The Midwife and the Hospice Worker

The burst of colour from the prayer flags contrasted against the natural hues of the mountain scenery. A second look revealed thousands more flags that had faded to white.

min read
Danny Almagor
Share this post

The burst of colour from the prayer flags contrasted against the natural hues of the mountain scenery. A second look revealed thousands more flags that had faded to white. Deep in the Himalayan mountains, in the remote , people had been hiking to Tiger’s Nest Monastery for centuries, bringing their dreams, fears and questions with them. On that hike, like so many others, people place coloured flags on the journey with prayers written on them, to be read by the wind and delivered to the spirits. The newer the flags, the brighter the colours. At some point, when the colours are completely gone, the flags disappear, taken down by a passing monk, ripped from the trees by the wind and rain, or falling victim to the ravages of time. They remind us of the transient nature of life, and all things really. Even the mountains won’t last forever.

I was recently in Bhutan to explore what a different economy might look like, an economy based on happiness. Bhutan is far from perfect, but the mere fact that people there are willing to ask different questions about economic growth and prosperity makes it a profound place to learn from. In 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, The fourth King of Bhutan, famously coined the term “Gross National Happiness” as a response to a journalist asking him about his country’s Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness, or GNH, measures development in a more holistic way, sighting good governance, sustainability, community vitality, psychological wellbeing, education, living standards and other inner and outer values as conditions for happiness. It is not a pleasure-seeking philosophy. It is a practical expression of a deep spiritual idea around contentment, wellbeing and fulfillment, or as I see it, love.

Being steeped in all of this wisdom and nature, and having space for reflection and deep conversation, I started to see the workings of this new love economy with more clarity. I could see how the systems we’ve created, and how we measure success in those systems, have diminished us to roles of worker, owner and consumer. Could we create an economy which recognised the entirety of who we are? Which recognised the unique gifts we all bring to the world?

Our current economy has given us so much. It has created new medicines to heal the sick, food to feed the hungry, advances in education, transport, technology and so much more. But it has created unintended consequences like climate change, financial inequality and war. What can we learn from that? There is so much from this economy that we can take with us into the next, most of all the awareness of where we’ve gone wrong. Stewardship, I realised, is as much about hospicing the old as it is birthing the new.

I was reminded of my grandmother, a remarkable woman who had deep wisdom as well as flaws. Like all things, she got old and started to die. My job, my mother’s job, and the doctors and nurses’ job was that of the hospice worker. Our main role was to love her and look after her, support her through the ultimate rite of passage, absorbing her wisdom to inform our lives. We also had to let go of her and the parts of her that didn’t serve us anymore. In the same way we need to hospice the old economy, respect what has come before, look after people and receive their wisdom. And we must let go of the industries and models that no longer serve us. It is difficult and painful, but necessary for the next economy to be born.

When we look out the windows of our offices and homes we see the ways our system has created structural disconnection on so many levels. We live in houses and apartments with high walls, big locks and small gardens (if at all), and few spaces for communal and spiritual connection. When we shut one another out, fear and loneliness seem inevitable and are clear symptoms of psychological malaise. Let’s imagine a built environment that connects people to themselves, to each other and to nature. Cities and buildings that celebrate the common spaces we all share: the lobbies and rooftops, parks and pubs, our streets and our wilderness, bringing us together.

What about our food system? These days our food comes in packages that make it hard to even recognise what it looked like in its natural form. And not just the processed foods. Even beetroot comes pre-cooked, peeled and packed in plastic. Let’s return to our local food system. Let’s use the food we grow to regenerate the soil while we nourish our bodies. A food system that doesn’t leave farms and their farmers poorer each harvest. A food system that isn’t run by huge corporations chasing returns at the expense of taste, nutrition, animal welfare, farmers and the environment. A food system that connects us back to the earth.

And what if we could eliminate the concept of waste, not just minimise it? Waste, after all, is a design fault. Forests have been around for millions of years. Trees, leaves, birds, bees and every living thing in between falls, dies and becomes food for something else. In nature, waste becomes food. In our current paradigm, even food becomes waste. How can we close the loop?

Imagine if we didn’t have to compete to be the best doctor, retailer, chef or architect, and instead we all worked together so there would be no losers in our society. What would work look like? Could it be a pathway to self-actualisation? Could it be a place that nourishes your mind and your body? Could artists and teachers and nurses be as well looked after as bankers and lawyers and marketers? In the new love economy, work could become an expression of who we are, rather than a means to make a living.

And ownership? Would we have eight mega-rich people with the same net worth as the poorest 3.5 billion? Maybe we could transform ownership into stewardship and expect people to assume responsibility over that which they steward, rather than a right over that which they own. In this way we start to think beyond our own lifespan and become caretakers for future generations.

In Bhutan, any proposed legislation must be assessed by an independent body called the Gross National Happiness Commission. Their job is to advise the government as to the overall benefit or detriment of a piece of legislation, as it relates to the country’s framework of Gross National Happiness. A wisdom council of sorts. They are attempting to reconnect government with values and purpose. In our society, pursuing happiness is considered naïve, and being righteous is an insult. Our necessary separation of church and state might have also inadvertently separated values from leadership, a path we tread at our own peril. What kind of governance does this time call for?

For the next generation, and the next economy, we are like the midwife, helping them come into this world. We must give them the freedom to reimagine and recreate the system, to ask good questions and learn from the wisdom and the mistakes of the past. The new economy is not about rejecting the old. It is about addressing the unintended consequences. It is about the ephemeral nature of things, and our responsibility to improve what’s been handed to us. It is about nourishing humanity and looking after the planet. It is about everyone’s right to happiness. It is about love.

//---Read time---// //---Share social---//