A personal take on sustainability and western civilization
I am different. I accept this. In a world of excess, I mostly just want to get rid of everything I own and live like a Buddhist monk. And I’ve pretty much always been like this. But I knew early on that it wasn’t the same for most of the people around me. Most of them see the world as a competitive place where they are either a winner or a loser. In their eyes, I’ve always been a loser. Or, at the very least, someone they can just step right over on their way to the top.
My wife was of a very similar nature to myself. She pursued a career in mental health. Helping others is where she found her place. She had no need to prove herself against any sort of competition. And she lived a life, both at work and at home, that was true to her inner being. Deep down, I think she left this plane so early because she had no work left to do here. But that’s my spiritual nature speaking and it’s a subject for another time.
I, on the other hand, took a job with a huge multinational company. The competitive culture was fierce. I never felt comfortable. I eventually came to work in information technology and I did quite well in that role. There are still people all over North America working in that organization that know my name for some of the unique systems I put together. But I really didn’t fit in. The company made a product I never believed in. And the idea of extracting resources from nature to manufacture an unnecessary product never sat well with me. But everyone needs to make a living, right? So that’s what I did.
After my wife died, the dissonance between who I am and the culture of the place I worked became progressively more difficult for me to ignore. I struggled more and more with my place in the world. I met and had relationships with a couple of different women. Both of them had strong competitive streaks and eventually that dichotomy (obviously, in addition to other incompatibilities) doomed both of the relationships. Deep down though, I think that it was least partly because, to competitive people, I look just plain lazy. And maybe I am. But to the competitive person, laziness is a weakness of character. When someone looks at you with that sort of disdain, the relationship isn’t going to last.
Here’s the thing though, lazy people aren’t out there destroying rain forests to create empires. We take what we need from the earth and leave the rest. The hyperactive, go-getter personality without a productive, necessary, world enhancing pursuit becomes a destructive competitor. The kind of competition that extracts resources from the world to create unnecessary products. And we have literally millions of unnecessary products. Our homes, storage units and landfills are bursting at the seams with them. Maybe we need a little more laziness in this world.
Western culture has demonized contentment as a negative. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Bigger, better, faster, etc. And it’s all true. But, not all growth is good growth. Cancer is uncontrolled growth and it can kill you. The world is now in a place where all growth needs to be examined for both its positive and its negative aspects. Personal growth is no different. It’s why CEOs of huge companies step down citing stress and their work-life imbalance as reasons for leaving. They should be fixing the culture of their organizations, not leaving. Or maybe, they should be rethinking the value of the existence of their organization at all. That’s the kind of leadership we’re going to need in the future.
Minimalism may well be the evolution of consciousness we need right now. In a time of global climate change, everything needs to be rethought. If the current status quo continues we will leave a scorched earth behind. Nothing will be left. And, deep down, we all know this.
On the other hand, there’s no going back. Yes, most indigenous cultures practiced a type of minimalism out of necessity, but not many of us would be willing to live life on those terms again. Western civilization has brought us fantastic wonders that make our lives easier, better and longer. To pretend that life was better “way back when” is a lie we shouldn’t be listening to. We all benefit from a world made better by civilization. But it’s long past time to examine the balance a little closer. We need nature a whole lot more than nature needs us.