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3 Things That Really Bother Me

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Yep, three things that really bother me… about myself.

This post has been brewing for a while. Over my years of being more involved in social issues and engaged Buddhism, I’ve become aware of three behaviors that I engage in that really drive me nuts about myself and have me feeling like a hypocrite. In fact, I am a hypocrite because of these things.

Right, I know we should have compassion for ourselves, and I do. Really, I do. When I say this to you, it’s not because I’m being overly hard on myself. It’s because I’m trying to be honest with myself and aspire to something better. (Which I realize is not exactly a Zen perspective, although Suzuki Roshi did once say something like, “You are perfect just as you are, and you can also use a little improvement.)

So here they are:

1. I pay taxes. All of them.

Somewhere between 20% and 54% of our federal income tax goes to support military expenses, depending on who you believe and how it’s counted. See these pie charts from the War Resisters’ League.

It’s been said that if you pay tax, you’re paying for war. Let’s face it, my dollars are going to support a military-industrial complex that I do not agree with. It’s not the people who are in the military that I am against, but it is the deeply ingrained assumption that we need to resolve conflicts with massive amounts of arms that create massive devastation. My tax dollars are helping to fuel that behavior.

And yet, I still pay my taxes.

2. I drive a car.

Those of you who know me know that I can go on a big rant about the harm caused by automobiles and other gas-powered vehicles.

This kind of automotive use has led to:

  • a depletion of non-renewable energy sources, and therefore to our military presence and aggressive intervention in the Middle East to “protect our interests;”
  • air and noise pollution;
  • miles of precious earth paved over with asphalt;
  • loss of life (37.5% of accidental deaths in the U.S. are attributed to motor vehicle accidents);
  • and more (like I said, I can go on and on, but I’ll spare you here)

For two years, from 2002 – 2004, I did live without a car, quite happily, in Northampton, MA. I bought a car when I moved back to California, and I have that same car here in Santa Fe, NM. I drive it pretty much every day, often for trips I don’t really need to be taking.

3. Many of my purchases support huge corporations rather than people right in my community.

Sure, I try to shop local as much as I can, but the truth is I can get pretty mindless about my consumption. I’ll head to Target if I’m feeling lazy and don’t want to spend the time trying to find what I need at a locally-owned store, or searching through Craigslist. I usually buy from Amazon rather than a local bookstore. And even this website links to an Amazon page.

And yet… change is always possible. Sometimes we have to start small.

One of the wonderful things about blogging is that you become accountable in a very public way. So I want to use that public accountability to make three promises to myself. And I’ll check in with you about them in six months, October 2011.

1) As a first small step to exploring tax resistance, I’m going to stop paying the federal excise tax on my phone bill.

2) I promise myself to give myself one car-free day each week.

3) By October, I will change the Jizo Chronicles online bookstore from Amazon to BetterWorld Books, a company that donates millions of dollars to support literacy initiatives around the world and is committed to recycling books and other materials.

Keep an eye on me and hold me to my word.

How about you — what’s on your “this is really bothering me” list?


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

About Maia

I've been practicing and studying the Buddha way since 1994, and exploring the question "What is engaged Buddhism?" since the late 90s. As former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and editor of its journal, Turning Wheel, I had the honor of meeting and working with many practitioners of engaged dharma, including Roshi Joan Halifax, Joanna Macy, Alan Senauke, and Robert Aitken Roshi. I write about socially engaged Buddhism on my blog, "The Jizo Chronicles," as well as on the theme of personal and collective freedom on my website, "The Liberated Life Project." Through my Five Directions Consulting, I offer support to individuals and organizations who aspire to integrate awareness into their work.

9 responses »

  1. thank you so much for this post. the resources are wonderful and i would like to add my pledge to yours to look into the phone tax and to transition from amazon to better world books for all my blogs.

  2. This is great! I have long wondered about what to do with taxes. How to be ethical about paying taxes. It’s a really challenging area, and I, too, sometimes feel like a hypocrite.

    I have never owned a car. It’s not an easy thing to do, there’s been a lot of sacrifice on my part, and I understand why so many end up driving. So much of our infrastructure is car-centric, which makes it that much harder for folks who want to lessen their environmental impact. In addition, people without cars are subtly and not so subtly treated differently. I have been flat out turned down for jobs solely due to my lack of a car – even when the job didn’t require a car to perform it’s duties. People say things to me like “when you grow up, you’ll get a car.” I’m 35 years old. “Growing up” isn’t the issue here, but somehow the general view is that if you don’t drive, you’re not a fully developed adult. It’s quite a screwed up attitude, but one that rarely gets exposed because so few deliberately opt out of driving (as opposed to being unable to afford it, but wishing they could drive).

    Honestly, on my own list is the fact that I haven’t been very active in grassroots social justice work over the past two years. It’s true that I needed to ramp up my Zen/yoga practices, rest from being active, and reflect on next steps, but it’s hard sometimes to be mostly out of the more “active” end of things. I try to write as much as I can on my blog as an offering in that direction – but maintaining a contemplative/action balance is something I’m still learning to do.

  3. I think the top of my list is eating eggs and dairy products. I’ve been a vegetarian of sorts, off and on, for 45 years, but I decided 6 years ago that I was not going to eat or wear anything that came from dead critters. I was aware of the misery involved in the production of eggs and milk but since my family are not vegetarian, I compromised. As I work away from home 5 days a week, I’m virtually vegan most of the time, but the weekend eggs and cheese still bother me. (btw setting a deadline of October last year seems a tad harsh 🙂

  4. David,

    Ooops! Thanks for noticing that… I guess this is 2011, not 2010, yes?!

  5. I guess this reply isn’t about the 3 things that really bother me about me, but I hope it provides some support for all of our efforts to be compassionate with ourselves regarding the first 2 items on your list:

    It’s impossible for me to consider myself in any way responsible for what a thief does with my money after having stolen it. Likewise, given that taxes are in no way voluntary and my control over what the government does with my money in the short run is essentially nil, I don’t hold myself responsible for the wars our rulers fight just because they do it, in part, with money they’ve taken from me by force.

    As for car driving, I think what you say about the harmfulness of cars, in general, has a lot of merit, but I would offer two thoughts: the first is that there would almost certainly be a lot less car driving if it weren’t subsidized explicitly with tax money–everything from free roads to free parking–and implicitly through the failure to charge people for the pollution that their cars emit (gas taxes are a horribly inexact proxy that discourage the development of pollution reducing technology). Second, eliminating the public finance structures that encourage sprawl–such as the failure to collect land value taxes (a la Henry George) and other subsidies on the holding of title to, and over-development of, land provided by the tax code–would also reduce the amount of car driving. Car driving would be reduced still more by eliminating the monopoly privileges that hinder the market provision of taxis, private buses for hire, etc. I also suspect that the net effect of government involvement in the market for oil, on the part of the U.S. and the governments of oil exporting countries, is to increase the supply and therefore reduce the price of oil, which of course also supports more driving.

    • Lewis,

      Thanks so much for chiming in here. I really appreciate your perspective, because it shifts the focus of the question from the individual to the systemic, which is critically important.

      palms together,

  6. Off the top of my head, my 3 are my laziness, tendency to hoard (especially books, magazines, pretty much anything with words on it), and disorganization (a likely biproduct of the first two).

    Luckily, I suppose, I’ve managed to live poor and on the kindness of others so as never to pay significant taxes. I drive, but try to do so mindfully and minimally – but it’s hard living in the West, as you know. And I think I’m balanced somewhere in the middle of corporations and the local folks/2nd hand. BUT, I’m glad you brought up Betterworld Books. I’ve posted a banner from them myself and will try (laziness notwithstanding ;0) to link to them when I mention books in the future.

  7. Pingback: An Article All Anti-War Buddhists Should Read « Kloncke

  8. Pingback: The “Walk Your Talk” Campaign « The Jizo Chronicles

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