Enough: ‘ In or to a degree or quantity that meets one’s requirements or satisfaction.’
Excess: ‘An amount that is more than necessary, permitted, or desirable’
Waste: ‘Materials or objects that are disposed of, intended or required to be disposed of.’
Who will decide what is ‘enough’?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”
At what point does a need get transformed into greed? The subjectivity of this debate is what makes it difficult to define and impose limits on resource consumption.
In the definition of the word ‘enough’ there is mention of ‘satisfaction’. For a homeless person living on the street, a good meal can bring satisfaction. And yet for some families, satisfaction may elude them unless they have one personal vehicle for each family member. Ironically, at a deeper psychological level, beyond the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, satisfaction is a personal choice.
The definition of a poverty line, as the amount of income needed to secure the necessities of life, also changes from country to country. A person living in a tropical country may be able to survive with minimal protection from climate but in countries with extreme climate, this becomes an absolute necessity for survival.
The mark of what is ‘enough’ may then be seen as being governed by the physical needs of the body to survive in the natural context it finds itself in.
In many parts of rural India, children go barefoot to school. Footwear is not seen as a basic necessity though it would be comforting to the child to have it. Whether this child is less satisfied than the one that has twenty pairs of shoes is difficult to tell. Maybe she would be satisfied with just one.
Economists refer to consumption patterns and purchasing power to define the poverty line, since income varies a lot across countries. Yet the ability to purchase a thousand cars, need not actually result in such a purchase. Beyond the poverty line, financial satisfaction and security comes from the knowledge that resources are available at hand. The funny thing is that this threshold of satisfaction shifts if it is dependent on consumption. And the choice of how to use these resources remains an individual one in a capitalist world.
Gandhi explained it simply, saying, ‘The rich have a superfluous store of things they do not need and which are therefore neglected and wasted, while millions starve and are frozen to death for want of them, If each retained possessions only of what he needed, none would be in want and all would live in contentment.’
It is when our consumption is in excess of our need, that waste is generated. The body has an immediate feedback mechanism to excess consumption. Eat too much and we feel uneasy immediately. It defines its limits quite clearly, and illness arrives when these limits are transgressed. Something that we all are constantly doing and which keeps the medical industry hugely profitable!
Turning the search for satisfaction from consumption, inward, to an inner gauge of a body attuned to its natural environment, is the first step to reduce the waste we are generating.
Where will this contentment come from, if it doesn’t come from consumption? By setting ones own limits, one chooses to be content. For each one of us, ‘enough’ can be defined oneself. It comes from the inner voice that recognises healthy limits and enjoys satisfaction in its truest sense. If excess consumption and waste are predominantly human phenomenon, the human being is also capable of discrimination and self restraint. It is within these that satisfaction is achieved.
Gandhi says finally, ‘Man’s happiness really lies in contentment. He who is discontented, however much he possesses, becomes a slave to his desires.’
Perhaps we could redefine ‘enough’, and say it is an amount or quantity that the physical existence of a living being needs to survive in harmony with its natural environment. Until happiness and contentment are not cultivated internally in the human mind, it is disastrous to expect personal ‘satisfaction’ to define limits of natural resource consumption.