Integrity: noun

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.

In the documentary* Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, a health worker talks about the integrity of traditional people who inhabit the high Himalayan desert. The villagers, she says, take care of the land and water. They know not to throw rubbish in their waterways. In fact, there is no such thing as rubbish, because everything they gather is used to the fullest.

“See how good the villagers are?” she says, contrasting their lives with the decline of values (along with air and water quality) after this remote region of India was developed.


Ladakhi woman, photo via Pixabay, Creative Commons license

The film shows how the Ladakhis’ quality of life deteriorated after roads linked pristine “Little Tibet,” as the region is called, with the Indian plains. Ladakh had been a cooperative, sustainable society, based on traditional Buddhist values and the principles of interdependence. But once subsidized products, Western ideas/images, and tourism hit the region? It all changed rapidly.

Small farmers struggled to compete with lower-priced items trucked in from elsewhere. Villages dwindled as young people left their ancestral lands for paid employment. People began competing for scarce resources, where before there had been plenty for all, even with a brief four-month growing season and precious little rainfall.

With competition came enmity for “the other,” as insecurity became the new normal. Ethnic tensions, crime, and poverty, which had never before been an issue, began to taint the larger culture.

Then there were those waterways, which all became polluted around the cities and towns (where more and more people lived in housing developments completely disconnected from water sources.)

You could say it became harder to have integrity, both in terms of ethics and in terms of wholeness/soundness. And this is the state of much of the world, wherever global consumer culture has taken over.

What struck me about the film—even more than the clear contrast of Before and After documented by the venerable Helena Norberg-Hodge—was its demonstration of what human nature really is.

Were the villagers “good”—as in “better than” westernized society with its throwaway mentality and penchant for soiling everything worth protecting? Thinking this way puts such behavior on a pedestal.

But integrity is not some snooty, hard-to-reach thing involving self-sacrifice and personal pain. It is about wholeness, about choosing to act in ways that are aligned with our highest path and purpose.

Looking at footage of Ladakhi villagers laughing and singing as they help their neighbors harvest grain, you don’t get the sense that they are having hard time adhering to lofty principles. They’re simply acting in a way that makes total sense, that preserves life.

In other words, they live in a culture that nurtures alignment with true human nature, which wants to express itself through collaboration and interdependence—with other human beings and with the entire natural world.

Our culture is skewed to greed and self-interest, but this is not “human nature.” How hard is it to approach wholeness in a fractured culture? Really damn hard. You have to be willing to swim upstream, to pay attention, to make countercultural choices.

We have been taught to think that humans are inherently selfish. But voices like Norberg-Hodge challenge that notion, and tell us that we’re looking at humans in an artificially warped setting. Take away the subsidies, the dehumanizing images, the denigration of simple life with its wholesome collaboration, and something else might have a chance to emerge. Something based on a sense of belonging.

Until that day, we have to nurture a consciousness shift within ourselves and each other, toward alignment with our truest integrity.

*Note: See my earlier post about Norberg-Hodge and the need for relocalization.

Localizing: A Systemic Solutions Multiplier

A few weeks ago I attended an Economics of Happiness conference in which one of the speakers, localization pioneer Helena Norberg-Hodge, laid out the case for breaking free from the corporatized global economy. She pointed out that many social ills today are symptoms of an economic system based on greed and top-down control.

Localizing our economy, she said, offers a “systemic solutions multiplier.”

What do we mean by localizing? It involves bringing small businesses back into communities to produce what’s needed closer to home. It means investing in Main Street instead of Wall Street. By preserving customs and cultures through locally produced goods, we all can live better, says Norberg-Hodge.

rome (1024x768)I purchased a DVD of her documentary, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, about the arrival of “development” and subsequent breakdown of culture and environment in a traditional community of the Western Himalayas. I also bought The Economics of Happiness, a followup film on reversing the trend. I’ll watch them and write more.

But in the meantime, here’s an eye-opener for you. Did you know that a Swedish energy company is suing Germany for $6 billion because the country decided to phase out nuclear power after Fukushima? And that this suit is allowed under our current trade treaties that prevent governments from inhibiting the profit-making effort of a corporation?


But what does a “de facto world government made up of multinationals” have to do with sexual violence or racism—or the scapegoating of trans people/immigrants/Muslims—or the disrespecting of our earth home? By looking at the broad outlines of structures set up to consolidate power, Norberg-Hodge connects the dots between a global epidemic of depression, a neofascist voting trend, terrorism, domestic violence, disregard of the sacred, and so on.

Insecurity in the workplace, a sense of helplessness and alienation, and skyrocketing costs of living are the direct results of this system, in which multinational corporations wrest control from local communities (often by force).

“When you rob men of their ability to provide for their families, take away their self-respect and livelihoods, you have a recipe for violence,” Norberg-Hodge says. She fingers globalization as the main root cause behind fundamentalism and “othering.” As communities break down, isolation leads to fear, which leads to more separation and suspicion, which sometimes erupts in violence.

The economic system mirrors the cultural story we’ve all been sold. It’s a story that says “reality is physical only” and discounts any wisdom that comes from intuition, heart, spirit. Such a story can make corporations into “people” and people into interchangeable parts of a big machine whose purpose is to turn the natural world into money-making widgets as fast as possible, to make the most money for the privileged few.

Norberg-Hodge points out that the media itself is corporatized and duly invested in keeping people from seeing examples of relocalized power.

Interestingly an energy worker named Lee Harris spoke to a similar phenomenon today. He said the media and power elite don’t want us to focus on grandeur and beauty, on things that would uplift us. They benefit from keeping people depressed, despairing, and impoverished in spirit.

I suggest that it is up to us to maintain our inner sense of agency, in the face of these forces.

Consider Victor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust. He wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way… Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom…”

Let us not submit!