Life in the developed world is not sustainable and it is well past time to change.
I’ve been living in developing countries for over a year now. And I’ve re-examined a lot of what I thought I knew. This is the result of that thinking.
The first time that I came back from traveling I felt like I had learned so much. I had spent close to a year and a half living in South Korea and then 6 months traveling through the “developing” nations of south and south east asia. I was awake. I was enlightened. And I wanted to be involved in international development. I wanted to make life better for those “in need.”
So I moved to Peru.
I moved to Peru expecting to make life better for people less fortunate than me. I expected to learn something, to involve myself in a new culture. But I didn’t expect to shift my whole understanding of the world.
To put it dramatically, after living and loving my life in circumstances that would have been unimaginable to me when I was 23… I want to burn the developed world to the ground.
Bear with me.
I want you all to understand that the way of life that the developed world takes for granted as true is so constructed and so absolutely unnecessary, it is shocking.
There are over 7 billion human beings existing on this planet right now. 7 Billion. How many of them do you think live like you?
What if 7 billion people had 4 bedroom houses on 1 acre plots with heated, clean water, central heating, air conditioning, a car, a washing machine, dryer, dish washer, full time white collar job, a closet full of clothes… and so on.
There are over 7 billion people on this earth and 5 – 6 billion of them live in circumstances that are impossible for you to imagine.
And maybe that’s ok.
Just to be clear, I don’t want to say that the hideous human rights violations, the conflict zones, the corruption, the hunger, and the sickness that can be so prevalent in some parts of the world are a good thing. They are a tragedy that should have a greater spotlight put on it.
We have been taught over the course of our lives to believe that our lifestyle is the most developed and the most desirable. That we have figured out the best system. And our system of a capitalist democracy has its advantages. Anyone, even the homeless, has access to clean water. We have adequate (though expensive) healthcare. We have solid education, high literacy rates, few human rights violations, and general protection of law.
But many of the things that we have been taught to see as necessary and good are in fact holding us back, and holding the world back, from our fullest potential.
Our love of economic growth and consumption of products has corrupted us and blinded us. Many people believe that cars, money, big houses, whatever it is, that these things bring status and prestige and with status and prestige comes happiness. This is an illusion and it is poison.
Truth is, the developing world has lessons for us all. People all over the world live with far less than we are used to, and they are happy, they are content.
Let’s begin with food, because that is a safe ground where people don’t get fired up and immediately get defensive, right?
Take a look at the meat section next time you go into a massive, air-conditioned American grocery store. Do you see any whole pigs? Stomach lining? Chicken feet? Unless you’re in chinatown or a really hipster farmers market, the answer is probably no.
I have NEVER been to a market in a developing country and seen individually wrapped steaks, pork chops, or chicken breasts. Sure, sometimes I see those things separated out, but they are laying next to pigs feet, pigs ears, stomach lining, etc.
If you are a meat eater and you say “oh but I could NEVER eat offal.” Maybe you should reconsider being a meat eater? That habit is completely unsustainable. Where do you think all of that offal goes? When they butcher all those cows so that you can eat a burger once a week and a steak on the weekend, what happens to the rest of that animal? Have you ever tried to imagine how many cows it takes to feed Americans?
In the poor developing world people eat offal, people eat all parts of the animal. But they only eat beef a few times a year. They see the value of cattle, they understand how intensive it is to raise them, how much effort it takes, so they only slaughter once or twice a year.
For me personally, I advocate for a vegan diet. I realize this is an extreme step for many people. But I come from a first world country, I know what the food industry is doing to our planet, and I choose not to be a part of that. I have the ability and privilege to be nutritionally sound on a vegan diet. Occasionally I eat eggs so I can be certain that I am not nutrient deficient, otherwise, vegan.
Okay, back to the main story. What can we learn from the developing world? Let’s talk about:
In the developed world, we are lucky enough to have clean, drinkable water running through all our pipes. Okay sometimes if you live in an old building it might taste funny, but it isn’t going to give you a potentially life threatening parasite. Do you really need to buy that bottled water? Why? Because it is marketed well? Because it tastes slightly better than the water fountain? Really?
Buy a waterbottle.
Something the developing world has taught me is the usefulness of walking. Want to know why no one in the developing world is fat? It isn’t because they eat such healthy diets. Because they don’t. They fry everything. No, it is because they walk.
The most pronounced example I found of this was in the Andes Mountains. Villagers in the Andes will walk for a full day just to get to the nearest town with a road. A full. Day. And you can’t walk a mile to the store… why?
Buy a bike. Commute to work.
We buy so many new clothes. And where are they made? By whom? Read the tags. Bangladesh. Cambodia. China. Indonesia. Garment industries are huge and the workers get paid NOTHING so that you can buy a packet of 5 white t-shirts for $5. Shop at a consignment shop, it wont kill you. No one will know.
The point of this is not to make you feel bad. The point is to make you question yourself. Question your assumptions, your habits, your beliefs. Your lifestyle is not sustainable. It is killing the planet. And it is making you unhappy.
I understand, it is easy to get sucked into this. I was in America for 3 months this year and in only 3 months I was completely sucked in. I got a part time job at a Banana Republic and after just a few weeks I was lusting after the clothing, spending my paycheck on clothes I didn’t need, eagerly waiting for the next shipment to arrive. I was shopping at whole foods and buying vegetables and grains from around the world. I was driving everywhere. I get it. What I am asking you to do is difficult. It is radical. And it is necessary.
You need to consume less and think more.
We believe that we have the power to lift up the developing world. But take a minute to imagine a world where 7 billion people live with the standard of living you currently have. Is it possible? Can the earth sustain that? Can humans sustain it? How much fruitless competition can our species take?
I understand the need for financial security. It is real. We need food, shelter, and a hygienic world so that we aren’t sick all the time.
But question what “financially secure” actually looks like. We have been conditioned to believe that we need so much in order to feel secure, successful, and happy. We always want more. A 6 figure salary. Houses. Toys. Cars. Every variety of food available year round.
But is it ever enough? Why are so many millenials flailing around feeling lost and wondering what to do with their lives? Why are so many of our parents still unsettled, still living with doubt?
What if you did the radical thing, and let all of that go?
This is the part where I get all Buddhist.
Everything that I have mentioned so far is a kind of attachment. We grow attached to these items that we purchase. We feel that we are the clothes we wear, that they show off our personality. Our car let’s people know that we are of a certain class. And these attachments impact so many aspects of our lives.
They impact our ability to form meaningful relationships with other people. We expect so much from ourselves. We have to attain a certain level of wealth, of intelligence, of happiness. Every day we judge ourselves. Are we worthy? Are we living up to our own, or society’s expectations?
And then we turn these judgements outwards and we judge everyone around us. We create a separation between us and everyone else that is arbitrary. We compete with other people when we should be forging bonds and friendships. Begin to listen to your internal voice. Learn to separate yourself from the judgements and have compassion.
What if you never held a grudge? What if you always practiced forgiveness?
The actions of others only have the power to hurt you if you let them. Everything that is outside of you only has the influence that you give it.
In fact, other people, and their successes, their failures, their material wealth, it has no bearing on your life. But by constantly comparing ourselves to others, we put ourselves through unnecessary pain.
You are already enough. You are already perfect. And you have been since the minute you were born.
When we understand this, we have compassion for ourselves. When we have compassion for ourselves, we have compassion for others. Imagine if, instead of always arguing your own point, you always listened to someone elses? Imagine if we just saw “us” and eliminated the “them”.
Our western lifestyle is unsustainable and unhealthy for the planet and for ourselves. It is time to shift our consciousness. Every day all over the planet people live and thrive in circumstances that we deem unacceptable. But what if we are the ones who need to change?
With the advent of technology and the internet the world has entered an era of interconnectedness. This is our chance to grow. For the human race to become more than a bunch of divided groups fighting over attachments.
What we need is empathy. Understanding.
We can’t live in harmony with others, with the planet, until we live in harmony with ourselves. It is time to cultivate this harmony. Become aware of your thoughts. Become aware of your assumptions. What brings you joy? What brings you pain? Question everything.
You are not the clothes you wear. You are not your job. You are not your income. You are not your assets. You are not your dreams. You are not your worries. You are not your fears. You are not your age, your weight, your height. You are you. You are part of a greater whole.
Act like it.
Many people will read this manifesto and immediately start to think of counter arguments. Reasons why I am wrong. Bring them on, post them in the comments. Let’s start a discussion. I want to be critiqued. I want to be made to think critically about myself, my philosophy, and the future of our planet.
But if this resonated with you, and you want to begin to make the radical changes that I am advocating, here are some small ways to start.
- Meditate for 5 minutes every morning. No excuses.
- Bike to work.
- Go vegan one day a week.
- Next time you want to go clothes shopping, don’t. Or go to a consignment store.
- Only buy local. Question exactly how much you need to consume.
- Buy a water bottle. Commit to not buying a single bottle of water for a week.
- Take cold showers.
- Move into a smaller place that is closer to work.
Those are just a few. There are so many more. Your way of life is not sustainable. Don’t wait for the world to change. Be the change.