One morning during breakfast, my family started talking about new policies of the government towards “Progress” to ensure road connectivity and freshwater pipelines to every house, which have been categorized as basic necessities. I agree that these facilities make life comfortable, consume less time to get things done, and make life more “productive”.
But it also made me consider the direction in which we are heading – as individuals, as a community and as a country. We tend not to critically question the mainstream system, its priorities and its short- and long-term effects. The structures being created tend to be modeled after the western world, but is that really a wise idea? We see now that western countries are desperately struggling to find answers to the negative social and psychological side-effects of “progress”, and they are struggling to shift direction towards a livable planet.
I can understand the comfort of overlooking these questions. But now they are becoming too uncomfortable to live with: illness in the family, the pandemic and its social and economic impacts, rising temperatures and natural disasters – in some way, all these crises are a result of so-called “progress”. Thankfully, these days everyone is talking about how hot is it during the day in Ladakh (for a change) even in October, so awareness of global warming is spreading. But are we making the connections between global warming and “progress”?
This reminds me of my mother complaining about the impact of westernization on our culture and tradition, not realizing that most of what we are consuming every day is not even produced here. In fact, we don’t even know where and how it is produced and transported. Our culture and traditions come from our community economies and from our connection to the land that grows our food. So when we replace our food and our clothes and our building materials with mass-produced imports, no wonder our culture suffers. This realization has made me personally feel directionless or helpless for not being able to grow my own food, but also has encouraged me to re-learn such basic skills and knowledge that previous generations took for granted.
My concern is not only the tangible impact of this global – what we eat, what we wear, and the kind of lifestyle that’s been considered conventional – but also the psychological impact that I see from generation to generation in terms of our relationships and attitude towards each other, and towards the environment and other living beings.
There has been a changing mindset away from concern for the common good, towards ‘the need to be independent’, without realizing that the monetary power of fulfilling the need somehow is ultimately hollow. Change is the law of nature, but it doesn’t have to be towards destruction of the harmonious ways with which we previously lived with nature and each other.
The construction of new buildings is supposed to be a sign of progress. Yet it’s disheartening to see the grasslands that once provided a source of fresh spring water drinkable everywhere, now replaced with concrete structures, not realizing their long term effects.
Advancing technology and connectivity is exceptionally helpful in getting medical help, transportation and modern education to remote places. However, this is a double-edged sword, since it also introduces the consistent pressures of global competition and monetary importance to feel happy, gradually conditioning people to be more self-centered and greedy, and eventually isolating us from each other. In a place like Ladakh, I believe it’s still not too late to find the balance. Can we find a ‘genuine progress’ that is about well-being, health, contentment and true prosperity instead of competition and endless consumption?
It looks like more people feel the need to act, as I have been seeing more people talking about localization and young entrepreneurs making an effort to spread awareness of alternatives which are sustainable and locally produced. I hope to see more people understanding the need of the hour to shift direction and rethink fundamental priorities, because we are definitely running out of time with the mounting ecological and social crises. Our potential might be very different in coming years.
This post originally appeared in the Ladakhi publication Stawa.
Photo by John Page.
Greg Sellei says
I hope Ladakhis and many others around the world find the balance the author describes.
As for me, sign me up for that Republic of Vermont. In other words, get me out of this true “sh$t-hole country.” (Excuse my language. It’s a direct quote, only slightly re-contextualized.)
Greg Horrall says
Highly recommended books on “progress”:
Straw Dogs by JohnGray
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright
Also, another recent, beautifully-articulated article along this vein:
Once we start down the road of progress, there’s no turning back unless the whole train hits a road block or derails itself.
Hang on for the ride.
Rita Bouchard says
Thank you, Kunzang Deachen.
Years ago, I was inspired to travel to Ladakh after reading Helena’s book. I traveled and lived with a family in Phyang for much longer than planned. I was inspired by their way of life and have returned for several years after (not this year). I agree that the Western lifestyle influence has been detrimental to the Ladakhi people, their traditional ways, and the ecology of the land. I agree that with swift action through a return to place-based education that values traditional and sustainable ways of knowing and living, this is possible. I apologize for the western world’s impact on the glaciers your water for your fields comes from and the rising global temperatures created by our global industrial complex.