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Green Ethics

Tompkins Square Park Jam Session

“Ethics” is a good example of a term people use all the time without knowing the word’s origins. Of course, not everyone needs to be an expert etymologist, but sometimes it is interesting—if not, revealing—looking into such matters. “Ethics” comes from the Greek word ēthikos, which can convey a number of meanings familiar to us: morals, customs, principles, etc. But most of these words in modern times have taken a somewhat inappropriate connotation. Nowadays, these words have come to signify all the stern sets of duties one must adhere to, sometimes in the face of competing, though often completely natural, inclinations. Ethics force us to think about and ultimately comply with what is truly the “right” way to live.

But the Greeks weren’t so astringent or complicated. Ethics to them simply posed the answer to the question “What do we do?” We all can admit that each one of us is plunked down here on this planet without a clear explanation as to how or why—so now what? What do we do? What should we do? Many Greek philosophers were primarily ethicists, like Socrates who forced his contemporaries to examine exactly what the good life is. Nowadays, we lack a strong presence of ethicists. Of course, there are people telling us what to do all the time: the talking heads on television news channels, the advertisers who tell us their products will make us happy, the politicians who claim to have “the people’s” best interests in mind, etc. But it is mostly up to us to filter these out and decide how we want to live our own lives. Does this or that activity feel right? Does it make you feel good? Does it help those around you or is it a primarily self-interested goal? Is it even your responsibility to care about others’ welfare over your own?

Of course these are never easy questions to answer. There is no formula to calculate what constitutes a good act. (Despite what people may tell you about their hatred of math, I tend to think that our species at its essence is a mathematical one—we love our formulas and equations because they help us survive in this harsh world). Because of this, most of the time we just act pre-reflectively or instinctively. We do, and then we think.

But every now and then it makes us feel good to whole-heartedly believe upon deep reflection that something you are doing is positive and truly “right.” I cannot help but think that about my experience this summer at Green Map System. As a native New Yorker myself, I can testify that we are always looking out for ways to reach out towards each other, whether it is bonding over A-Rod’s finally getting his 600th homer, or the inhumanely disgusting heat of the subway platform during the summer months, or enjoying the city’s finest vegetarian café Angelica Kitchen (Honorable Mention: The Counter). But I feel like we crave more. Community engagement is one of those things that always give me great joy and then after doing it I wonder, “Why don’t I do this kind of stuff more? I really should.” I won’t try and make excuses for myself, but I know that in order for such feelings to proliferate and truly take effect, the world needs organizations like Green Map. We need community and sustainability issues to be put at the forefront so we do not get lost in our own individual bubbles of consumption. And that is precisely what we have been trying to do for the last fifteen years

This summer I really enjoyed being an important part of GM’s latest projects. Thinking critically about how to keep ourselves self-sustaining into the future with new monetization schemes, working on updating the Hebrew translations of our iconography with mapmakers in Israel, and being a part of a tight knit group of culturally and nationally diverse interns and employees all proved to be a very fruitful experience, one that I can now positively reflect on and fully endorse.

Aside from that, just becoming acquainted with Green Maps and being introduced to those catchy little icons have certainly changed my life this summer. For example, I find a farmer’s market in St. Mark’s Church across the street from my brother’s new place and have gotten him hooked on local and seasonal fruit. I stumble upon a used clothing store on Avenue B where the cheaper and non-wasted clothes end up being more fashionable than the rest of my drab wardrobe. I get an afternoon off and a tip from Wendy to explore the citywide one-day music festival Make Music New York and end up jamming with local musicians in Tompkins Square Park. All of this wouldn’t have been possible if I weren’t made aware of the local resources for greener and happier lifestyles all of our communities have to offer. And so now, at least from my perspective, whenever I think about ethics, “green” pops up in my mind right beside it.