give up your urban “devil”

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When I wrote startup and the simple life a couple of months ago I set in motion a plan that would take me to a rural setting with the idea to create productive business relationships with locals hoping to capitalize on some of the ideas of this blog. Mostly on the idea that we urbanites treasure the calmness that can only be acquired through detachment from our ever accelerating way of live.

It is perhaps a sign that Monocle’s #24 romanticizes the idea of agro as a fundamental human activity that would restore the soul or our society by getting closer to the people that make a living from farming. While the same formula is often cited by advocates of organic produce, Monocle’s article seems to be more focused on the art of living a simple life and be productive at the same time. I say it must be a sign because just a few days ago I was using the concept of agro-tourism (as developed in Italy) as a prime example of how people seek to immerse themselves into a lifestyle that seems to be disappearing as urban centres advance.

I too, while trying to refine this idea, assumed that if we could send a few people over to the rural landscape, the environment would work its magic, their soul would be cleansed and they would have the experience of their life. But something seems to be missing from this assumption.

If you’ve spent a week at a villa/farm in Europe, sipping a cup of coffee while watching the men and women of the town work the fields and bring fresh produce to the table, only to spend three hours on a slow-food feast, proud of how in touch with humanity you are, you’ve got to realize you’re still an spectator and the whole experience is a bit foreign. Yes, maybe they invited you pick your own fruit from the tree, but would you consider trading your current lifestyle for this? Would you work the fields from dawn to dusk to have a quiet evening and a light dinner?

This tension between our urban self and our “gaia” consciousness is a complex one and has developed already many traumas on simple people trying to do the right thing. It may be tempting to give up our urban “devil” and enlist in some new form of commune. But for most of us that experience will not last.

As with many other problems, the key may be in experimentation: what if you could try alternate lifestyles for a short while? Maybe farming is not going to cut it, but helping a community in need develop advanced social programs tapping into your urban skills may be your call. If you could try not one but a few life-changing experiences, chances are not only you’ll change your life, but you’ll end up enhancing the life of many people around you.

You can only become a global citizen by living like other citizens around the globe.

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13 thoughts on “give up your urban “devil””

  1. That must be because you represent the ultimate global citizen, that mythical character I often write about in this blog. You ARE living the life that I write about.

  2. Well, reality is always different to the dream, isn’t it? Until you see farmers at work it’s easy not to realise just how much work goes into growing food. I could not read the article (you have to be subscribed) but I am interested to know how it is possible to live a simple life and be productive at the same time.

    By the way do you think social programmes are the way forward for societies in need? Or is it enough to look for opportunities to do business as equals, under agreements that are fair for both sides?

  3. Liz: I think there is a general romanticization of the rural landscape and its powers to bring us back to the simple life that we’ve lost with the advance of urban centres. Yes, it is nice to appreciate in first person the life that fewer and fewer people lead so we are reminded of the complex systems that are needed to sustain us, but my point is that it is likely a mistake to pretend that by experiencing we’re going to be converted to rural people. We’ve moved into the urban centres because of our voracious appetite for progress, innovation, change. But we resent the price we’ve paid for it.

    So, the big question is what kind of experiences (without going to the extreme of becoming a farmer and growing your own food) are likely to become attractive enough that you would want to try them for a longer period of time? Where would you have to live to slow down enough that you can perceive the improved lifestyle and yet continue to feed your inner urbanite? These are the kind of experiences I’m interested in.

    As a person who’s travelled and lived in many different places I KNOW the hectic pace of one of the largest metropolis in the world is too much, but the serene way of live in the mountains of a small village in South America leaves you out of the race. Being able to experience several ways of life is a privilege that very few have had the opportunity to savour. I think I can do something about that. Soon.

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  5. farming seems a dreamy concept for urbanites. maybe a more tangible retreat is closer than you think?

    there are local problems in need of skills that many of us take for granted while still offering a refreshing escape from the ‘urban devil’.

    local volunteering – community gardens, conservation, building/habitat for humanity, etc – offer a temporary change in lifestyle (for the technically inclined), but can be just as fulfilling.


    1. matt: good point! In fact I’m certain that many of these travel experiences that we’re planning will end up being in dense urban environments where the type of “escape” will be accomplished by forcing yourself to try something new yet not completely disconnected from your domain of expertise.

  6. Great post. One of the entities out there that I find really interesting is (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. By becoming a member you can get a list of worldwide farms that will exchange room and board for labor. It can be a great way to see the world, get back to our roots and do something good at the same time.

    1. Carmen, a few years ago I had the opportunity to coach a group of students that were about to immerse themselves into such a program. They were all thrilled about the experience but I bet more than one found it to be a bit overwhelming. We tend to romanticize certain things because we are completely disconnected from them. Farming is likely a great example: it’s not only until you’ve been on your knees for 3 hours, digging the ground that you realize this was nothing like what you had expected. As matt suggests in his comment a more urban version of this may be more appealing.

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  8. Juan, I think you’re so right in your reply to Liz. My wife and I moved from the city to the countryside a few years ago. But we both also love big cities. And there are aspects of them that we miss. The challenge is how one can live in a city and still slow down and connect with nature. If we allowed nature to flourish more in our cities, it would help. It feels like we need to re-think how we design cities so that we don’t feel so divorced from nature there. Jorrit.

    1. “allowed nature to flourish more in our cities”… one of my friends came back from a trip to Buenos Aires amazed at the density and maturity of its green spaces. Letting the city find its way around the existing nature is much different than trying to bring a few young trees to the sidewalks and hope for the best. Many modern cities have made fundamental mistakes in this area that will take decades to rectify, even if the will is there. In any case, the first step is to applaud those cities that have found the right balance and showcase their beauty.

  9. what if you could try alternate lifestyles for a short while? Maybe farming is not going to cut it, but helping a community in need develop advanced social programs tapping into your urban skills may be your just try.

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