Living well

 By Penelope A. Domogo, MD

“ We all know that the more we buy, the poorer we would be. If you don’t believe me, just try buying and buying and see. ”

A blessed Easter to everyone! The national quarantine, I hope, provided us more time for a deeper reflection on how we are living. I would like to share some of my reflections.
There was this advertisement of a regular townhouse unit – painted brightly like usual with a happy face on it. And printed big across the picture was “live Makati-style.” This ad was in an island with white beaches and clear blue waters, forested mountains and fertile farms. Houses here in this beautiful island may not be as big as the skyrise buildings or mansions in Makati but they are enough to comfortably accommodate a big family. Moreover, houses here have gardens around them planted with trees, vegetables and ornamental plants. They get their food fresh from the garden and from the farm, although also from the sari-sari store. Water is piped from the spring of the nearby mountain. There is no pollution. Children can play in the streets.
And yet the advertisement was saying that Makati-style life is better than what we have in the province!?? With due respect to the famous Mayor Vico Sotto who is doing wonders in Pasig City, we know how life in the city is. This advertisement, I would say, symbolizes what global powers want people to do – live “better.”
I remember many years ago when we would have development planning workshops and always the end-goal was “to improve the quality of life of the people”. We have been conditioned to think that the “quality” of life of the people then and now is not good enough so we have to “live better”. What is queer is that quality of life is measured by cash, income and/or expenses. Mountain Province, for a long time in the past, was part of Club 20- these are the 20 “poorest” provinces in the Philippines. (It is now out of the list.) How come? One factor was that the main measure of poverty was the cash you have or carry around. At one survey, if you had less that P37 a day in your pocket, then you are considered “poor”! Well, well, well, what Igorot in the Cordillera would carry with him P37 or more a day? Would you carry money with you to the “payeo” (rice field) or the mountain? This indicator just shows how ignorant some people are of life. Unfortunately, they are in positions of power.
When PhilHealth was born in the 1990s, we did a means test (a survey) in Mountain Province to determine the indigents who would be insured by government. We were part of the pilot provinces. Apart from asking about income, we also asked about their expenses in the family. This is because we all recognize that farmers and laborers have difficulty estimating their income. Igorots think it’s bragging if we tell a big amount, even if it is the truth. And what family keeps a record of cash in, cash out? How does one cost the “og-ogbo” when planting rice? The global society is telling us that the more we spend, the better off we are. The more we buy, the richer we are. It is telling us, in other words, that the family who does not spend much because they produce their own food and do not hire other people to do their homework and farmwork is poor. Eh?
We all know that the more we buy, the poorer we would be. If you don’t believe me, just try buying and buying and see.
Claire Kerker in her article “The Anti-Walmart Motto” (posted in internet by Carol Schachet on behalf of Grassroots International) stated: “The difference between ‘Live better’ (Walmart’s latest slogan) and ‘living well’ (the organizing principle of small farmers around the world) means the difference between personal success and community contentment.
She further said:
“Living better is built around five myths:
· Whatever you have now is not good enough.
· We deserve to live better, regardless of the impact on others.
· Infinite resources and constant discoveries will allow us to keep living better – both now and into the future.
· Better is, well, better. Having the same as our parents, our neighbors or our ancestors is insufficient.
· Whoever doesn’t want to live better is off kilter somehow, and certainly not really American.”
Ms. Kerker may have been writing for Americans but we know that Filipinos want to copy anything American. Walmart is one of the many chain of huge stores that promotes buying more. Goods are packed in huge containers which come out cheaper pound per pound. So even if you only need to buy a few pieces of chocolates because you want a healthier lifestyle, you will end up buying the bigger pack because you will “save more”. You eat some and pack the rest in a balikbayan box for your relatives in the Philippines. In effect, you spent more and, in addition, you added waste to the environment (the chocolate packaging).
The above myths also promote a lifestyle that is individualistic. Never mind what happens to the others and to the environment as long as I get ahead and “live better”…. and “better” – never contented with the cellphone or the clothes, etc, etc. This “living better” mindset has brought us to this covid pandemic
So what’s “living well”? At first glance, it speaks of contentment. If you are already living well, what else do you have to do? Live unwell. That is what your life will be otherwise.
Again, I quote Claire Kerker.
“Living well is built around five principles:
· We all need to live well, to have enough to sustain ourselves and our communities.
· Over-consumption by some leads to deprivation of others. The more concentrated the hoarding by some (of, say the 1 percent), the deeper the scarcity of others.
· Mother Earth generously gives the resources we need to live. But those resources need to be cared for, not plundered, because we have but one Earth- with finite resources. The Seventh Generation will witness our values by the land, water and air they inherit.
· Abundance may happen in a good harvest. So, too, scarcity, may happen in a drought. Collectively, we can plan and prepare to sustain ourselves.
· Whoever doesn’t want to live well is off kilter somehow, and certainly out of harmony.”
“Living well” means living in harmony with each other and with the environment. It recognizes the interrelatedness of us all, just like anything in the universe. It’s a fact, even if you doubt it. Living well means we care for others, we care for the people in Manila, in Europe, we care for the environment, we care for Pongas Falls in Sagada, we care for the underground river in Palawan. Because after all, we care for ourselves.
We don’t aspire to live better than those around us but we aspire to live in a healthy Earth to be passed on to the seventh generation. “This development model allows families to … have enough food to eat, opportunity for education, safe housing and dignity. No one gets rich (which is why it doesn’t appeal to corporations and global financiers) but fewer people go hungry.” (Nikhil Aziz, Executive Director of Grassroots International). No one gets soo rich that leaves others to be soo poor.
Living well enables us to live in harmony with covid, meaning it may be in the environment but it does not make us sick. Then we can really sing Halleluiah!***
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“Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.” Pierre Coneille

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