Above all others, one bumper sticker stands out to me. It’s usually accompanied by Green Party emblems or pronouncements of religious faith. It says “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Gandhi said it, lived it and inspired many into action and reflection.
I assure you I am neither an idealist nor an evangelical. I am neither a hedonist nor an ascetic, and I believe Gandhi’s words cut across national, religious, ethnic boundaries. I consider myself a citizen of the world and one concerned about dire needs everywhere, not just those close to home.
Moderation, something grossly lacking in America today, looms large in living simply. Buddhism teaches us to take into account all of those who had a hand in our clothes, our food, all the products we use without appreciation. It preaches the middle way, which is a striving to navigate from the extremes of pleasure and self-denial, to an elevated “middle.”
Reduce, reuse, recycle, “take what you need and leave the rest” don’t seem to be all that well-heeded today. Some might argue over their timelessness, but I recognize value in them. My Slavic grandmother, who lived through the Depression, encouraged resourcefulness in all aspects of life, and I carry her lessons of simplicity with me.
I scribble my thoughts and lists on throwaway pieces of paper and on the backs of throwaways because however inconsequential in grand schemes these actions might be, I’m trying not to waste. Recycling makes me feel closer to the planet.
The interconnectedness of our world is often discussed, and with the growing popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles, international involvement and general globalism, I’m hopeful many citizens of our world realize how all of us can make differences. My behavior does affect those across the globe or those generations behind me.
Enmeshed in an inflammatory war in Iraq and in ubiquitous debate over East and West, Christian and Muslim, tradition and advancement, I live compassion, empathy and a simple, neighborly life that makes me aware of and engaged with international problems and motivations.
I listen to the BBC and NPR with significant interest. I want to hear the perspectives of suicide bombers, the Christian right, dictators, environmentalists. Another perspective makes me feel connected when I feel prosperous or downtrodden. I believe I veer toward “the middle” when I hear of others’ success or hardship. I believe in feeling these connections for personal improvement, which can come from the power to empathize.
I believe we find little sense of community today, and we should connect in whatever substantial ways are available to us—reading, listening, giving blood, donating organs, volunteering, traveling. My connections make my world and everyday I try to overcome what Kurt Vonnegut calls the “terrible disease of loneliness” afflicting much of our isolationist and self-interested world.
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