I used the restroom at work today. In fact, I use the restroom at work every day. To be perfectly honest, I use the restroom at work three to four times a day. I work four days a week, so I use the restroom at work twelve to sixteen times a week. Around one hundred people work in my office, so assuming their bathroom habits are similar to mine, that is more than twelve hundred trips to the restroom in my office each week. (It kind of makes you wonder how any work gets done.)
Each time I use the restroom I wash my hands – honestly! – and when I am done washing my hands, I dry my hands on the paper towels my work is kind enough to provide. I have written elsewhere about the insanity of delivering fresh water hundreds of miles to facilities where the water is treated and tested to ensure absolute safety and purity before finally being piped to our homes where we piss in it or pour it onto our lawns. So I won’t go into that again.
But how about those paper towels? The same principle is at play. Trees are cut down and processed and packaged and shipped and delivered and stocked. And at the end of this cycle we absentmindedly grab three pieces of what used to be a tree, rub our wet hands on them, then throw them away. This is convenient, I suppose, but convenience is hardly the best metric by which to measure something.
We live in a society that, though it doesn’t like to admit it, values convenience over anything else. Not that long ago, in evolutionary terms, an adult human had to walk several miles a day, digging through dirt, picking fruit, and hunting in order to eat. Now you can walk to your car, drive to a fast food dispensary, get things to put in your mouth without ever leaving your car, drive home, and walk to your couch to consume said items.
This is the definition of convenience.
I realize this is a tired complaint. Everyone knows being sedentary and eating fast food is bad for your body. Your body evolved to move and does not do well with convenience. However, it’s not just bad for your body – it’s bad for your soul or your spirit or whatever you want to call the little spark that makes a human being a human being.
It is impossible to find value and meaning in convenience. Achieving something only counts for anything if it is an actual achievement. Someone who takes a helicopter to the top of a mountain and someone who climbs the same mountain are going to see and experience very different things when they reach the top. The view will not be the same because a view isn’t just what your eyes see.
Convenience devalues the world and it devalues us. It feels good in the basest sense of the word to live a life of convenience, but it feels good in the true sense of the word to live a life that is inconvenient. A life in which you work and think and create. A convenient life can never be your own. It can only be packaged for you and marketed to you.
What does this have to do with paper towels? Nothing in particular. Paper towels are just one facet of our convenient lives that we don’t even notice because we have grown so acclimated to convenience.
I would argue that by wiping your hands on a tree that died just so you don’t have to wipe your hands on a towel, without at least giving pause to acknowledge that that is what you’re doing, is to do a great disservice to the world. It is to be unthinkingly wasteful which in the very recent past was a sin. It is to take without thinking about the act of taking. It is to be ungrateful.
We are very lucky to live when we do, but this is a double-edged sword. Effort used to be required in life. Now it takes effort to exert effort. But it is well worth it. It is good for the environment and society, and it is good for you.