“We have to be angry but humble… We have to fight joyfully.”
This statement came from 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria, during one of the learning sessions of the Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). Centered around the theme, “Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self,” CURLS is an experiential learning journey that aims to promote the concept of Right Livelihood by living rightly on earth.
Plagued by neoliberalism, characterized by liberalization of trade and investment, privatization of goods and services, and changing of public regulation to support corporate interest, the earth has been treated as a commodity. The market considered as its very soul results to materialism and complete disregard of our impact to the environment. Changing this deeply rooted mindset can be frustrating. It angers me as an environmentalist. Yet “We have to be angry but humble…”
I do my part and expect others to do the same. At the expense of sounding preachy, paired with occasional bursts of exasperation, I point out how we’re not doing much. How we can’t even do the most basic things like segregating waste or refusing single-use plastic! We even reason how individual choices wouldn’t matter as long as corporations continue what they’re doing. Being angry and humble at the same time sure is becoming more challenging.
During CURLS, learning about the disappearance of Laotian Sombath Somphone, a dedicated community and development worker, was heart-breaking. Environmentalists, activists, earth’s healers, those who fight for what is right, are being harmed for the work that they do. This elicits anger and fear but Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng encourages us to keep on fighting. And we have to fight joyfully in spite of it all.
Sulak Sivaraksa, another Right Livelihood Award Laureate, said that before you heal the world, you should heal yourself first and be liberated from structural violence. Sulak mentions of an ideal society where there is equality, fraternity, and liberty from greed, hate, and delusion.
Perhaps we should learn from Bhutan which uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of development, a departure from the usual Gross Domestic Product, or as Nnimmo refers to as “Gross Domestic Problem.” The fact that Bhutan has never been colonized, practicing Buddhist culture, made it easy to embrace the idea of GNH which is about holistic development and collective happiness. For GNH, there are nine interdependent domains being considered namely health, education, living standards, time use, psychological well-being, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.
Another example worth emulating is the communal living of the Konohana Family, an eco-village in Japan. They practice sustainable agriculture, they follow the law of the universe, and everyone contributes to the community.
Chulalongkorn University where trees abound, birds and squirrels freely roam about amidst busy students transported in electric buses, right at the center of a highly-urbanized city like Bangkok was the perfect learning environment for CURLS. It made me appreciate the idea of nature and modernity co-existing.
In a predominantly selfish society, there are still those who fight joyfully. Those who remain connected to the earth. Through CURLS, I met some of these people. I also learned valuable insights that could help me towards my path to healing the earth, the society, and myself.
Photo Credit: CURLS 2018 Organizers