Commentary: Green living and the beauty of youthful arrogance

SarahUntil recently, I could barely tolerate the arrogance of young people like my vegan stepdaughter Sarah (pictured here), whose haughty self-righteousness set me on a slow burn. You punk, I would think as she peered into my salad bowl to challenge my choices of dairy and non-organic produce. I was vegetarian long before her and never said a thing about the double cheeseburgers she slammed down in high school. And don’t even get her started on saturated fats or artificial sweeteners. I finally just covered my bowl when she was in the room.

And her scavenger ways! Sarah loves to find stuff that others have tossed out to furnish her home. She proposed writing a book called Alleyway Decorating. At the time, one or two years ago, I thought she was being precocious rather than practical.

My thinking started to shift when I attended a green building event not too long ago announcing a new store for recycled building materials. The group sponsoring the event was made up mostly of architects and builders. And here’s what I noticed: These were very young people, in their 20s and 30s, who were pushing this store and this mindset of thinking ahead to the well-being of future generations as we build for ours today.

Wait a minute, I thought. I’m in the generation of the original hippies. Why aren’t we held up and praised for our thinking back then? The truth is, most of us didn’t follow through as we moved into middle age. We built our homes in ways that wasted energy and materials, and filled those homes with toxic materials we didn’t have time to question. And we let down our radical politicking for the right leaders. At least I did. George McGovern was the last politician I worked to get out the vote for. After that, I deflated a bit.

Sarah is 24 now and has softened a little. She looks at my food bowl more out of curiosity than distain, and she even eats a little salmon on occasion.

But there is still a fire in her to be conscious of the Earth and what her choices mean to the future. I want to help keep that fire burning in Sarah and all of her contemporaries. I want them to keep questioning and finding fault with the waste of our past. I don’t want to slap down their youthful zest for change.

And if the power of their youthfulness comes with a bit of self-righteous arrogance, bring it on.