My wife and I recently bought a small woodland. Just under three acres of ancient arboreal bliss; a sanctuary for us of course, but primarily a place for the trees, flora, fauna and fungi to thrive.
It’s reminded me—this year of all years—what’s important. Strong and steady is better than fast and furious. It’s also helped both create and resolve some conflict I feel around my work, which I’ll come back to in a moment.
Some notes I made beside the campfire on our last visit:
The trees are calm and strong. They grow slowly but steadily. They bend and stretch to find a perfect path to light and sunshine, but their strong roots and trunk support them as they reach for astonishing heights.
They sway with the wind rather than fight against it, change as the seasons dictate, thrive during the good years, and survive during the bad. They stand proud, alone, but connect to all around them; they flourish as individuals, but prosper as a community.
And even if they don’t survive their legacy continues, in the seeds they’ve sown and the many shoots they put out. They think not in minutes, hours and days, but in years, decades and centuries.
It’s no coincidence I’ve been reading Roman Krznaric’s The Good Ancestor in conjunction with this new adventure. I highly recommend it, and it’ll make you reflect on how you live, and what you are leaving behind.
The juxtaposition of the slow pace of nature and the world of commerce, marketing and advertising is something I’ve been fighting within myself for years. Companies expect growth, they expect fast—often instant—results.
A demand for speed and profit creates shortcuts, without thought for the consequences. The consequences are almost unlimited but might include pollution; lies and scamming; morale sucked from employees; price gouging; trickle-up economics. Shareholders prioritised over society.
Consumption and waste, our throwaway society, are overwhelming the planet. The McDonald’s and Starbucks drive-through rubbish which litters our verges are the perfect example of wealth creation without responsibility. People save valuable minutes of their lives sitting in an idling car outside a restaurant, pumping out fumes, and casually discarding the packaging as they drive through the countryside at a speed which makes their actions inconsequential to themselves. The profits vanish from the local area, and nobody is healthier or significantly happier.
I’ll probably never work for either of the aforementioned companies, for a multitude of reasons. And there are a few other industries and businesses I avoid working with too. But is, say, an organic restaurant which flies ingredients from abroad and pays minimum wage a better company than a non-organic one which uses local produce and pays well?
The distinction is almost impossible, and will be different for different people. And probably unnecessary to document, because it’s just me, and I can make a decision every time I take on a new client.
And what about the services I provide? I’ve always refused requests to write dishonest copy, or to invent testimonials. When I was building websites I fought hard against overly-invasive advertising, tracking and manipulation. But my lines in the sand are invariably different to others’. Should I refuse a marketing project to send thousands of cheap, disposable plastic keyrings out as a promotional tool?
Every decision we make about our businesses and our lives will involve some form of compromise. Perhaps at best we can simply accept this and consider it.
Anyway, I’m off to make dinner using some non-organic spring onions, which were grown just a happy handful of miles from my home but packaged in non-recyclable plastic, bought from about as ethical a national chain as there is right now.
But I drove to the shop because it was raining.