Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. — Leonardo da Vinci
I’ve always believed that it is important to live by my values, and now I pretty much do.
According to my values, living in community, driving less, buying less, and pooling resources are important ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint and foster the relationships that put love at the center.
Being healthy in mind, body, and spirit as well as having time for my children and being creative are central to the way I want to live. Owning a business, as I do, allows me to spend time with my children while also using my talents and creativity to my capacity. And, since my company, Colibri Digital Marketing, is dedicated to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, we often get to work on projects that make the type of difference we as a company want to see.
In short, I live a healthy life and I am surrounded by people I love. I am the San Francisco version of lower middle class, yet I can still be generous with what I have.
A couple of years ago my mom asked me: Why are you 45 years old and have a roommate (If you are reading this, Hi, Mom!)?
I live in San Francisco and am trying to support two children; having a roommate helps. The collateral effect is that I am living by my values. Should I be proud?
Let’s take the average African villager. I sometimes joke that African villagers are environmentalists because they leave a very small carbon footprint. They do not have electricity, they do not have cars, and they walk for miles to get their water. They do not use more than their share of it because, darn it, water is so heavy to carry. They should be proud. They are doing their part against climate change.
We all know the backstory: It’s called colonialism and what it means is that African villagers are not “environmentalists.” They are poor. In America poor is a very dirty word.
Few, if any, people ever have this conversation with me: Wow, it’s great that you are doing so many out of the ordinary things. You must be such a strong, resourceful, and creative woman. You’ve stitched together a life that is rich and full but also uses fewer resources. How does it feel like to live that way? You must be really proud.
As citizens of the United States, we are uniquely unprepared to live by our values—at least those of us who say we value the health of the planet, less materialism, and strong community. Our culture tells us that to have is to be. Many of us drone away at jobs we hate so we can fund the escapes that make life feel worth living. Are we who, like African villagers, live by our values because we are have to, pitied because to misunderstand and diminish us is to be relieved of the guilt that we could all live with less?
To live in a just society is to recognize, among other things, economic inequality. To live in a world in which we also recognize our earth as a sustaining organism leads to hard choices. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” This call to action implies that we give something up when we live simply. Leonardo’s claim that simplicity is not merely sophisticated, but the ultimate form of sophistication, in contrast, calls on us to engage in the art of living at the highest level.
When my mom asked me (Hi, Mom!), “Why are you 45 and have a roommate?” I could have told her, “I am a forward-thinking woman who understands the world’s resources are finite, and that by living simply I can both have more joy and achieve my financial goals.” In other words, I can be sophisticated.
If I were to inherit a couple of million dollars (enough, where I live, to buy a rather modest home, a car, perhaps pay for part of a college education for my children, and buy groceries or health insurance but probably not both), would I continue to live by my values, or would I gratefully return to a life of feckless consumption?
I am putting my all into lifting myself out of economic precarity because, of course, absent choice, I am living my values only by default. And therein lies the shame.