This post is inspired by the President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica. I'd never heard much about him to be honest, but this week I read about his life as the world's poorest president.
By choice President Mujica lives on his wife's farm, rather than the presidential digs that his predecessors enjoyed. He drives a 1973 Beetle car and donates 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity, an act that has earned him the label of ‘poorest president in the world'.
I must profess, I know nothing of his policies, and I'm sure someone will tell me that he is doing something wrong, somewhere, somehow. But I don't want to get political here, only to quote some of the wisest words I've heard for a long time; words that reiterate the old saying , less is more.
Here's a quote from President Jose Mujica:
“I'm called ‘the poorest president', but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more.”
“This is a matter of freedom. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
It raises some interesting points. The first being that “poor” is a perception and often subjective. We tend to see people as poor if they have considerably less than us, yet seldom consider whether they need more than they have, nor whether they have the potential to be as happy, or happier, than us with what they have already.
Perhaps it is our delusion regarding how much we need, and our constant judging of what we have that is making us unhappy, and making many of us feel poorer than we really are. Of course, I am not suggesting that there aren't very poor people who need financial support and social compassion. I am simply saying that the definition of poor has become largely subjective and often based on unnecessary expectations of material wealth.
Jose Mujica made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June this year:
“We've been talking all afternoon about sustainable development,to get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking?
Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left.
Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.”
The second point ties poignantly in with mindfulness and many of the subjects we have discussed here before. And that is that consumerism makes us poorer, spiritually poorer, that is.
We believe we are becoming richer (materially) but in fact restrict our lives. If we consistently strive for more and acquire more and possessions, we become imprisoned by ownership and the want for bigger and better, striving to acquire and possess more.
Take for example the world's obsession with ownership of land. The majority of people financially imprison themselves to own a property, because we are led to believe we need this as a form of life security for ourselves and our children. Renting for life simply isn't an option, but ownership is essential.
Yet this restricts our freedom, and unless you can buy a house outright, it means being in debt to a bank, not to mention having to pay huge interest on the debt. For many this alone means staying in a job they dislike just to pay the mortgage It means being tied to one place indefinitely, unless you sell up and move on, which is a hassle to keep doing every time you feel like a change, that's for sure. It also means many sleepless nights when money is tight and the interest rate fluctuates (for those on a variable rate).
Owning a property isn't an evil, that's not the point here. The point is this: The more you own the more upkeep, the more worry and stress and weight on your mind. The more land you own the more land you need to secure, the more cars you own the more maintenance you need to carry out, the more investments you have the more your tax liability.
All these things imprison rather than liberate the mind. They eat into our freedom, our time to enjoy our loved ones and share experiences with the world.
President Jose Mujica accuses the world's leaders of having a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world”. It won't. the contrary would mean sustainability. Something really worth considering for the future of our children's children.
Something to think about, anyway.