If I could sum up my master’s degree in sustainability in one word it would be “value”. The value of something is subjective and it means the importance we ascribe physical objects, experiences and even metaphysical undertakings such as learning and spirituality. For instance, I value my family more than anything, certainly more than to put a monetary value on it. I am sure you feel the same way about yours and the people in your life. But you don’t value my family as much as you do yours, and vice versa, so the concept of value is intangible and difficult to translate into a meaningful common reality.
So we invented money to make it less confusing. The only problem is we took it too far and today anything can be ascribed a monetary value, including our ecosystem and life itself. When the monetary system was invented as we know it today we forgot to put a value on nature because at the time nature – air, water, soil, plants, forests and other natural resources – seemed abundant and infinite so we just took them for granted. We spent two hundred years trashing and abusing nature because society gave us permission to separate nature and money. It’s a complete fallacy. If you take two minutes to really think about what money represent, that anything you can ever buy with money comes from the planet (for free), and the continued supply of that resource is dependent on the health of our ecosystems. Yet we continue to treat nature as a cheap 99 cent outlet from which we can take indiscriminately and a convenient garbage disposal after the goods are consumed. What happens when there is no more nature left? When all we have is money, that dirty wrinkled cotton or number blinking on a computer screen. Then what is money worth? Sustainability means leaving something in the condition which you found it so that it may continue to be of use for others. Our life style is the opposite of that.
There is a great quote I have seen going around Facebook that says “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” and for me that has been very true. I basically spent a good chunk of my $60,000 student loan to travel the world for five years by age 26 and I don’t regret it for a second. (I spent the other half living in Hawaii for three years. Best. Investment. Ever. Grad school was ok, too.) I don’t own a lot of possessions. The most expensive thing I’ve ever bought besides my education is probably a tie between plane tickets and my 13″ MacBook Pro. I do love clothes so all together my closet is probably worth a couple of thousand dollars collected over ten years or so.
Take an inventory to see what your life is worth. I’m sure you’ll find the things that don’t translate into money means a whole lot more. I may be financially broke now, along with the majority of people around the world, but I am rich in experiences. These days I add value to my life by writing down my stories, sharing them and reading other people’s stories. I love experiencing art, especially movies, and I try making new friends where I live. It doesn’t cost a lot of money but it makes me infinitely richer every day.