Humankind has reached an important turning point. As all the graphs of population, development, and waste are now showing nearly vertical growth lines, we have to take a look at our priorities. In early human history it was simple. Our purpose was to survive. We sought food, water, and shelter, we raised children, and we joined forces to defend ourselves against nature, predators, and unknown tribes.
As society became more complex, the answer to "What is our purpose?" also evolved. It's mostly qualified with "You mean besides survival?" We still acknowledge, barely, that surviving is important to us as a species, but we expect a whole lot more from ourselves and one another. This is a good thing. It inspires heroes and public servants and philosophical thought. But it also feeds our desire to do more, have more, be more, contributing to the upward slope of all those aforementioned graphs.
Is it time to do less, have less, be less? Maybe. At least it's time to accept that many people are choosing that direction, and that's a valid choice. Many more are forced into simpler goals by lack of access to fundamental needs. In America, one of every eight people is food insecure, meaning they have to choose which fundamentals of survival to fight for. Do they work overtime to pay rent? Buy food and lose electricity? Search for free food and financial aid, cutting into time available for work? They certainly aren't pursuing higher education, entering politics, starting new businesses, or evaluating their purpose. They're surviving.
Why do we look down on people who are surviving? Knowing there are limited resources, who are we to think that those who have more are better? If we're willing to look a little deeper, we'll find a massive subculture of hard-working, generous, intelligent people who have chosen not to participate in the more-is-better game. People who give away what they don't need, who abhor waste, who walk gently among us and on our planet.
I admire people who live with less, whether by choice or circumstances. These people are connected to the true sources of life, happiness, and meaning. Each day presents an opportunity to meet their own and their neighbors' needs. There's no greed or ego or power games. There's cooperation, understanding, courage.
Those of us who still over-consume, over-achieve, over-spend and over-waste can learn a lot from the poor among us. All we have to do is meet their eyes and start a conversation.
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Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.