Scott Nearing’s Good Life Considered


Last month, we visited Scott and Helen Nearings’ home in Harborside Maine. This inspiring couple wrote “The Good Life” which recounted their vegetarian, self sufficient, peacenik lifestyle decades before the hippies followed suit in the 1960s and 1970s. During this visit, I wanted to learn more and purchased a political autobiography by Scott Nearing, “The Making of a Radical.”

In this book the author summarizes his views of the state of human society and what steps we might consider taking in order to avoid a rather destructive end to everything we know and love. In his own words “I came to an assignment: to seek out the truth, to teach the truth, and to help weave truth, justice and mercy into the fabric of human society.”

Even if you do not align yourself with his strong stance on socialism, one has to admire both his idealism and his conviction to his principles. He was one of those rare people who actually figured out a way to stay true to his own beliefs no matter what personal sacrifice and hardships he had to endure. He lived to be 100 years old and spent much of the last 60 years of his life living off the land in a simple but surprisingly abundant existence, much like what his hero Tolstoy had proposed very late in his own life.

His most assiduous resolve reminded me of one of my heroes, Mahatma Ghandi. Men or women who risk everything for an idea or principle in order to help society transform into something better. But it seems these individuals spend so much energy on their projects or causes that their family suffers much neglect. I recently watched a documentary on Ben Franklin who gave so much to so many and yet left his wife in America while he traveled to Europe for the last twenty years of her life.

The unanswered question for me is how do we change the world for the better and still manage to stay true to our loving commitments at home? Do these bold and courageous leaders need to avoid family life altogether? Or, is there some other way that family, community and society can relate with one another? Throughout history many great men and women have sacrificed their immediate family for the causes they were engaged in.

It seems to me that in order for society to change it needs to change from the inside. Starting with the individual and progressing through the familial, community, state, national and international level. Change, like cooking in a crock pot, is best when it occurs both low and slow over time. When it happens any other way there is too much death and destruction.

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