My boyfriend has an abysmal environmental conscience

He says we'll all be dead in 100 years so who cares if he pollutes the air!

By Cary Tennis
May 13, 2008 2:28PM (UTC)
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Dear Reader,

One of the strangest and most striking things about this advice-giving enterprise is how people will willingly seek the advice of a person who, if not utterly mad, at least is, like many creative types, possessed of the full complement of manias and idiosyncrasies typically attributed to the creative personality. I have at times operated on a basis so thinly related to reason as to be called mad, and I continue day-to-day to entertain so many phantasms, occult glimpses, oddities of consciousness, imperfections of mood and temperament, muffled impulses toward violence and aggression, insecure feelings of weightlessness and drift, cognitive failure, memory loss, inappropriate longings, irrational and primitive thought processes, superstitions and fears that my psyche, if viewed in a laboratory, would scarcely appear the kind of sane and stable place into which a person in turmoil would wish to be delivered.


Yet people write to me and ask, What would you do? How can you help? What do you think of my situation?

One explanation is that difficulties endured equip one to imagine and reconstruct, mentally, the equivalent experiences in the inner worlds of other people. But ought not readers also consider the haunting and disturbing possibility that the person they are writing to is not simply a survivor of past madness but may be in fact quite mad? One insulates oneself from such darker possibilities by remembering that none of this advice is binding, or even promoted as practical. It is entertainment. I am like a fortuneteller in an amusement park, the lady with the large gold earring and the piercing eyes who says some hocus-pocus for your temporary diversion and then goes back into her tent as you head for the Tilt-a-Whirl!

These thoughts arose, I suppose, because, at the suggestion of a friend, I have been reading "The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain." The more I read, the odder it seems that a person as strange and unstable as I should have found a vocation such as this. In explanation, it might be said that I have survived the past 20 years mainly by fastening in desperation to a chimeric rock of middle-class stability, clinging by force of will as well as deep primitive faith, driven by the clarity of mind that is the chief gift of mortal terror.


One might say that, so severely lacking any kind of natural sanity, the author has had to assemble such a thing, piecemeal, from available materials. Having thus built it, he knows more about how the whole lumbering machine is put together -- but also has less natural awe for it, knowing as he does that it is just one more machine, a relatively simple device, a magic trick for children. Knowing sanity for the ruse that it is, he can therefore, for better or worse, easily slip in and out of this role. Thus the occasional appearance of insincerity or mutability, arising from the fact that the sane persona he presents to the world has only the flimsiest connection with any central identity, who he "really is."

Despite these manifold complexities and difficulties, let us now see what we have in the way of legitimate problems in the world to turn our attention to today.

Dear Cary,


I'm a 40-year-old, environmentally conscious person, attached to a 39-year-old man (Himself) who does not give a HOOT about being green. There are other issues, but this is the one currently turning my eyes red and causing smoke to come out of my ears.

I'm not a fanatic. I still eat some beef, as long as it was raised on grass and not given antibiotics or hormones. I do buy organic veggies, I compost and I have my own organic garden. I recycle. I drive a car that gets 30 mpg. I'm not perfect. I do try.


How do I make ... no no no ... wrong word ... how do I evoke in Himself a sense of environmental stewardship and responsibility?

I have tried example. I have tried reason. I have tried guilt. I have tried "because I said so, dammit" and that one worked not at all.

Himself's attitude is: "Big companies still pollute -- you can't stop them. The president is tied to one of the dirtiest industries out there -- oil. So what if I want to burn the plastic coatings off 50 pounds of copper wire so I can get money? I need the money! My kid isn't going to breathe this particular air -- she's 800 miles away. I don't care about the pollution. I'm not going to be here in 100 years when everything is trashed, and neither are you. Quit trying to force your views on me -- you don't have the right. I understand what you think and why. I don't agree. Get off my ass."


At times like this I feel there are only two choices -- Live with Himself as he is or give Himself the boot and find another person who shares my views. But ... we've got nearly five years invested in this relationship. On some levels it works really well. Just not this one.

I'm open to suggestions.

Ms. Green


Dear Ms. Green,

The short answer is: You can't. You can't "evoke in Himself a sense of environmental stewardship and responsibility."

You can debate with him. You can threaten him. You can leave him. You can do all kinds of things that will have various effects on him. But you can't change his thinking. You can't insert your worldview into his cranium.

But even if you were to accept at face value that you cannot change him, if you knew for sure that it was impossible to insert a belief in him, or graft onto him a "sense" or "point of view," that is only the beginning. Could you then magically let go of your desire for him to change? Could you stand by as he burns the insulation off the copper wire? How do you stop doing what you have been doing?


This is where things get complicated. I suggest you strive for radical acceptance of the other.

This is an inner thing, a change of thinking. It is a gesture of respect and humility. It is an acceptance of things as they are. It is an acceptance of the facts.

Radical acceptance of the other is not an admission that you can't influence him. It is more an admission that he is a completely separate, autonomous and to some extent mysterious and unknowable being. And to some extent it's a thing that can't be explained. It's a mental phenomenon. So how does it happen?

Well, say you are sitting across from him and your mind is filled with thoughts of how he should be. Just look at him. Don't stare, but look. Just let him be in front of you. If it helps, think of this as a kind of meditation in his presence. Notice all the thoughts of his insufficiency that crowd your mind, how you are thinking he should think this or think that. Know this: He does not think these things. You do. These are your thoughts. Notice how completely they are your thoughts. He is over there. He is a mystery to you. He is the other.


One thing this does is put you in the present. Rather than having a relationship with a possible new and improved version of him, try to have a relationship with the person in front of you. Empty your mind of expectation. Realize that he is the person you are having a relationship with right now. Look at him. Regard him with complete acceptance. Wipe your mind of what you think of him. Regard him as you did when you first met.

I purposely disregard the rightness or wrongness of your positions on ecological matters. I suggest for the sake of the relationship that you try to bring it back from the realm of well-argued position papers and put it back in the realm of the sacred and mysterious bond. That is where it began, and that is probably where its strength and power remains.

Not to go on, as I've made my main point, but once you strip yourself bare of all your expectations and impulses to change him, once you can once again see him as you once saw him, maybe then you will know whether you still love him.


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