From when you wake up to when you go to bed, you make a large number of unconscious decisions. At Sambhaavana, the educational institute in Himachal Pradesh that we stayed in for one week, we attempted to deconstruct those decisions—and how we even attained the position to make those decisions, the premises of our routine life.
The first day that we arrived, our instructor Mohammad had us perform a “Privilege Walk.” We were given a different identity and shown the various advantages and disadvantages they had in life, some that I hadn’t even realized existed. Each intersection of identity compounded on each other to propel some groups of people ahead of others in society. Though conceptually I knew about the disadvantages and advantages I had in life, seeing the physical gap between people in the exercise was much more impactful. Another realization that I and many others had was the lack of knowledge we had about others’ life experiences, such as a Native American elder or someone who was HIV-positive’s life. Attempting to assume another’s identity forced me to connect with that specific identity but even more significant for me, confront my own identity more clearly. I look forward to more opportunities to do so in our journey.
We continued to confront the assumptions of our everyday life in the beginning of the program. Why should we use shampoo, soap, make-up, deodorant—all these products whose ingredients are unpronounceable and unregulated? We learned that these products and chemicals are not checked by the FDA, and some are even known carcinogens. Still we consume for seemingly no reason, despite hundreds of generations living more fulfilling, healthy and happy lives without these acids in our skin. This consumption not only hurts us, the consumer, but is built on the labor and exploitation of disadvantaged groups from around the world causing severe ecocide. Before I hardly ever thought of the production lines of my purchases, but hopefully, I will think more next time I am shopping.
Being aware of our own consumption is not enough though. Awareness isn’t going to stop this cycle of consumption. One thought that we definitely learned was that there are no easy solutions to the complicated capitalist complex, but I will be on the look out for them during the next eight months.