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 his predecessors enjoyed. He donates 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity, an act that has led him to be labelled the 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.
Less is freedom Jose Mujica’s humble digs
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. We tend to see people as poor if they have considerably less than us, yet seldom consider whether in fact they have the potential to be as happy, or happier than us with what they have. Perhaps it is our constantly telling them that they need more and would be happier with more that is making them unhappy as “poor people”. Of course, I am not suggesting there aren’t very poor people who do need our support. I am simply saying that the definition of poor has become largely subjectively.
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.”
Jose Mujica’s 1987 VW Beetle
The second point ties poignantly in with mindfulness and many of the subjects we have discussed on here before. And that is that consumerism makes us poorer. It’s paradoxical in nature. We believe we are becoming richer (materially), but in fact we restrict our lives. If we consistently strive for more, if we acquire more and more, we become imprisoned by these things, striving to keep them in our possession. Take for example the world’s obsession with ownership of land. The majority financially imprison themselves to own a property, just to own a property- because we are led to believe we need this as a form of security: renting for life simply isn’t an option, ownership is essential. Yet this restricts freedom. It means being in debt to a bank, not to mention having to pay interest. 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; too much hassle to keep doing every time you feel like a change, that’s for sure.
Owning a property isn’t an evil, that’s not the point here. The point is this: The more land you own the more upkeep, the more cars the more maintenance, the more investments the more tax liability. All these things imprison us rather than liberating us and truly making us happy. They eat into “true freedom”, which is time to nurture mental and spiritually freedom, to enjoy our loved ones, and the ability to roam in both mind and body.
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.
Be free. Alfred.