Not Mere Survival, but Another Way of Living

(This article on the subject of Survival, was originally written for the Women's Spirituality newsletter'The Rippling Web', & published in May 1992. I have now updated personal details, and because the article is as meaningful for today's men as for women, edited it to make it less gender specific.)

The principles outlined can as easily be applied to decisions about all kinds of extravagance & consumption, including that of water, non-renewable energy sources, and the use of credit rather than cash.

We all know, in our hearts, that standard of living does not equal quality of life, and that we do not need, in a land as affluent as Australia, to speak of mere survival, when the most impecunious of us actually receives sufficient to enable us to live satisfying and fulfilling lives

Skip biographical stuff

Before you ask what right I have to make such a statement - I anticipate that it will provoke some strong reactions - let me tell you something about myself.

I was born a couple of years before the Second World War, in London, of working-class stock. Both my grandmothers had raised large families in conditions which we would now regard as appalling. Neither of them had the security of a regular income, or the back-up of a Welfare State - that was something that came after the war.
Although my own father had regular work, and my parents were actually buying their own home, the war brought stringent rationing, not only of food, but of all commodities essential to life. Only luxury goods were not rationed. They didnít need to be - ordinary people couldnít afford them.
So my mother found the survival skills which she learnt from her own mother, and which she hoped she would never need again, were the means by which we lived during those hard times. My father, like many working-class men, could turn his hand to almost anything - plumbing, woodwork, shoe repairs, building maintenance and simple electrical work.

Extensive bombing damaged our house almost beyond repair, and the deprivation my sister and I endured over the years after the war, while the house was being rebuilt, as well as being paid for, because it was for my parents a consuming status symbol, taught me a great deal about the real value of possessions. (We could have been re-housed in Public Housing quite quickly, and more than adequately.)

This deprivation had its positive side, because it motivated me to learn and use the skills which many of my contemporaries, with the advent of higher incomes, working wives, and the revolution in food and domestic technology that typified the 50ís, thought they would never need to acquire.
When we came to Australia in the early 60ís, we went straight to the North-West of W.A., and it was like stepping back in time. Everything I had learned was put to good use, and I learned still more.

A few years later I left a violent husband, at a time when there were no supporting parentís benefits, and no Widowís Pension for a woman whose husband would not co-operate in providing her with a divorce. In fact, there have been few periods, and these very brief, in my life, when I have not lived well below the poverty line.

My life has been hard, but fulfilling and contented. I have produced much of my own food, made, altered and repaired linen, clothing, footwear, furniture and soft furnishings. I learnt to drive and how to maintain my car. When I no longer needed the car, I bought a bicycle. Now, in my 70ís, on an Age Pension, I find very little of my money is needed for living expenses, and I have more money than I have ever had before, which I am free to spend as I choose.

In past years I have attempted to share my practical living skills with others. It has been difficult, and I have learned much from the experience. I learned that it is not information or skill-sharers that are lacking. The problem is an emotional one, and this needs to be acknowledged and addressed before someone becomes sufficiently motivated, energised and confident to set about acquiring, as an adult, skills which traditionally used to be passed from mother to daughter, and father to son, during childhood.

One such obstacle is in the psyche which sees every form of domestic or manual work as oppressive, and has accepted the patriarchal value system of being rewarded for 'suitable' activity with money and status. More common, though, are the repressed emotions that sabotage so many of our realisable dreams.

We have been conditioned to think of 'giving things up' rather than 'letting things go' or 'choosing something else'.
In a culture where children are simultaneously over-indulged and deprived, double messages leave the emerging adult confused and emotionally insecure.

We have also come to associate over-indulgence with being rewarded and being 'good', and deprivation with punishment and being 'bad' - a 'loser'.

Is it any wonder that, subjected to the constant pressure of advertising (and all advertising reinforces all other advertising - think about it) which promotes buying at the expense of being, we find it difficult to examine our value systems, alter our perspectives, change our lifestyle.

Here is a typical sequence:

Question:
Why not give up tobacco (or non-Fair Trade chocolate, tea, or coffee)?

Reasons:

  • It will save me money.
  • It is bad for my health.
  • It's a cash crop, using land that could be used to grow food.
  • The labour used in producing it is grossly exploited, and is mostly female.
  • The profits go to multi-nationals, therefore to propping up the world economic system, which is badly in need of reform.

    Reactions:

  • Guilt and self-abnegnation -
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Feeling deprived
  • Feeling victimised

    These are all quite natural reactions, and as valid as the reasons for 'giving up' whatever it is.

    Before we begin to make a decision, we need to examine these emotional obstacles, and see how best we can deal with them.

  • Can we do it alone, or do we need to talk it over with other people?
  • Do we use the substance as a reward, for comfort, for sensual satisfaction, as an act of rebellion, for relaxation, or out of habit?

    Once we have found some answers to questions like these, we can take a much more informed and rational view of the problem.
    Eventually, we will make a decision.

    If we are wise, we will not lock ourselves into a situation where we must say 'yes' or 'no', but give ourselves the third choice of looking at the same question at a given time in the future, having given attention to the emotional issues involved in the meantime.

    If a dramatic change in circumstances (such as financial crisis, either personal or global, or the realisation of Global Warming ! ) demands a faster process, donít go it alone; and be prepared to deal with the emotional reactions.
    Thereís lots of information around - from Social Justice and Environmental groups, in libraries, at Family & Community Services and Social Security, and from your local government authority.
    Jumble sales and Charity shops will not only supply you with inexpensive clothes, but with old cookery and household books that will tell you how to do almost anything for yourself.
    Many older people will be happy to share their knowledge if approached with respect as well as friendliness.

    Designing a total lifestyle in which we are no longer money addicts is the long-term strategy. We can then have real freedom in our choices, living lightly on our Mother Earth, trusting in our own power, and liberally sharing our new-found abundance.

    See also Some questions about our lifestyle & attitudes

    Emotional and spiritual help, to deal with despair and maintain committment
    The text of the wonderful Deep Ecology collection "Thinking Like a Mountain" is now online -
    go to: http://www.rainforestinfo.org.au/deep-eco/welcome.htm and follow the link.

    The text of Joanna Macey's original booklet "Despairwork" is available as an rtf file (60kb.) by clicking here
    or as a doc. file (66 kb.) by clicking here

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