A Mountain Spirit Board member, plus a few others, have been telling me I need to read “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It’s a great story about persevering a dream of building a school for the children of Korphe, Pakistan. One passage, quoted below, reminds me of how gravitating back to sustainable cultures can make our lives saner. If you’ve not read Three Cups of Tea, I suggest you pick up a copy.
An excerpt from the book that caught my eye:
“A book he’d read , Ancient Futures, by Helena Norberg-Hodge, was much on Mortenson’s mind. Norberg-Hodge has spend seventeen years living just south of these mountains in Ladakh, a region much like Baltistan, but cut off from Pakistan by the arbitrary borders colonial powers drew across the Himalaya. After almost two decades studying Ladakhi culture, Norberg Hodge has come to believe that preserving a traditional way of life in Ladakh-extended families living in harmony with the land- would bring about more happiness than “improving” Ladakhis’ standard of living with unchecked development.
“I used to assume that the direction of ‘progress was somehow inevitable, not to be questioned,” she writes. “I passively accepted a new road through the middle of the park, a steel-and-glass bank where a 200-year-old church had stood…and the fact that life seemed to get harder and faster with each day. I do not anymore. In Ladakh I have learned that there is more than one path into the future and I have had the privilege to witness another, saner, way of life- a pattern of existence based on the co-evolution between human beings and the earth.”
Norberg-Hodge continues to argue not only that Western development workers should not blindly impose modern “improvements” on ancient cultures, but that industrialized countries had lessons to learn from people like Ladakhis about building sustainable societies. “I have seen,” she writes, “that community and close relationship with the land can enrich human life beyond all comparison with material wealth or technological sophistication. I have learned that another way is possible.”
Norberg-Hodge admiringly quotes the king of another Himalayan country, Bhutan, who say the true measure of a nations success is not gross national product, but ‘gross national happiness.”