Our ways of living and cultural norms have changed. As a cynic, you can blame it on brainwashing from the capitalistic way of life that makes us work most of our lives to try and get by or gain more wealth, or you can describe it more innocently as the natural progression of civilization towards a more productive approach to living where we all have a better way of life. Either way, it has manifested itself in what I view as two opposing ways of life: Living versus “making a living”.
Simply put, living is what humanity did for tens of thousands of years and it usually meant just trying to survive. Our life was focused on gathering enough food to survive the winter, keeping a sufficient supply of water, protecting ourselves from mean animals and mean people, and if all goes right, having babies. It was a hard life where the average lifespan was half of what it is today, but it was a life living in accordance with nature and there was usually much less “work”.
Making a living is something we were able to change thanks to capitalism in the last three centuries. With a more structured civilization combined with advancements in production and manufacturing, an individual or group of individuals were able to make a surplus of goods. This allowed others to focus on additional things, besides simply living, and created market places where we could buy everything we needed, and only needed money to do it. To make the money, we switched to making a living so we could have enough money for the living.
There are major benefits to this switch which have allowed for advancements in manufacturing, health care and technology and have provided a longer life span for most people along with more opportunities for education, societal advancement and healthy living. But there must be some kind of trade-off, right?
These thoughts came to mind while we were walking through Redwoods National Park in northern California. Some of the trees are over two thousand years old and are the tallest living things on Earth. Walking through them brings awe and serenity as you tilt your head backwards as far as you can without falling over just in an attempt to see the tops. The native tribes lived in the areas for tens of thousands of years before they were pushed out, hardly making a negative impact on the land. They most certainly respected the giant redwoods as important creatures in their ecosystem and did little to impact their existence. They were “living” off the land and appreciated what mother nature offered.
Then the Europeans and early American settlers came around, looked up at the massive redwoods and thought, “Holy crap, I could make a lot of money if I cut those down, sawed them up, floated them down the river and sold them.” The entire coast was filled with these redwoods, but after the loggers’ “productivity”, there’s only small areas remaining (estimated at 5% of the original) that were protected by state and national parks. The land lost its value to people from a spiritual perspective and instead changed to a commodity that was only as valuable as what could be extracted from it.
This became even more evident when we visited the beautiful Silver Falls State Park in central Oregon where an eight mile hike takes you through pine forests and some of the most amazing waterfalls you’ll see in one compact area on this entire continent. It was once considered to become a national park, but it didn’t make the cut (put intended) because the hillsides surrounding the falls were described as graveyards of tree stumps.
We learned part of this from a video they showed which had a similar narrative as most of the Americas – native tribes lived there for centuries until they were pushed out by early settlers and corporate interests. This time it was the loggers who valued the land for the massive old growth pines that occupied most of it. Shortly after, it was fully logged and became a barren land with the same beautiful waterfalls cascading through a desert-like landscape. A fellow purchased the land to see if he could make some money off of it, but it was so barren that no one was interested in the waterfalls any longer. But he was entrepreneurial and found that he could charge a nickel to spectators to watch him push old cars off the 150+ foot falls!
Talk about a major change to the environment – from old growth forests with incredible falls to barren land marked by rusty old cars – in a matter of years! Luckily, someone had the sense to clean up the land up and let it reforest.
I get it, the western way of life is to make a living, and there’s no way we could all eat if we didn’t participate. But imagine how a Native American felt as she watched a single tree, then an entire forest of redwoods fall. I’m sure she would’ve been quite confused at why anyone would need to do that. Or how about the plains Indians who watched entire herds of American Bison killed for profit or only pleasure. It must have shocked them.
Can we have one without the other?
Unless you’ve won the jackpot or got rich through an inheritance, you’re going to have to make a living – at least for a while. You’ll need to find a good career where you can use your job as a tool and make as much money as you can. For most people, this will demand the rest of their life as they work to pay off their crap they continue buying.
But there is another way. What if you could make a living for 10-15 years while you save up enough money and invest so you can move on to living? When my parents left their jobs for retirement, they quickly left the working world behind and started exploring their hobbies. Gardening, reading, beekeeping, visiting family and traveling are some of their highlights. They no longer need to worry about making a living because they managed their money well and receive enough in pensions and social security to keep them going. They’re living and we all enjoy the benefits – especially the extra time and honey!
They had to wait closer to retirement age though. I don’t want to wait that long, I want to start living now. This is why we decided to take control of our money ten years ago, so we could go on with living today and why we’re currently exploring North American in our Airstream. We’ll make money again in the future, but we’re lucky that we’ll be able to decide the terms. I want our “making a living” to coincide with the way we want to live our lives… making a difference and helping others while enjoying what living has to offer.