Monday, August 05, 2002

Thought of the day: what "difference" does it make?
A visit to the breathtaking Shedd Aquarium on Saturday was dulled only by a smug lecture by a pedantic oceanarium trainer on how you, too, can make a difference--by not littering plastic bags in the water, where dolphins chomp down on them thinking they're squid, by not wasting paper napkins, and so on. Point taken, and it's truly sad how marine life is gravely threatened by people's stupidity. But I started wondering about the constant plea to make a difference. (After all, the sermon went, imagine if everybody here littered one you see, you too can make a difference.) The more I thought about it the phrase seemed odd. I mean, there are other options for expressions of idealism: make the world a better place, save the dolphins, and so on--but they don't come up as often as make a difference. And I couldn't help but think that the phrasing is a little fatalistic, a little stab at immortality--make a difference so you won't feel futile on your deathbed, so you can know that your brief life made some sort of imprint on the globe. And then you have to wonder about the motivation implied here--clean up not just because it's the right thing to do or because it's good for the ecosystem, but because it's your chance to matter, to not fade into oblivion. And part of me wonders, wouldn't I rather have people valuing environmental health for animals' sake than for their own?

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