that others may simply live

August 18, 2008

I recently visited the Ecological Footprint Calculator, a website that has you answer questions about the foods you eat, the type of house you live in, the waste you produce, the transportation you use, etc. Then it calculates the amount of land area that would be needed for everyone in the world to live just like you.

I took the quiz. The results? If everyone lived like me, we would need 3.6 Planet Earths to provide enough resources for all.

I can’t ignore the fact that my priviledged Western lifestyle reinforces systems of poverty and inequality. If the earth doesn’t even have enough resources to support everyone living like I do, then what right do I have to consume such an unfair and disproportionate amount of the world’s resources?

There’s a slogan that says “Live simply that others may simply live.” I used to wonder how my attempts to live simply would really allow others to “simply live.” Statistically, the difference of one person consuming less resources may make a minuscule difference in the world when considered relative to the whole world population.

But it makes an enormous difference in individual lives. In The Irrisistable Revolution, Shane Claiborne discusses the importance of grounding simplicity in love:

Simplicity is meaningful only inasmuch as it is grounded in love, authentic relationships, and interdependence.

This means that simplicity is not a means to live frugally so that we will have more money saved up for ourselves. Instead, it is contentment with sharing what we have. Simplicity is not a competition with others or with ourselves about who can live with the smaller amount of materialistic goods. Instead, it is a challenge for any standards based on materialism and a response from our role in a society that unquestioningly buys into the values of consumerism and materialism. It is learning that we are not self-sufficient and that we need to rely on each other in more ways than our individualistic lives have allowed us to imagine. It is an acknowledgment that there are structural injustices in the way our society is run, and we do not have to accept something as right solely because it is the conventional way that things have been done.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a lot to say about our failures to correct the more subtle injustices that surround our daily lifestyles, and his words contain just as much truth for today:

At the end of the twentieth century most of us will not have to repent of the great evil we have done, but of the great apathy that has prevented us from doing anything.

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