One of my great passions is the idea of Simple Living. Recently, a friend asked me,
“What does simple living have to do with nonviolence.”
For me, the answer lies in the fact that we North Americans are 12% of the world’s population consuming more than 60% of the world’s resources; leaving the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa with only 3.2 percent of the remaining resources.
When I was growing up, we used to talk about bringing the rest of the world up to the American standard of living. But now we understand that with this chasm between those who have and those who have not, this goal is not a possibility. And neither is peace as long as that chasm continues. Peace is only sustainable in a world where justice prevails. And as long as the injustice of gross economic disparity continues to exist, so will war.
People often have confusing responses to and understandings of simple living. Many connect it to feelings of guilt. But the truth is guilt has nothing to do with simple living. Gandhi understood when he said,
“Live simply so that others might simply live.”
It’s not about comparing our lives to one another – but rather, it’s about understanding the difference between our needs and our wants. It’s about understanding that everything in our lives is gift. Everyone I know who feels passionately about simple living also experiences their lives as rich.
Many of us who have been associated with Soulforce for a long time will remember that any direct action Soulforce took on was always preceded by the signing of a pledge to nonviolence. Initially, this pledge included:
- A promise to control our appetite for food, sex, intoxicants, entertainment, position and power, in order to make things fair for all.
- A promise to limit our possessions to those things we really need to survive and to see ourselves as trustees over all of our possessions, using them exclusively to help make things fair for those who suffer.
– and –
But these vows made a lot of people uncomfortable. Some, because of the archaic language, but more, I suspect, because they weren’t comfortable acknowledging the fact that the quality of our lives directly affects the quality of others’ lives.
One of the most stunning pieces I’ve seen about this disparity is something called a Global Village. It breaks down the world’s population of 6.5 billion people into a village of 100, so that we can comprehend that difference in possessions and privilege throughout the world. I’d like to share just a few of categories, here, but I strongly suggest you read the entire list and watch the movie at Miniature Earth.
What if the world were a village of 100 people?
If we could shrink the earth’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all the existing human ratios remaining the same, it would look like this:
- 59% of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people
- 43 would live without basic sanitation
- 18 without improved water sources
- 14 would be unable to read
- 50 would suffer from malnutrition
- Only 7 would have a secondary education
- 12 would own a computer, but only
- 3 would have internet connection
- If you have a refrigerator, a bed to sleep in, a closet for your clothes and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the rest of the world
- If you have a bank account, you are one of the 30 wealthiest people
- 18 will struggle to live on US $1/day and
- 53 will struggle to live on US $2/day.
For each and everyone of us, the commitment to simple living will look different. While one of us will absolutely require an up to date computer to work with, another might decide they no longer need a car. I recall giving a workshop on simple living and one of the couples attending had spent 3 years living in a little log cabin with no running water – I knew I couldn’t possibly handle that. Living simply is an ongoing process of discernment that keeps us focused on a life lived with the understanding of the interconnectedness of all human beings. It’s a process that sheds new light and new awareness on what it is in our lives that creates the illusion of separateness and what creates the understanding of interconnectedness.
Kara Speltz is a long-time anti-war resistor and activist and a member of the Soulforce staff from the early days of the organization.