I’m Moderate . . . Comparatively Speaking

Sometimes I get tired of being “the crazy one”.  The one whom everyone thinks is a little extreme, too outspoken, the granola-sucking, tree-hugging nut.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t so burdened for the environment and the plight of all the world’s animals.  Sometimes I wish I could take the easy way out.  Then I learn about someone who inspires me, who makes me look moderate, who makes me look sane!

I recently received the latest issue of On Wisconsin magazine, the magazine put out by the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its alumni.  In it was an article entitled, “Walking the Walk” by Dashka Slater.  The article tells the story of John Francis, a handsome black man in his 60s who, after witnessing the damage caused when two oil tankers collided beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971, spilling 840,000 gallons of crude oil into the San Francisco Bay, decided to “walk the walk”.  He started out by “end[ing] his participation in the oil economy” by refusing to ride in a vehicle for 22 years.  He walked across the United States and South America, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees along the way.  One day he became tired of arguing and defending his viewpoints, so he stopped talking for a day, then a second day . . . his vow of silence lasted 17 years.  He communicated via banjo, charades-style acting, whistling, and occasionally writing something down.  Incidentally, he earned his Ph.D. at the UW-Madison DURING his vow of silence, proving the University of Wisconsin is a place for creative education solutions! 

John Francis wrote a book, Planetwalker:  How to Change Your World One Step at a Time, which has been optioned to be made into a movie.   I’m planning to read the book and eagerly await the movie.  

Interestingly, John Francis does talk now, and he also drives a Pirus which was a gift.  In 1990, the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C., was developing regulations that would implement the 1990 Oil Pollution Act which was passed shortly after the Exxon Valdez disaster.  They invited John Francis, who is a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, among other things, to work with them.  Because he didn’t ride in cars or planes, the Coast Guard waited two months for him to travel from New York to D.C. via bicycle.  In 1994, Francis realized that he was a “prisoner” of his decision not to use vehicles.  If the Coast Guard had not been willing to accommodate him, he would have missed a great opportunity to make a real change in the world.  He questioned whether it would “have been worth passing up the opportunity to resolve the very problem that had inspired him to stop driving in the first place?   ‘The lesson for me was that I have to reassess wherever I am to get to the next place.  . . .  I have to let go of the old self, which is very scary sometimes.'”  John Francis worried who he would be when he became a man who rode in cars.

This is reminiscent of a post I did some time ago wherein I reminded you to reassess your priorities from time to time to make sure they still fit.  Sometimes we start to do something because it’s meaningful and fulfilling, but we keep doing it out of habit, long after we’ve outgrown it. 

In any case, John Francis’ story inspired me, challenged me and made me realize how very far from extreme I am.  This week I will try to share more stories . . . tomorrow I’d like to tell you who I used to be before I hugged trees.


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