by Leo Babauta
I received some criticism recently that my minimalist philosophy of downsizing our lives is too individualistic a solution. I think “hyper-individualistic” was the term. (Actually most of the criticism was based on an outdated photo I used a few years ago, but I’ll focus on the part that interests me.)
That gave me pause to think: is it a valid criticism? And I think, at some levels, it is — the minimalism I propose (along with many others) is something we might adopt on a person-to-person basis, and possibly won’t be adopted by everyone in society. And if it isn’t, has it made a difference?
Sure it has — to the individual people who have adopted minimalism. It can change your life, for the better, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But will it change the world? Will it solve poverty and global warming? Obviously not, if it’s only adopted by a small number of people. For it to work, it would have to be widespread.
So yes, I hear that. But must we only pursue solutions that will be adopted by everyone all at once? If we believe a course of action is better for us as individual people and for society as a whole, but we doubt whether society as a whole will adopt it, should we shun that course of action?
I don’t believe so. I think that if a way of living is right, you should live that way. If it makes your life better, then good. If it’s adopted by the world, even better. We can’t let the problem of getting widespread adoption stop us from starting.
That’s what minimalism as practiced by individual people is, at its heart: just a start. Socrates said, “Let he that would move the world, first move himself.” Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I say, let’s start with ourselves. If we cannot walk the path, how can we ask the world to walk it?
Once we have shown that a minimalist life is not only possible, but a good thing, it will become a shining example to others. We can move others with our very lives. As Gandhi also said, “My life is my message.” Let your life be your message to the world, your example for a better life, and let that be the start.
From such small beginnings, great things can be born.