Updated: Sep 18, 2020
A few years ago, I read a book called Enough by John Naish.
It poses a simple question.
How do we know when we have enough?
Enough food, for example. It can be hard to tell when you’re full; and dividing food between siblings or friends can get a little tense. How about enough happiness? Can people be too happy? How about technology? Improved technology, more technology, more advanced technology. Faster computers. Better solar panels. More effective medicines. Seems good.
What about academic success? Or business success? Or money? Or making our parents and loved ones proud? More is good, right? Seeing your family overseas? More time, more visits would be better, right? How about more people in the world? More children, fewer deaths. Better quality of life.
When do we have enough?
“More” can be a difficult instinct to shirk. It’s imbedded into so many of our value systems and our Western cultural psyche. It’s built into the way we interact with other people and what it means to make our parents and friends proud. In what it means to try our best in life. But saying we just want “more” is not enough.
“More” is the answer that avoids thinking critically about our self, our values, our rights, our needs and what we want in life, not to mention grappling with issues like racial and cultural privilege, self-esteem, self-worth, the inevitability and uncomfortableness of past, present and future internal hypocrisies, and our natural tendency to push away uncomfortable thoughts; uncomfortable thoughts that, realistically, no-one is going to hold us accountable to anyway.
Seeing and defining “enough” takes self-knowledge and self-compassion.
It’s a bold statement – but not necessarily a grand gesture – of our right to be a human, to take up space, to use resources, to impact other humans, impact other organisms, and impact other parts of the planet. It’s about accepting a role as part of the global ecosystem and defining that role.
In my life, my consumer tea choice is something that illustrates the concept of "enough" well.
I’m a big tea fan. I drink a lot of tea. But tea bag tags – the ones with the cardboard tab and the string and the tiny staples? – man, they are so silly. So wasteful. I know what tea I’m drinking; I don’t need a little label to tell me. If for whatever reason I can’t remember what type it is or it gets put into a different box and my nose is blocked so I can’t smell it; or I don’t have any spoons, knives, forks or chopsticks left to fetch the bag out with and have to use my fingers; it’s still okay because it’s just tea.
And don’t get me started on individually wrapped teabags and those plastic-mesh triangle bags...
The point is, there are some delicious teas that come in silly packaging (okay, most teas).
But if I can’t buy tea bags without tags, then it’s okay not having tea. If my favourite types of tea aren't sold without tea bag tags, then it’s okay not having the nicest or best flavours of tea. Choosing a tea that I like less is okay. It’s okay to pick the option that through a typical lens would be considered suboptimal. A tea bag that I end up awkwardly fetching out with my fingers because I don't want to wash up a teaspoon is fine; it's enough. I can't speak for other people. But for me, other tea is enough.
Is this not, you may be thinking, a simple issue of realigning our lives by not shying away from hard truths? For example, deciding that animal lives are more important than the eating of animals for all the pleasure, convenience, and health benefits that might be perceived?
I argue that no, “enough” is not a simple realignment to a new set of eco-rules. It’s about engaging with your impact consciously and on a very personal level. And neither should “enough” be about making a compromise or saying that one thing is more important than another. It’s about seeing clearly, accepting the situation and all its little agonies for what they are, and making the call you feel is right.
It is the beginning on a journey to clear sight, greater accountability, and more self-compassion.
Live consciously and take ownership.
Whenever I think about the issues of “enoughism”, there’s an advertising campaign that comes to mind.
It’s the one selling bottled water that appears on bus stops and in train stations, where you have the reusable bottle on one side reading, “When you can” and a recycled single-use plastic one on the other side reading, “When you can’t.”
It’s an ingenious campaign because it soothes the uncomfortable, defensive feeling that can arise when we do something that we know isn’t quite right. That ad says, “You can’t judge this fine person drinking bottled water. They're a good person. Normally, they wouldn’t do this! The reason this person has chosen to buy bottled water today is valid, it was a perfectly reasonable choice, and you don't have any right to judge them."
The sentiment, of course, is true. Nobody knows why anybody else has made a choice on any one day, and I don't think anyone should be or feel judged for that.
But this ad? It's different. It’s a moral scapegoat. It justifies the choice without you even having to think about it. It’s selling the feeling of being environmentally conscious by using reusable water bottles to sell water bottles made of single-use plastic – “Do good, feel good.” It’s not selling bottled water. It’s selling a salve for the conscience. It ticks me off.
We don’t need an international beverage company to reassure us that we're good people and our choices are okay. From my perspective, if you decide to buy a bottle of water today, then that’s the call you’ve made and that’s okay. You’ve decided that today, for whatever reason, this was something you needed and that going without water in whatever situation you were in was not "enough". But make it a conscious choice. Understand why you made that choice. If on reflection you don’t think it’s the right call, then make a different choice tomorrow.
The one thing I do like about the campaign is that it gets you thinking about small, day-to-day choices.
Outdoors people have a lot of choices like that to make.
Me? Every time I buy a new piece of gear or decide to put my hiking food into zip lock bags. Or when I print out a map. When I collect sticks to build a campfire. When I use chalk on a climbing route, tug on the bolts, feel bits of sandstone crumble away beneath my feet. When I hike through a delicate environment. Is a digital map enough? Am I cold enough to warrant a fire? Is the local, Australian-made gear good enough and affordable enough, or do I need something that's been manufactured and shipped from overseas? Would the places I hike be better off if I just didn't go there – and if the answer is yes, is it okay for me to acknowledge that and decide to go anyway?
How about you?
Living consciously and deciding on what is enough for you is a lifelong process and not easy. It's about making informed and conscious choices in our lives.
I try not to worry too much about my own internal hypocrisies and external judgements, of which there are many. I acknowledge them and keep working through at a sustainable pace.
I don't want to live a life of feigned ignorance. I know there are problems in the world and in my choices, and I want to face those problems.
I do what I can, I stay honest with myself; and that's enough.
If you would like to go deeper into the concept of “enough”, I encourage that you look at this article by John Naish.
References and further reading
Asahi Beverages. Cool Ridge. 2020. Available: https://www.asahi.com.au/brands/water-cordial/19-cool-ridge. Accessed July 2020.
Ecovoice. Australian spring water company challenges bottled water industry. 2019. Available: http://www.ecovoice.com.au/australian-spring-water-company-challenges-the-bottled-water-industry/. Accessed July 2020.
Naish, J. Enough: Breaking Free from the World of Excess. 2009. Hodder & Stoughton, Great Britain. ISBN: 9780340935927. Available: https://www.hodder.co.uk/titles/john-naish/enough/9780340935927/ or https://www.blinkist.com/en/books/enough-en. Accessed July 2020.
Naish, J. Optimisation: The art of personal sufficiency. Available: https://www.rrojasdatabank.info/hbksust2.pdf. Accessed July 2020.
Thomas, J. @MKTG1103 A direct communication of the USP. And not a take on the product attribute. Twitter. Available: https://twitter.com/Shauk_Nawabi/status/1258000548403376128/photo/1. Accessed July 2020.
Wong, M. Greenwashing campaign for 'Cool Ridge' bottled water at Southern Cross Station. Wongm’s Rail Gallery. Available: https://railgallery.wongm.com/commercialising-commuters/F139_2472.jpg.html. Accessed July 2020.