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The Wrong Bus Syndrome

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Years ago while reading Grub (an awesome book filled with ideas for an urban organic kitchen), I was introduced to, and instantly connected with, the Wrong Bus Syndrome by Wangari Maathai, a 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. It's a simple-yet-powerful analogy for how and why we find ourselves headed in the wrong direction. While Maathai writes about The Wrong Bus Syndrome in her book The Challenge for Africa, it has so many applications for each and every one of our lives, our work, for our communities, our food industry, the way we treat the planet, and much more.

As Wangari Maathai puts it:

"Like travelers who have boarded the wrong bus, many people and communities are heading in the wrong direction or traveling on the wrong path, while allowing others (often their leaders) to lead them further from their desired destination."

We all know how much trouble we get in when we get on the wrong bus, headed in the wrong direction. When we realize that we are on the wrong bus, it should be a pivotal point in our lives - so why don't we just get off?

We are buying toxic products, eating processed food, drinking water from plastic bottles, wasting resources, and are so disconnected that we don't feel directly responsible for most of what we do. Living and making choices on a daily basis, while thinking that our every action doesn't matter, as if the meat we are eating from a factory farm or that a tomato picked by an illegal worker doesn't affect us all, makes us believe somehow that it's all OK, since it's just what is. There are options. We have choices. We are either part of the solution, or the problem. We need not accept what is actually in our own worst interest.

Each of us has the ability to get off the Wrong Bus. We have the power to make choices for ourselves - good ones. Conscious ones. So, why don't we? Likely, it's because we do not have the information. I always took great pride in making the "best" decisions for myself and especially my first born, but, as I learned more, and cared more, I realized how completely unconscious my decisions were, and how I was travelling on the wrong bus, without realizing it. Once I knew, I couldn't unknow. I got right off that bus, but didn't know what other buses were available - it was disconcerting, unnerving and certainly lonely. My family and friends were still on the bus that I had gotten off of, and weren't supportive of my change of direction, but I was determined. I have no idea how I am where I am today, except that I keep asking for new information and using what I learn to get onto the bus that makes the most sense, at any given time. It's truly a journey.

More and more of us think we do not have time to get off the Wrong Bus. This is a reality. I am sure that I would change much more, and be very different if I could dedicate all of my time to getting onto a better bus.

There are many reasons why we get stuck on the Wrong Bus:

1 // It's not a good time for change. Change is never convenient, but it's so worth it. Usually we understand this in hindsight, so have the foresight to know that the short term effort will pay off in the long run.

2 // We don't have the time to change. More and more of us are working longer hours, and many more days of the year, and are strapped for time. The good news is that the "better bus" often will save us time as we integrate better habits into our lives. Or, that these same healthier habits, like cooking from scratch or meditation, are so enriching that they become enough of a priority in our lives that the time doesn't matter.

3 // We don't have the money to change. Eating organic is expensive,  when comparing apples to apples. But, we either invest in our health, now, or later. It's not about cost, as much as value. Ask yourself: Do you value your own health? Do you value the farmers' health who is growing your food? Pesticides are known to be hazardous - there are skulls and crossbones on the packaging for a reason, and studies out of every corner of the world with clear evidence about the dangers for us all. If you choose to eat a whole food, plant-based diet, you can easily save money with a few new habits - don't simply compare costs apples to apples or grapefruits to grapefruits.

4 // We don't know that we are on the wrong bus. Maybe we just don't realize, maybe we've been given the wrong directions by someone who had misinformation, maybe we didn't know how to ask questions and are not naturally inquisitive, maybe we were intentionally mislead, or maybe we just saw everyone on a certain bus and got on ourselves. Ask questions, look around, talk to others, and consider your destination. You will make much better decisions for yourself, and for those that are counting on you as their mentor or leader.

Choose to get on the right bus, or even a better bus. Your right bus might be different than your neighbour's bus, your family's bus, or your friend's bus, but there are so many options. You have a choice, and when you find your bus, you will realize that you have not only found a healthier way of life, and work, but will also connect with the other passengers. They are wonderful people headed in the same direction, embracing a journey you connect with.

If you have found yourself on the wrong bus or if our society ends up on the wrong bus together, let's all have the strength to pull over, get off, reorient ourselves, and set off in the right direction again!

As Maathai puts it, "You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself, that values itself, that understands itself."