Saturday, December 22, 2007

How Much is Enough

How Much is Enough

In December 2006, I participated in an interesting workshop called “Beyond Schumacher: alternatives approaches to economics and sustainability perspectives for the 21st century” in Northeast of Thailand. This seminar was aimed at bringing together theories of sustainable development, and lessons learned from lived experiences in juggling social, environmental and economic priorities. It was organized by Ales Kauffman, a sustainable development practitioner and former graduate of the Bath School of Management, Responsibility and Business Practice MSc.

My friends and colleagues working together in training and human resources development in Sri Lanka, Ineke Pitts, Mihirini De Zoysa and Robert Vanderwall developed an interactive inquiry session based on World Café called How Much is Enough ?

Posing questions such as How Much is Enough ? we encouraged a lively and challenging debate, and crafted a premise for inquiry into self and the future of our planet and our species. We engaged participants on an individual and collective focus on the rationale and key drivers for corporate decision making, as business runs the world.

Leveraging the knowledge and experience of the participants who were academics, business people, grass roots practitioners from NGOs to government officials, created a lively debate as to how we need to take personal responsibility in changing the current way to running the world. We agreed that ethical and responsible leadership based on a set of values that are aligned to the earth’s substance is important. In order to do this, we need to become aware of our actions and become mindful of the impact it has on nature and society. We also lamented that there is long way to go to break down the current systems that are in place, which act against nature and a peaceful society.

The question we need to ask ourselves as we struggle to find our place in this work is How Much is Enough ? for us to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.

The following paper was handed out to all participants at the conference.


Grappling with how much is enough is a personal struggle for many people. In accumulating wealth, no one is sure as to how much will be enough for us to live a secure future. As such, the accumulation of wealth happens more out of fear disguised as desire and opportunity.

So, the challenge for us is to address this fear. Life is uncertain. It is full of surprises. We die some day. It is our mind that churns out these fears that make us act in ways to mitigate the fear. There is a certain perceived security in possessing wealth. We know money cannot buy happiness, but we know it can give us a certain security in an uncertain world.

To add to this, the general universal measurement of success is based on wealth one has accumulated. We admire and are in awe of people with wealth. We aspire to be like them and live like them without really understanding their realities.

Yet, perceptions are changing as the reality of limitations of wealth is dawning on more and more people as they accumulate wealth across the world. It is happening to people at a younger age and once you have lived the high life for a while, the superficiality of it dawns. This is evident by the emergence of a spiritual resurgence especially in the west. So many are now embarking on a different journey to find a new kind of wealth - a wealth based on wisdom and spirituality.

This journey requires not the cultivation of ways to make money, but to cultivate the mind, to control the mind from being afraid of the future, to which the reaction is to accumulate wealth at any cost - social and environmental.

This wisdom also brings the heart into the equation. The heart is the future. The heart is not afraid of the future, so if we can cultivate the mind to balance with the heart, we maybe able to alley our fears of the future, which drives us to create monetary wealth.

So, it comes down to the individual’s who have to inquire into self and our motivation to live the way we live. Mindfulness and self awareness gives us a different kind of power, not based on money and position, but a personal power, based on who we are and how we live and love.

If this is the case, we could also influence the way institutions are run, be it governments, donor agencies and corporations, which define how the world is run. We are aware that these institutions support a divided world – the rich and the poor, through its policies and actions in the name of economics. We know that these institutions promote the institutionalization of poverty. It serves their larger economic purpose to use the power of monetary wealth to control the world.

This is why we tend to accept the aberrations and support continuing to live the way we do. The GDP measurement in economics ruins our environment as it does not internalize the social and environmental cost of development. The vast US dollar reserves of India and China fund and support the wasteful lifestyle of the people in the USA while so many people starve in India and Africa. The arms industry thrives in the G8 countries and it only makes sense to find markets for their more and more sophisticated wares.

The scapegoats are the poor countries who are also fighting their mini battles ultimately for their power based on monetary wealth. The oil industry goes to any length to keep their markets alive by standing in the way of renewable energy and the list goes on.

There has been no time ever where information has been so freely available as now. Our job is to make even more people aware. Aware, first of all of the anomalies that they face in their day to day life and then to help them to seek a different path and a set of values based not only on monetary wealth, but spiritual wealth. There has to be a balance between money and spirituality. Love and compassion through respect for each other should be the new currency of life.

So, How Much is Enough ? becomes very much an individual inquiry into the way we live. Becoming mindful about our thought, speech and action could be a way to begin.

Lalith Gunaratne Colombo, Sri Lanka

Revised in December 2007