Do your best, serve the world
Q: How can we get others to understand and agree with the principles of the environmental sustainability?
Satish Kumar: As Mahatma Gandhi said, if you want to make a change from a very technological mind to a more organic, holistic, inclusive mind, then the way to do it is to be the change you want to see in the world. But you can’t expect other people to change just because you believe in something. People have to make up their own minds. Just be the change you want to see and communicate it. You are not here to change the world to suit you. You are here to live your life to the best of your convictions. If we can all live our ideals we will radiate our convictions, our idealism, our values and visions, and it is this that will inspire other people to change. If you can communicate your values to 10 other people, then you’ve done your job. If those 10 people communicate to 10 more people then there will be 100 sharing these ideals; and if each of those 100 communicates to 10 other people, there will be thousands.
When you see a conflict, see it as an opportunity to negotiate. Communicate in such a way as to come to a conclusion together that is good for both of you. That’s the challenge. Sharpen your communications skills. Just like when you cook – don’t use a blunt knife, sharpen your tools. Refine your tools of communication and learn the art of speaking in such a way that you will open the hearts of other people. Then you will be able to use a crisis as a moment of opportunity.
Q: How do you preserve the sense of words and the way you communicate them?
Satish Kumar: The question of language is always very important. When you are talking to people who are not on the same wavelength, you have to remind them of the true meaning of the words.
For example, I was recently invited to speak at the London School of Economics. I asked them: “Where is your department for ecology?” And the answer was: “We don’t have one.” So I said: “But tell me, what is the meaning of the word economy?” “Eco” means home, planet home. And “nomos” means management of home. And for ecology, “eco” again means home and “logos” means knowledge of home. Here you are teaching thousands of young graduates how to manage home but you don’t teach them what home is. How are you going to manage something that you don’t know? It’s no wonder that the world economy is in a mess - you are sending graduates around the world to ‘manage’ but they don’t know what they are managing. Actually, when they say “economy”, they don’t even mean economy. They mean finance or they mean money. Money is not economy. Economy is management of the household.
Words are very important but sometimes the meaning gets lost and the words don’t mean anything. Now everybody is using the words “sustainable” and “sustainable development” but they don’t mean sustainable development. They mean financial development that should be sustained, all the time. They have changed the word around.
When you are communicating, you have to remind people what you are talking about. Take the word “Nature,” for example. Nature is not just the trees, the birds, the forest and the rivers. Nature means birth. Nature, nativity, natal, native, nation – all these words come from “birth”. So Nature means everything that is born and then dies in an ecological process. When you are communicating with people, you have to remind them the meaning of the words. Then you can communicate more effectively.
Q: How do you define the change you want to see in the world? How can you reconcile people’s diverse visions about the society they want to achieve?
Satish Kumar: Again, Mahatma Gandhi said that any change should have just one test: will this change harm anyone? His own struggle for the independence of India was based on non-violence. And so we all need to create change that does no harm to Nature or other people; change that doesn’t exploit other people or communities. At the moment, our economy is based on doing harm and exploitation. In Australia, we are mining the lands of Indigenous people to get uranium. We do not know what kind of harm nuclear power will do with its waste and radiation or if an accident happens like an earthquake... so we require a precautionary principle like non-violence. Precaution of potential harm to anybody was Gandhi’s test and I think it was a very good test.
What we all want is to do no harm to others. Don’t do anything to others that you wouldn’t want done to yourself. This is a golden rule that is common to many traditions and cultures around the world. By becoming greedy, by becoming burdened by attachment and desire, we do harm to ourselves and others. So you must think, even if we cannot eliminate harm altogether, how can I minimise harm? Will my action harm anybody at any time in the future? If the answer is no, then do it. If it’s harmful, don’t do it.
Q: For most of the policies we adopt, we look to the greater good. Our goal is to achieve more happiness or wellbeing for people, even if you have to sacrifice something to achieve it. How do you feel about this?
Satish Kumar: The greatest benefit to the greatest number, is the principle of utilitarianism. I do not agree with it. I think, even if your action is going to harm just one person, don’t do it. How can I decide that our interest is so important that we will sacrifice your interest for the benefit of us? If your interest is sacrificed, I think everybody will be harmed because we are all members of one human community. We are all one. There is no “us” and “them”. I want to have a system, a philosophy that advocates doing harm to no one. It may benefit some people but bring harm to no one. That is my ideal.
Q: How can we start to “be the change”?
Satish Kumar: The solution is not in the thinking. The solution is in the action. When I started my peace walk in the 1960s, it seemed daunting. How am I going to go without money to Russia, America, Europe, the Middle East, everywhere – how am I going to do it? I stopped thinking and I put one step in front of another step in front of another step, day after day, week after week, month after month and, after two and a half years, I was able to go around the world. In the same way, how are you going to climb Mount Everest if you stand at the bottom and look up? The mind is pessimistic, thinking is pessimistic, but actions are optimistic. Action gives you hope. So don’t look at the top of Everest.
Don’t look at a society and think it is so big, so complex, that nothing can change. Don’t think: “I am one single person, what can I do?” That is despondency; that is pessimism. Instead, whatever you can do, do it. Step by step. The Great Wall of China was not built in one day. Apartheid did not come to an end in one day. The British Empire eventually ended. So lots of big changes have taken place. When the Buddha started, did he think: “How am I going to teach my four noble truths to the world?” No, he just started to teach. And now his truths are known around the world. Jesus Christ was one person. You are one person, I am one person. We do our best with dedication, commitment, perseverance, without anxiety, without any fear. Do your best, serve the world.
We are here to love the world. Action is the answer. Thinking is not the answer. Thinking must follow action, not the other way around. Nietzsche said: “Do not trust a philosophy or theory that has not been tested by walking.” So don’t worry about the world, do what you can to the best of your ability and in such a way that does no harm to anyone and helps someone. You will be Mahatma Ghandi.
Q: You have done so much in your life. What comes next?
Satish Kumar: I’m going to be 77 years old in 2013, so next is death! And we must not be afraid of death. For me, the next stage is just to be. I’ve done my activism and now I’m very happy to communicate. I’ve so many friends in the world. That’s my greatest treasure. Everything else passes but friendship is the lasting thing. In friendship there are no conditions. I want to enjoy my friendships. Also, I don’t plan too much. I see life as an emergent phenomena. Things emerge. Something happens. And when something happens, I welcome it. So whatever happens, I’m happy, I’m satisfied. I have no desires of any kind. I’m happy that I’ve been blessed with so many friends around the world.
Satish Kumar is editor-in-chief of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. This is an interview he gave at Kyoto University in 2012 where he introduced the ecophilosophy that forms the backbone of his 2012 TedEx talk which you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSLUd0veioU
Satish is also one of the speakers at the upcoming TEDxWhitechapel in London on January 12, 2013. Details here: /calendar/1709601/visions_for_transition_12th_january_2013.html