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Green in judgment

Sarah Dean

White. Mixed coloured. Landfill mixed coloured with food waste (no card). White with food waste. Plastic, card and glass. Compost . This is the list of the seven - seven - recycling bins my friend has in her swanky new office. It is her job to ensure her colleagues use this system. Failure to recycle correctly is a breach of their tenancy, which results in a fine or even eviction. She estimates that over 50% of her time is taken up with sending emails reminding people to rip the cellophane out of their sandwich packet before putting it in the card recycling.

I had been jealous of her move to such a hip building, where there is a shared vegetable garden, yoga at lunchtime and massages for cyclists every Monday morning , but all this sounds a bit exhausting. After a couple of weeks she realised several staff were just throwing everything in the landfill so they didn't have to sort it. The net result of the system was that they were recycling less. As ever, free will was the one thing standing between efficiency and failure. By this point my friend was so weary of being referred to as the recycling nazi that she was waiting until everyone had gone home and re-sorting the bins herself.
I wholly sympathise with her reluctance to challenge her colleagues. I once worked for a deliberately contrary boss. In a staff meeting he told me off for buying fair trade coffee, declaring that all such brands tasted like muck; he wanted Nescafe. My small rebellion was to refill the Nescafe jar with Café Direct. My boss didn't notice. Ghandi said be the change you want to see, but imy friend and I have been living by a variation of this maxim - be the change that only you can see.

It can be tricky to work out when to pick your battles. The tired, non-confrontational part of me might choose to rest easy in a cursory reading of Matthew 6.  My fair trade coffee stealth is validated by verse 2 which recommends that giving to the poor should be done in secret. My friend recycling is supported by Matthew's warning to be careful not to do good things in front of other people. By cherry picking scripture and choosing this interpretation I am of course merely validating my behaviour, perpetuating the comfort of martyrdom. It's as if I haven't been listening to the Junior Church bellowing out 'Be bold, be strong!' week in week out.

My friend can't carry on like this and I have emailed her encouraging her to be bold and talk to her line manager. I reminded her that she is not alone and that a wise frog once said it's not easy being green.

If we believe God is with us, that the Holy Spirit is real, then we can trust that he will enable us to be bold when we need to, and to know when being quiet is justified. And perhaps we need to be bold in challenging even the seemingly small injustices, so we are ready and able to do the same when the really big waves hit.

Jude Simpson is on maternity leave.