The Role of Individual in the Development Process, part 2

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (www.cbdus.org)

 

 

In the last article we talked about personal and social implications of the “conformist” role in the different systems of governance. Here, we’re going to take a further look at the different roles that individuals play in the development process and how it affects the overall picture.

 

The “MONK”

Traditionally, the monk was about wearing long robes, living in the temple, eating vegetarian food, burning incense and collecting alms. The modern monk, however, can be wearing jeans and a T-shirt, living in an apartment or shelter, eating hamburgers and collecting government welfare benefits. One thing hasn’t changed. The modern monk is as withdrawn from society as the temple type. In fact, the fast, impersonal and chaotic lifestyle is pushing more and more people to adopt the role of the monk and behave as reclusive pacifists. Unlike the traditional monk that was in search of a higher purpose and spiritual salvation, the modern role is about avoiding the pain of separation and forgetting the difficulties of a stressful lifestyle. Some choose to take refuge in alcohol and drugs to deal with their frustrations, while some, disillusioned and without hope, end up living on the streets.

 

Against this backdrop of social ills, there are also those monks that are hard to detect as they mask their true identity. They could be wearing a business suit, driving a luxury car and living in an up-scale neighborhood. But their attitude towards society is very much passive and even extremely negative. They lead the lifestyle of an introvert, away from the community and spend most of their time on the computer, or in front of the TV set. This type of monk, usually feels that there is no use to bother with difficult social and economic issues. Most likely, these individuals don’t trust anyone and believe that everybody is a crook and nobody speaks the truth. They usually don’t belong to any social or political group and often they will stay away from any organized religion. There are, of course, many variations of the monk category of individuals. However, one thing is common among all of them. They pacify their lives by sitting on the edge and watching things happen!

 

The Hippie Movement

Wars usually are the period when the monk mentality becomes popular. The Hippie movement of the 60’s, which started in the US and spread throughout the world, was a good example of how many frustrated young people, witnessing the Vietnam War, adopted the monk lifestyle. The Hippies rejected the war and the political machine behind it. They created a counterculture movement, away from the mainstream society, and living in a world of colorful clothing, vegetarian food and peaceful communes existing in harmony with nature. They indulged in drugs, loud music and free love in a desperate attempt to escape the harsh realities of the period while trying to reach higher levels of consciousness and absolute freedom. Some remnants of this movement still exist in different parts of the world.

 

 

The Amish Way of Living in the Past

Talking about withdrawing from the mainstream society, the Amish People in the Eastern part of the U.S. have not changed much of their lifestyle since they immigrated to Pennsylvania from Europe in the 18th century. They live in their communes without such modern amenities as electricity, telephones or automobiles. They marry among themselves and have lots of children. The Amish simple way of life is based on an interpretation of the Bible as not being “conformed to the world” or avoiding “things in the world”. Although practicing humility and living a pure life is among the unique qualities of the Amish people, like others in the “monk” category, they are isolated from the rest of the community as they try to avoid the negative influences and excesses of modern materialism.

 

The Wild Tribes and Life in the Jungle

In the remote and far-flung areas of our planet, in the deep jungles of Amazon as well as in the plains of Africa and Asia, there are tribes and nomads who have been living there for as long as we have recorded history. Here, it is also interesting to see that these tribes have not gone through a great deal of social change and development over the centuries. Many of these tribes have little knowledge of the complex and sophisticated life in the centers of development that have emerged as a result of inventions and discoveries of the last few centuries. Many of them have never seen an airplane, a car, or even a camera. Their attitude is quiet different from the typical or traditional monk, in the sense that they are not making a statement by removing themselves from the social circles, but they are just living in a way that they have learned from their fathers and ancestors and seem to be quite content and comfortable with their way of life. In recent history, some governments have tried to integrate these tribes into society by building schools and health facilities. At times they have been placed in reservations in the hopes of assimilating them into modern development. But they remain disconnected from society as we fail to understand and respect their culture or their heritage. Exploitation of the rich natural resources and deforestation of the areas where these tribes live has further alienated these indigenous people from the mainstream society as they see the modern man as their enemy who is trying to destroy their way of life.

 

The Religious Monk and the Priest

Finally, our attention goes back to the religious monk or priest who traditionally was committed to live a pious life and whose purpose was to inspire us to focus on the spiritual nature of existence and the path to personal salvation. With the great changes of modern times however, this picture has changed somewhat. The spiritual mentor can now have a very comfortable life as material contributions from the rich adherents roll in. Magnificent edifices are built so that the followers can hold grand worship ceremonies and create feelings of transcendence. The modern religious leader, who used to have a passive stand on worldly matters, could even have political views and an activist attitude towards current issues. Being popular, relevant and even controversial attracts more people to the congregation. But for the most part, the religious monk or priest, and oftentimes the congregation, are distant from the rest of society, especially other divergent congregations and groups.   

 

The Monk Impact on Society and Development

Today, you can find the monk persona everywhere. Passive reaction to social chaos, lost opportunities, and the impersonal material life has led to the emergence of the monk attitude in varying intensities among most of us.  This creates an unstable situation in terms of building relations, nurturing individuals, and embarking on a balanced development path. It also tends to lead to stagnation and waste as we become neglectful of our shared destiny.

 

Most of us, normally, are too busy to pay attention to the monk. At times, we might demonstrate indifference and apathy where we ourselves fall into the monk persona trap. We might tolerate the monk’s anti-social behavior as long as it does not get violent. As a show of sympathy or religious belief, we might even decide to serve the monk in some way. Whatever our reaction, at the current tangent of social-economic development, the monk is here to stay and the numbers worldwide will most likely increase.

 

From a balanced development point of view, it’s important to remind ourselves that the human society is like a body where the cells are connected together. Wherever there is disconnect or disassociation there is pain; which is felt by the whole body. Therefore, in addressing the issues of separation and isolation, it’s necessary to realize that the well-being of the whole planet depends on the harmonious and integrated functioning of every member in a spirit of unconditional contribution and sacrifice. Only then we can experience the kind of balance in life that is meaningful and joyous.

 

In the next articles we will continue to examine the role of the individuals and its importance in a balanced development process.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.