When we think about the tension between private and public comfort, there’s a funny thing that happens. We associate it with sacrifice.
To make the world an easier place for the majority to live in, we often assume, we first need to make our own lives less comfortable.
It’s not an unreasonable deduction. The things we associate with our own private comfort often (I’d go so far as to say usually) detract from the comfort of someone else. Few of our day-to-day indulgences are without a price on the back of public good.
As an exercise, think of the last few decisions you’ve made in order to maintain your daily comfort.
These could be small or large.
It could be the decision to buy that juicy mango in Whole Foods, knowing that to bring it from the Philippines, tons of carbon were spewed into the atmosphere that are now further contributing to the crisis of climate change, the impacts of which are already devastating the lives of millions.
Or perhaps it was the decision to buy three cheap imported pairs of pants instead of one good locally made one, knowing that the price of the product probably reflects the salary of the people who constructed it.
Or it could be something larger, like voting for a politician who puts your interests before those less fortunate than you, whose policies will keep you more comfortable and secure but will ignore those who need the government’s support the most.
Any way you slice it, the majority of us, when weighing the impacts of our decisions, tend to choose our own comfort over that of the larger good.
But there is a side to this that I would argue we don’t think about nearly often enough, a subtle but hopeful side that we often don’t see right away.
I would argue that most of the time, the personal sacrifices we need to make in the interest of the public good actually aren’t sacrifices at all—that most of the time, they’re as much for our own good as for that of the masses.
When you make a commitment to buy locally grown food over imported, for example, it feels like you’re making a sacrifice by giving up that mango, or those winter strawberries or New Zealand kiwis. You think you’ll lose variety and be stuck with cold-stored apples and kale all year round.
In reality, though, the deeper you get into your local food community, the more you realize the wild abundance of food you never knew existed, let alone in your own backyard. Your food will be fresher, your groceries will be cheaper, and your trust and connection with the people producing food in your community will be deeper. The altruistic environmental benefit is a mere sidenote.
The same goes for most other decisions in the name of public over private comfort.
When you decide to bike instead of drive, you become fitter, healthier, and have more connection with your neighborhood. When you carpool instead of driving alone, you build better social connections with your co-workers. Paying slightly more for a local product over an imported one means that money will stay in your own economy, keep your country richer, and thus keep your standard of living higher.
You see what I’m getting at.
So, as you continue to follow our journey at the Lab, and continue to explore the tension between private and public comfort within our city systems, I challenge you to look at that tension in a slightly different light.
I challenge you to look at it not as a competition, but rather as a self-supporting relationship, and look for ways in which we can make decisions about our own private comfort that don’t detract from the comfort of the public, but rather strengthen it—and vice versa.