Guest columnists Daniel Cantor Yalowitz and Allen Jeffrey Davis: On the necessity of sacrifice

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Published: 1/25/2022 11:25:37 AM
Modified: 1/25/2022 11:24:20 AM

All of what we have accomplished as a nation has come with one common thread: personal sacrifice.

We view sacrifice as something given up for an ideal or a cause. With countless known and unknown individuals contributing — many anonymously –— these meaningful decisions to let go of something dear to them (including their lives in too many cases), we would not have holidays such as Memorial Day, Juneteenth, July Fourth, and Labor Day, to mention just a few.

We believe that it is only through reflection and sacrifice that we can create a world that exists for the common good. We aim for nothing less than making our planet more sustainable, equitable and peaceful.

There is hardship in sacrifice: that is its very definition. As humans, we are given to lives of routine, leading lifestyles that are predictable and focused on bringing comfort and happiness. Making a sacrifice means interrupting and intervening in our daily lives in a meaningful way. For most of us, doing so is challenging and often threatening.

Yet it is only through personal sacrifice that change happens for the common good. We believe that making concrete, practical and meaning-laden sacrifice is a necessity. If we don’t sacrifice, the status quo will inevitably prevail, and we will be stuck with the pernicious effects of all manner of “— isms” that are still pervasive in our society. What am I willing to give up or go with less than? And what about you?

We must ask ourselves these questions, both within ourselves and in conversations with others. One of the best parts about sacrifice is that it can be contagious: when one person — just one — gives up something meaningful, others may take note and it becomes easier to do, by a small fraction. If you’ve heard the expression many hands make for lighter work, then this is that statement actualized when one sacrifices something for the good of others. If we take the time to think about this, we are more likely to take action on it. We believe that sacrifice begins with each of us as individuals.

A couple of years ago, Daniel and his wife decided to cut back significantly on two things concurrently, which made for one bigger sacrifice: to stop purchasing any foods that were grown or came from more than 100 miles away. This involved letting go of many favorite foods, especially fruit. The primary consideration was environmental, and the biggest loss was both nutritive (health) and narcissistic (love of certain “indulgent” foods, like bananas and avocados).

We decided to find equivalents locally. As an experiment, this served as excellent instruction regarding our food chain and its huge environmental footprint. Now, more than two years later, we are more conscious consumers, holding a greater awareness of our choices. This conscientiousness has turned what was initially a significant sacrifice into an important learning.

For many years, Allen has been driving 55 mph rather than 70-75 mph in order to significantly reduce his carbon footprint, thereby slowing global warming, hopefully lessening the likelihood of climate catastrophe, and advancing the cause of racial justice as there cannot be racial justice without climate justice. His sacrifice has been one of time; for example, a four-hour round trip takes two extra hours. During a year that amounts to many hours when he could be doing something more meaningful. And he gives up the thrill of driving fast.

Last summer, Allen and his partner, who love hiking in the West, canceled a trip to Colorado because plane travel produces huge amounts of CO2 and thus accelerates the climate emergency while we must reduce our CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030. It was a tough decision to give up the beautiful mountains.

Some sacrifices that our readers might want to consider could be:

■Use your voice, presence, and agency to participate in a climate or racial justice protest or vigil.

■ Eat meat less frequently and consider having a “Meatless Monday” every week.

■Donate your time and/or part of your income to a worthwhile nonprofit organization.

■Wear extra clothes indoors and drop your thermostat by at least 2 or 3 degrees during the daytime.

If each of us could integrate one personal sacrifice into our daily regimen, the world could change, starting with us and expanding to our family, neighborhood, community, state, and nation. Think of the impact if we could do this, one person — and one day — at a time.

Daniel Cantor Yalowitz, Ed.D. is a psychologist, author, and consultant who serves as chair of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission and Allen Jeffrey Davis, Ed.D. is a racial and climate justice advocate who lives in Dublin, New Hampshire.

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