BY SOFO ARCHON
The economist E. F. Schumacher said that any fool can make things complicated, but it requires a genius to make things simple.
Is humanity, then, totally foolish?
Think of how complicated we’ve made our lives. For example, most of us spend half of our waking time working hard doing things we don’t enjoy, just so that we can make enough money, and when we have some free time on our hands, we spend both our money and time shopping, buying products we don’t really need, many of which later on require more of our time and money to stay in good condition.
Our houses are cluttered with stuff: furniture, clothes, gadgets, and so on. We use some of them on a regular basis, but most of them have absolutely no purpose in our lives. They just lie there, filling up the space we live in. Our kitchens, for instance, tend to be filled with food products waiting to be consumed. But we don’t use them all up, so many of them eventually expire, and then we throw them into the rubbish bin, only to soon fill our cupboards with new ones.
All this stuff is not only cluttering our physical space, but also our mental space, thus taking away much of our energy and focus. But advertising has convinced us otherwise: that it brings us joy and fulfillment. So we keep on acquiring more and more products, yet we are never satisfied. In fact, we are sad, confused and exhausted.
Even the richest of the rich with their mansions and private jets are sad and miserable. That’s because happiness doesn’t lie in stuff; rather, it lies in the contentment of the heart. Happiness lies in the feeling that I am enough and I have enough. And what can contribute to that feeling? Not material objects, but simple experiences such as reconnecting with ourselves, building loving relationships, spending time in nature, or engaging in creative work. Those are some of the “things” that can truly help fill our lives with happiness. Almost everything else only sucks the joy out of our lives.
Other than the harm we’re causing to our psyche by needlessly accumulating stuff, we’re also inflicting harm on our fellow humans. The world is made up of finite resources, which are needed by 8 billion people at this point of our evolution. That means, when we have more for ourselves, others will inevitably have less for themselves. Hence, the excessive wealth of a single person means the impoverishment of a lot of other people.
Currently, the economic inequality worldwide is so extreme and pervasive that, according to a recent report, the world’s richest 1% have almost twice the wealth of the rest of humanity combined. Can you fathom how crazy that is? And, as human population grows and natural resources are used up at an accelerating rate, economic inequality will likely increase even more. To prevent this from happening, we need to start living simply, for only a simple way of living can restore social justice. As the philosopher Satish Kumar put it: “We need to live simply so that others may simply live.”
Lastly yet most importantly, our excessive consumption is killing all life on Earth. For example, due to the tremendous waste of toxic materials caused by mindless consumption, we have poisoned the soil, as well as the air and the sea. Speaking of the sea, it’s estimated that it will have more plastic than fish by 2050. So I’m wondering, is this the world we want to live in? A world filled with ugliness, suffering and death?
Somewhere I read that if all people kept on consuming like Americans and Europeans do, then we would need three planets to sustain ourselves. But guess what, we have only one planet — not three! And unless we learn to align with nature, our global civilization might soon perish.
Gandhi said that the Earth has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. We can live happily together and have enough to satisfy our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. But when we become greedy we can never have enough — even if we have everything. And on our way to quench our thirst for more, we ruin both our personal and public health, as well as the health of the wonderful planet that sustains us and every other being alive.
Simplicity is the remedy for our personal, social and ecological maladies. The question is, when are we going to overcome our foolishness and regain the lost wisdom of knowing that enough is enough?