You know how you're lying in bed listening to the urban surf outside, and pretty soon you don't even notice it? Or how we all ignore car alarms? Or how our eyes sort of gloss over litter along the side of the road? And what about the things we don't like but just blithely accept, like stop-and-go traffic or a polluted planet or negative political ads or five-minute doctor visits after we've been waiting for an hour? That's a sort of habituation -- we experience something enough and, eventually, we get used to it and hardly notice it. It becomes "normal." Adaptation is a great attribute for humans to have -- after all, it has helped us survive ever-changing conditions for thousands of years. But mindless habituation can be harmful to us, other people, animals and the earth.
Because we're so great at adapting, we can get used to situations pretty quickly. Every time I go to my mom's house (usually a 10 day visit because she lives so far away), I have to rehabituate to throwing away most things. Unlike here in Portland, Oregon, my mom's small town can't recycle much, so into the trash go the cardboard packaging and juice containers and glass bottles. It drives me crazy -- for the first few days. By the end of the visit it has become "normal," and I hardly think about it. Then, when I'm back home, I feel like I've awakened from a zombie trance.
Likewise with feeding my puppy. Before we adopted Nala, we agreed that we would raise her on vegan food, to align with our values (since many dogs can thrive on a properly prepared vegan diet). Nala had other ideas. We tried every vegan puppy food we could find, and she rejected them all. So, we had to start feeding her animal-based kibble. And we hate it. But, we quickly habituated to it, and often don't think consciously about it. We have some vague plan of trying her on vegan food again, now that she's older and her digestive system is more stable, but we don't think about it day to day because it has become a mindless habit.
We can even become habituated to good things. Last fall when my husband and I took a trip with some friends to the Redwoods in southern Oregon and northern California, I was awed and overcome with the beauty and majesty (yes, majesty; it fits) of all those huggable trees stretching practically to heaven. But, after three days of hiking in those trees, I became habituated (and thus sort of oblivious) to them. Mmm. Another big, pretty tree. Nice. What's for lunch?
Noise, pollution, injustice, cruelty, violence, destruction, $5.00 cups of coffee -- we've become habituated to a way of living that's harmful to everyone and everything on earth. If we take a little time each day to stop and think about our choices and our surroundings, we can start breaking the habit of mindless habituation and work toward making choices and transforming systems that support a just, compassionate, sustainable, healthy world for all.
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