biblical injunction to take a break every seven days and a more serious break every seven years. The Bible also says that after every seven times seven years, on the 50th year, everyone should not only take a break, but forgive all debts…to everybody.

Imagine how much better the world would be if we all did one seventh less? And gee, suppose if, in the present crisis, all banks and creditors, friends and relatives, simply forgave all debts…just "poof." Is that ancient nonsense or profound advice about boom and bust capitalism? I mean, who knows, maybe it would work better than this whole print-money-and-re-inflate-the-balloon idea. "Hey," I thought, "Somebody call Geithner."

Then I considered the marketing problem. I mean, the phrase "Just Do It" has a wonderful upbeat quality, but I doubt the phrase "Just don't do it" could ever catch on. Not only would it fail to sell running shoes, but most urban men and women aren't very good at not doing things. When we try to not do things, we usually do more than ever: Eco vacations. Green conferences. Even meditation now requires expensive lessons and mats. When we hear, "make do with less," we think, "go buy a Prius."

Sure enough, after 20 minutes, half the audience had disappeared. But I stayed to hear the guy out, I mean just this once before we both found our way out of the giant hotel, The Urban Man to rejoin his life in the ever-expanding metropolis and Jeremiah to disappear back into Big Sur.

Copyright (c) 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserve.

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