Sharing The Wealth We Already Have

January 08, 2016

Colin Beavan and Dan Harris

Author and activist Colin Beavan, in conversation with ABC's Dan Harris, addresses How to Be Alive at SJC's Brooklyn Voices.

There is a growing sense of self-consciousness in the world around us. Over the years, we've started to examine our social practices, our daily routines and the way we prioritize our careers above all else — even our health. As social justice, eco-consciousness and healthy living gains traction within the U.S. and abroad, activists such as Colin Beavan are helping to ask the important questions:

How are we living? How are we helping each other? Are we purchasing too many material goods, becoming too self-centered, consuming too much everything? How should we adapt to be more healthy, more helpful, more alive?

On January 7, Beavan visited SJC Brooklyn as the first guest of our 2016 Brooklyn Voices series. In conversation with ABC's Dan Harris, Beavan showcased his newest book How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World, and engaged with an audience yearning to navigate their lives toward a better future. The BK Voices event also featured an after party with a performance by The Special Someones.

Beavan, a local resident of Clinton Hill, attracted international attention for his year-long “No Impact” lifestyle redesign project, which became the wildly popular book No Impact Man and inspired a Sundance-selected documentary film. With his new book, Beavan extends a hand to everyone seeking more meaning and joy in life. During his introductory reading in SJC Brooklyn's Tuohy Hall Auditorium, it became evident that more often than not, the source of Beavan's interpretation of meaning was centered in his own spiritual beliefs.

"In Buddhism there is a vow that goes something like this: 'Delusions are endless; We vow to cut through them all.' What it says is basically, we never get to be and stay in truth and peace. We constantly have crazy thoughts going in our heads, constantly have discomfort. That's OK, delusions are endless. But we'll keep returning to our centers; we'll keep trying."

ABC's Dan Harris, a fellow Buddhist, met Beavan's stance with wry wit and a delightful sense of humor. After Beavan demonstrated how he'd elected to drink water from a reclaimed spaghetti sauce jar, Harris commented that he hoped no one would be offended if he drank from a plastic Dasani bottle that had been placed on stage for him. Harris also asked to be absolved for his Uber-reliance, the popular car service which he would be utilizing to take him home after the event, instead of walking.

Colin Beavan and Dan Harris; Colin Beavan book signing; The Special Someones

"This book is about the fact that so many of us are suffering from a sort of existential discomfort, that we feel that there is something terribly wrong with what is happening in the world. Not to mention in some cases what is happening in our own lives. What this book postulates is that there is room for all of us in this solution and that the path to our own personal part in those solutions is to become yourself."
- Colin Beavan

Beavan and Harris focused their exchanges on the issue of the contemporary, self-conscious citizen: wondering if he/she should return to the simpler things, the recycled materials instead of the shiny new purchase; the simple mechanics of using the human body to bike or walk to work, versus the allure of driving around in a BMW.

"This book asks a lot of questions, tells a lot of research and theories about what actually makes us happy, what actually causes the world to change, then asks you how you ought to apply those things in your life," Beavan said.

"The book, I noticed, is filed under Self-Help," Harris said. "I think, and I imagine a lot of people in this room agree the Self Help industry is a howling sea of unmitigated bull****. Do you think it's redeemable?"

"What, Self Help, or my book?"


After raucous laughter from the audience, Beavan explained that the Self Help label should really be altered to Help Each Other.

"What's happened is we've become so busy trying to make ends meet and buy a lot of sh** we don't really need that we become alienated from ourselves," Beavan said.

"Our lives are just hundreds or thousands of relationships with the world. In some ways, you can say that there is no self, all we are is relationship between us and the world. What I suggest in this book and in person is don't try to change your whole life, but find one relationship that is both bad for the world and bad for you. Vegetarianism is one option that works for most people — or even to just eat a little less meat. So many of us are having coronary problems, and between 20-40% of our environmental problems come from animal agriculture. Continue to change one relationship in your life after another, until you've built a life and found a community that's in line with your values. Don't fool yourself into thinking you have to change the gigantic thing first."

Join us for our second installment of Brooklyn Voices on Thursday, January 28, when SJC hosts author Hanya Yanagihara to discuss her latest work, A Little Life, in conversation with Isaac Fitzgerald.

For all the latest news and updates on Brooklyn Voices, as well as other College events and happenings, be sure to follow St. Joseph's College on Twitter (@SJCNY).