The reluctant guru
Publication date: 29 July 2020
Of all the labels that I've ever been given, guru is the one that has sat least comfortably with me. And I have been called many things.
In the nineties, when I brought my home-made bean curd pasties into work for lunch, they called me an oddball. In the early two-thousands, when I told someone that I didn't want kids because of human overpopulation, I was tagged (behind my back) a misanthrope. And in the twenty-tens, when I declined an invitation to a stag do as I had chosen to stop flying, the best man said that I was an egotist.
But I could live with all of those.
Then, around the time that a Swedish schoolgirl started to dismantle the cherished beliefs of Western adults, some of these same Western adults started calling me a guru, and they would come to me with all manner of questions.
There were obvious ones: 'If I switch to an electric car, is it alright to keep on running a private vehicle?'
And there were relatively trivial things: 'If I choose organic coffee and get a reusable mug, can I still have six cups a day?'
There were also deeply personal matters: 'If we become vegan as a family, is it okay to have a third child?'
I hated being a guru.
One day, I found myself staring out of a train window and thinking about all the things that I'd been asked. There seemed to be a pattern to them—a deeper agenda at work. I began to suspect that people were not approaching me out of curiosity but, rather, were seeking approval to keep on doing, essentially, what they always had done, with the guilt kept at bay.
I set about testing this hypothesis and, in so doing, found a way to shake the title of guru and to stop the questions coming.
I started saying 'no.' ■
All content © Joe Gray
"A lyrical mix of backyard naturalism, Do-It-Yourself rewilding, eco-philosophical exegeses, and reflections on 'the storm of now', Joe Gray's work is a grounded meditation on how we can meet the present-day Earth calamity. May humanity awaken to the love and awe that unassumingly flow from every page."
— Eileen Crist, author of Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization
"With Thirteen Paces by Four, Joe Gray has written a new classic of ecological literature. In its own unassuming way, it stands alongside the work of Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, John Muir, Annie Dillard and others in the same class—but especially, perhaps, that of Henry David Thoreau."
— Patrick Curry, author of Enchantment: Wonder in Modern Life