MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

Join Whitney Lauritsen in a profound conversation with Arwinder “Arwi” Kaur as she navigates the complexities of modern life, technology, and environmental consciousness. Arwi delves into the implications of technology on our daily lives and the struggle to maintain balance between advancement and ecological responsibility. They explore the impact of travel on global awareness, culture shock, and various standards of living. Arwi also touches on sensitive topics like childlessness by choice, social responsibility, and the interconnectedness of humans. This episode is a deep dive into understanding personal choices, societal expectations, and their collective impact on the planet.

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Interconnected Existence: Embracing Global Responsibility And Sustainability With Arwinder Kaur

It’s a little challenging to pick the beginning of some conversations but I saved a side conversation that I was about to have with our guest for this episode. Instead of having that outside of the recording, I thought it would be nice to talk about it on the recording because it ties into the work that she’s doing and the book that she wrote. I’m sitting down with Arwinder who often goes by Arwi. We were discussing technology.

This is our second time meeting virtually. The first time we met, we ran into some technical challenges. Arwi decided to make a new technology purchase and that made a big difference. Here we are successfully recording. It had me wondering what a purchase like that means to you and how you consider the impact that you have on the environment and the impact that it has on your life. Finding that balance ties so beautifully into the work that you’re doing.

When I was researching you, I came across a few phrases that spoke to me. One of them was, “Are humans entitled to everything we want?” When it comes to making purchases, consuming things, or buying something like a computer, which is very resource intensive not just on our wallets but also in the sourcing of all of these parts, the labor that goes into creating them, and the people that are selling them, there’s a long pipeline that is involved with what is seemingly a simple purchase. I was curious if you could walk me through what that decision is like based on all of the research and knowledge that you have obtained.

Thank you, first of all, for asking me that because you’re right. That’s a good segue. With our last plan that we had to try to speak, we weren’t able to do it because the technology simply wasn’t working very well. You’re not the first one. I had another podcast that I recorded that was a complete waste because it’s not usable so I’m going to have to redo that one.

I have a love-hate relationship with technology like a lot of people probably do. I’m not from the “younger generation” where I was born into it and I love it, and I love everything about it. I’m the older generation. I’ve had to learn some of it through work. I could use the basics like Word, Microsoft, and emails. Other than that, I find it very daunting. It takes up a lot of my valuable time.

Even though technically I’m retired, I spend sometimes hours day after day dealing with different technology problems. An example is the one you gave me. The problem is, “What is the problem? Is it my internet connection or my Wi-Fi?” I had to have all these systems checked out. I’ve had the service provider come out. I’ve had technology replaced. I took my iPhone in and had that checked out. They said, “Your Wi-Fi’s working.” I’ve had to systematically go through all these things.

All of us know that if you have to call in for a help center to get help, sometimes you are there for hours. When this is going on day after day, I find it very frustrating and a waste of my time. I’d rather be doing other things. We are living in a society where it’s harder to opt out of things. Technology has become so critical. It’s like an appendage. If you don’t have it, your body can’t function properly. If I want to fill a form out, I have to have an app.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

We are now living in a society where it is much harder to opt out of things. Technology has become so critical. It’s like an appendage that will mess up your body functions if you don’t have it.

During COVID, some elderly people couldn’t get across the border because there was a form that had to be filled out on an app for them to get back into the country. They couldn’t fill out a form. They didn’t have it so they were stuck at the border. This is an example of if you say, “I don’t want to embrace this technology. I don’t want it in my life. I don’t want to pay for it or deal with it,” you don’t have a lot of choices.

The other problem I have with technology is it’s very wasteful. I don’t like buying things. On the other hand, I did get an electric car. I feel good about that. I’ve been wanting to get one. I wasn’t able to with COVID and the shortages. I’m compelled to do things that I don’t want to do and I don’t feel good about doing. How do any of us “live off the grid”? How do we do that? We had a power outage here when we had a bit of a storm that came through.

My sister was here as well. She is staying with me. The electricity was out for a number of hours. We realized how paralyzed and helpless we were. There was no light. We couldn’t see anything or turn on any media to get any information. We couldn’t cook anything because our stove and microwave didn’t work. The heat doesn’t work because it’s electrical. Every single thing we thought we wanted to do we couldn’t do because we had no power. We were at the mercy of the powers that be to come out, fix it, and get things going again. How do we live off the grid? That’s pretty tough.

It’s a great answer because it’s incredibly relatable. Especially in the environmental field, a lot of people want to do things that are good for the environment. They want to do good things for their health but when you start to break it down, it’s incredibly complex with the way our society is set up. A couple of things came to mind as little side notes.

I also had a similar realization when I participated in what used to be called the National Day of Unplugging. It’s called the Global Day of Unplugging. It’s an annual awareness campaign that helps people make some tech-free experiences for 24 hours. I’ve participated in it for the last few years. It’s such a challenge because I don’t have a lot of opportunities to not use technology unless I am intentional about it. It’s rare that the power goes out, in general, for many of us in North America where you and I both live. If we are in a very developed society, we have the luxury of always being on but that also tends to be a pro and a con. We’re lucky to have it.

It can also be a liability.

Liability is a great word for that. We have to step back and acknowledge these things, which is why I’m so grateful for this conversation with you. I would recommend for anyone who wants to put themselves in that situation to think about electricity and technology usage to try the Global Day of Unplugging. It’s every March.

Partially because of that and also through my evolving interest in camping, I started acquiring all of these things that have doubled as backups for technology, including solar panels for charging a battery. If I need to make sure my phone’s working when there’s a power outage, I can use solar power to charge that up. That has been so wonderful. Much like when you’re talking about switching to an electric car, it’s a little bit of a different situation but it’s a way to help contribute to the environment and also prepare yourself for different situations.

I also have a gas-powered camping stove that I can use. I am thinking through these situations in which we don’t have to depend so much on electricity. We don’t have to be as reliant on it. Camping has become a great way for me to learn how to be more self-sufficient. I’m curious if that’s something that plays a role in your life. You were talking a bit about your travels with me, which is something you document in your book. I’d love to hear more about how travel has impacted the way that you think through technology and resources.

As a teenager, I did travel back to India. I went to England probably for about a year beforehand. I was only about 15 or 16 years old. We had a full-time job working in a sewing factory with all the other South Asian immigrants that were working there. I was part of the blue-collar workforce as a teenager. In England, I noticed a big difference in the standard of living.

This was in the early ‘70s, probably in 1972, 1973, and 1974 when I was traveling in those years. In England, when I went there, I was shocked to see that you didn’t have a telephone like you did here. You had one of those telephone booths that you put money into. People had that in their homes and you would have to put money in. The regular phone, if you did have a landline, was like a long-distance call. The longer you talked about it, the more you had to pay.

People did not routinely have hot water in their homes. We were staying in a church because my father was a priest. We were staying in a Sikh temple. There were no wash facilities there so we used to go to a public bath. We would go to a place where they would fill it up for us and we could have a bath, hot water, and so forth.

We noticed back then when you went shopping, you did not get a bag. It was an awkward moment because we were standing around waiting for them to put all their groceries in a bag. They were looking at us and we were looking at them. Finally, it’s like, “Do we get a bag?” They’re like, “No,” so we stuffed our pockets and walked home. We saw even there that there was a difference in terms of how people were living.

After that, when we traveled to India, and I was there for probably close to ten months, that was truly a culture shock. It was overwhelming and overpowering. Everything hits your senses to such an extreme level. Everything was on the end of the spectrum, like the masses of people and poverty. The poverty was unbelievably difficult to see.

There are no social programs. People were handicapped. They would be living on the streets or carting themselves around if they could. There was no medical. There was very little infrastructure. India was pretty famous for being corrupt. Little of the money would ever go back into needed programs.  There were no social programs. Everybody had to fend for themselves. It was also when I got to see people using resources in ways that I had never seen before.

For example, a little boy would be running behind a cow, picking up the cow dung, slapping it into patties, and putting it on the side of a wall to let it dry. That was fuel. That is what people would burn when they were cooking. There was no hot water so you had to boil water if you needed some water. We had to learn how to cook using the same thing.

It was either one of those kerosene where you pump the kerosene to light the fire and then you could cook something on a single burner or you’d have to use fire. We didn’t know how to even light anything on fire other than maybe the house. We smoked the building out after a while. They said, “Forget it. You guys are not going to be building your fires to cook your food. You can use this kerosene thing. That’s it.” This goes to your point about what are rights, privileges, needs, and wants. Those are things that I differentiate in my book.

Many things we think we are entitled to are actually privileges. Click To Tweet

Lots of things that we think that we’re entitled to and we think are rights are privileges but we’ve never viewed them that way. We realized that there are lots of people living in the world who don’t even have access to basic things like clean water, hot water, and resources. We could go to grocery stores here that were full of food. We got free medical. An ambulance would come if we needed it. We could go to school. In other parts of the world, girls are dying to go to school. They’re not allowed to go to school. I also learned something that I thought was a right, which is I could make my decisions and be in control of my life. Going to India, I realized my life wouldn’t have been like that at all.

Had I not immigrated to Canada with my family, I would’ve been raised in a very traditional lifestyle where I would’ve been married early. I would’ve been living with my husband and his family. I would’ve been looking after him, the children, and the in-laws. I would’ve been living a life of servitude for the remainder of my life and there’s no choice in the matter. You don’t get to choose who you marry. My parents had an arranged marriage and that was very difficult. These were all eye-opening things for me.

We were almost in a situation where we would’ve been forced to get married while we were there. My father decided to stay in India. He wasn’t going to come back here. What he wanted us to do was to stay there. We realized pretty quickly, “If we don’t leave, this is going to be our life.” We had to get an exit strategy quickly to leave and come back to Canada. Many of those things that we thought, “These are our rights,” we realized we are privileged to have those things. What is a right? If we want something, what makes us think that we’re entitled to have that and that we should have that at any cost to others, society, and more importantly, the planet?

Often in India, people had an economic reason for doing what they did. For example, cows are not sacred. People think they’re wonderful deities or something. When you look at it from an economic point of view, it makes much more sense to let a cow live because you’re going to get labor. You get milk, cheese, yogurt, and all kinds of things that come from a cow versus if you killed a cow and ate it. That would be very limited for a limited number of people. There’s usually an economic reason for so-called religious belief systems. They have much more to do with the economy than we may realize.

That’s such an interesting point. Much of this is fascinating. The entitlement and the privilege are something that I think a lot about. Recognizing how much privilege I have, I’ve noticed it requires me to constantly be learning. I have a whole lifetime of privilege so I need to be very conscious about my entitlements. I’ve been in an interesting situation that I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts on. I won’t share the specifics but it ties into some of the things that you’re sharing with this question of what to do once your eyes are open to your entitlement and privileges versus disparities and marginalization that other people are facing.

As somebody who, very relative to many people in the world, experiences a lot of privilege, sometimes I feel paralyzed when I see someone who is in a very different situation than me. I wonder, “What do I do? What’s beneficial? What actions can I be taking to support that individual and other people who are facing that too?” Honestly, I still have a lot to learn about that. It’s one thing to be aware and it’s another thing to take action.

My eyes feel open but in this specific situation that I was in, it still hasn’t been resolved. It’s one of the people that I’ve been working with as a consultant. That’s what I do outside of the show. I consult for a variety of different businesses. They have team members in another country. It came to my attention that the work environment that I was experiencing as a US citizen and employee is very different than some of the staff members in other countries.

It doesn’t seem to me that they’re intentionally being treated differently but because they’re in a very different cultural situation, there are factors that maybe aren’t understood by the US team members and the US company founders. It takes so much work to understand communication, financial, and work differences. I realized, “I don’t understand a lot of that.” I felt extremely helpless. I don’t even know how much I can help and how much is even within my power.

It was this great opportunity for me to reflect on this like, “Where do I start to learn more? What can I do, if anything, to help?” I don’t need your guidance on that specific situation I’m in but it’s a great example of how many of us can observe what’s going on even with the wars that are at play. For those of us who live in North America, we’re seeing many things happen in other countries. I certainly feel helpless. I don’t know what to do besides reading the news.

I have a ton of information that I devote to in my book. These are three things I call the corporations, politicians, and the media. It is this triangle, which is what is dictating what is going on on the planet. All these things are connected in terms of what is going on with social suffering. You were mentioning the wars. How can we take care of the planet as long as we’re still dropping bombs on it?

You cannot be humanitarian or ecologically responsible as long as we are still dropping bombs on the planet. Click To Tweet

They have diametrically opposed visions and approaches. You simply cannot be humanitarian or ecologically responsible. You cannot be dealing with climate change, poverty, health issues, or animal rights. We can’t deal with any of that as long as we’re still dropping bombs on the planet. We’re destroying our living ecosystem, our home.

When we talk about the needs, what are our needs? We need air, water, and soil. These are the very basic fundamental things that are being destroyed when bombs are being dropped. The peace movement is saying, “We have to stop all wars.” The best thing people can do to support soldiers is to protect future soldiers from dying.

Use all of those people that are fighting and dropping bombs on the planet. Those people can divert their resources and energy to repair the planet. How much difference would that make if we spent the trillions of dollars that are being spent to destroy the planet if we spent those dollars and the resources to help the planet? We could accomplish so much. We could clean the air and water.

These people are on a historically massive move in terms of refugees and immigrants. There have never been that many people on the move on the globe living in refugee camps, in limbo, and on the borders and risking their lives to leave their countries than there are at this moment in time. The reason that this is happening is corporations, politicians, and the media are all working together to give us the information that makes us feel like these things that they’re doing are necessary.

Divide and conquer is one of the strategies. As long as people are not getting along, they’re fighting with each other. In your country, you saw it. I don’t want to get into politics but with Trump, there are a lot of things that have happened. People are more separated and divisive than ever before. The media, politicians, and wars all play into that. We have to stop killing each other and the planet. Refugees don’t want to leave their countries.

There is no magic place on the planet that everybody wants to go to. Everybody doesn’t want to move to the US of A. They want to stay in their countries. They love their homelands. That’s where their families are. That’s where their history is. That’s where they want to live. For the wars that are going on and the economic conditions that are being created and perpetuated by those in power, many of those countries, unfortunately, have tyrants running them. Everything is driven by power, greed, and profit. These three entities, the corporations, politicians, and the media, are all playing a role in perpetuating this.

We may not be able to do anything. We can’t all push a button and have it all go away but as a group, there are 8 billion of us on this planet growing 400,000 babies a day. There is a huge network of people that could be very powerful. We were saying some of the things about the media that we don’t like. Think about what happened with the whole George Floyd movement and how it went around the globe. Suddenly, everybody was on the streets. They were protesting what was going on. People were horrified. They said, “This is enough. We watched someone get murdered on the screen. This has to stop.”

For the first time, even in the States, you saw one of your presidential candidates step aside so that she wouldn’t be running against Kamala Harris because she was a Black person. There were people who started making different choices. They gave up. They changed some of the attitudes that were happening that have existed for years. It doesn’t mean we’re there yet but it created real changes. People have protested. Whether it’s baseball players or football players, they’ve taken the knee. Those are things that are having an impact.

Corporations are pulling back from countries and organizations that are promoting hate, war, and violence. People have pulled out of Russia for the same reason. We can make an impact. Our purchasing power has real power. When you say to Nike, “We are not buying your stuff anymore,” that’s going to matter and mean something. They’re not going to do it for the right reason. They’ll do it for the money. If we can make them do the right thing by pulling on their purse strings, so be it as long as we get a good result.

People can do things. Social media, in these instances, can do a lot. Many good things have come out of it. In oppressed and suppressed countries, the media has played a very important role. They’ve been able to use Facebook and other forums to get masses of people out protesting and getting information out to people who don’t regularly get the truth put out by regular news and so forth. There is still a lot we can do. We can post things, not vitriolic stuff but we can say, “Try to be balanced.”

When I get an opportunity, I will talk about, for example, I’m childless by choice. I chose not to have children. I get a lot of sometimes flack for that from people. They get very uncomfortable with it. That’s my truth. I am childless by choice and I talk about that. If people get upset, it’s okay because we’re creating a dialogue. I’m noticing when it comes to the environmental thing, it’s the same thing. If something happens, most of the people are in support of the right thing.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

It is okay if people get upset as long as we are creating dialogue.

We have to make sure that those voices continue to be loud and present, and not back down from all the vitriol and hate. It is dying down a bit. Some people are coming out of this whole last few years with COVID and everything realizing that there are things that we have missed out on when we don’t have a good connection with other people. All of these things are connected. Wars, hate, ecology, human rights, all of these things are connected. We cannot have one without the other.

It’s so true and complicated. I would love to go back to the childless by choice point but before we get there, I was thinking about technology again as you were sharing the companies that we support. I’m curious about your stance on knowing when a company is truly invested in a cause versus something like greenwashing or performative things. There’s a lot of pressure to say that you are standing for something. Social media, going back to that, is complex. A lot of people want to say what they stand for but they’re afraid of the pushback, to your point. Whether that’s an individual, a company, or an organization, there’s the pressure to say, “Whose side are you taking?”

I remember hearing in September or October 2023 of people close to me wondering whether they should say anything about the war going on in Israel and Palestine. They want to say that they’re for this but they’re afraid that the other side’s going to come for them. They feel forced to be silent because they’re terrified of bullying and attacks. It’s a scary time. I felt the same way after George Floyd’s murder. There was all this pressure of, “You need to post and say you’re for it.” I wanted to but I didn’t know what to say, where to say it, and how to say it. I didn’t want to come across like I was being performative. That’s a tricky thing to navigate as an individual.

There is a way that that can be done. We don’t have to take sides because there is only one side and that’s the right side. You can say things and this is what I say, “All violence is wrong. Nobody should be killing each other. No one should be oppressing anybody.” That’s not taking sides. That’s talking about a principle, which is people should not inflict violence on one another. People want to get into the dialogue, “Who started what?” You can go back.

Regardless of what happened many years ago, the point is this is where we are now. We have to stop. That’s all there is to it. More violence leads to more suffering. There’s no right or wrong. It’s all wrong. If it’s violence, it’s wrong. Nobody should be oppressing other people, dropping bombs, raping, or killing. These are all things we can say in a general way. We don’t have to say, “Black people are right and all the police are monsters.” There are good police officers. There are people who do good things and people who do bad things. If bad people do bad things, we say it’s bad. It doesn’t matter who did it.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

No violence is ever correct. Nobody should be oppressing other people, dropping bombs on cities, raping, or killing.

We can speak in general terms to the principle of an issue. It’s not who’s right or wrong in the issue but what is the right thing in the issue? If you’re a parent, not that I am, if two children are fighting over something, at some point, you have to say, “Neither one of you is going to get that thing because this isn’t how we do it. You either learn to get along and then you can play with it or we take it away and nobody gets it.” At some point, we have to say, “That is wrong.” We’re not solving anything.

It’s 2023 and we’ve got a country that is talking about dropping nuclear bombs still. This is insanity. These are insane people in power. These people need to be gone. They should not have any weapons in their power. This is total insanity. We’re talking about this as if this is okay for a leader of a country who has millions of people’s lives in their hands and can destroy the quality of life for billions of people on this planet. We talk about it like it’s no big deal. 

People are like, “Putin’s right. So-and-so’s wrong.” If you’re talking about killing people and dropping bombs or nuclear war, it’s wrong. I don’t care who’s saying it. Why are we afraid to talk about principles? I talk about that in my book. It’s called a compass for the soul. It’s a compass that we use for our everyday life in cutting through all of that clutter and saying, “What do I do?” “There’s the principle to apply.” “What’s the principle?” Those are universal truths that are true no matter what time and what place. We can refer to those.

I also talk about the blueprint. There’s a blueprint for how to live as humans on the planet or as people. There’s a blueprint that ecology provides to us for how we live as a species on this planet. There is a template that is very comforting to know. It is that nature has specific rules about survival and those apply to us too. We simply have to look at those and say, “Those are the same rules we have to follow if we want to survive.” It’s not as complicated as humans like to make it.

It’s helpful to hear it’s not complicated because oftentimes, it feels like complete chaos. Hearing it’s simplified is relieving for me at times but there are also the black-and-white elements of it or the gray areas. It’s not always so black and white. When I was mentioning how an individual versus an organization is going to take a stance and how they might represent themselves through the media, an example that comes to mind that feels complex to me, and some people might see it as black and white, is Elon Musk.

He has created this wonderful electric car company. I own a Tesla and I feel very in alignment with a lot of the ethos there but sometimes, the things that he posts online are very polarizing. There are times when I question, “Do I want to continue to support a business that’s run by somebody who would say those things?” There’s nuance in there. I don’t see someone like Elon Musk as a black-and-white person because there’s a lot that he’s done that is good and there are other things that are sentiments perhaps. How do you navigate that?

The other side of it could also be greenwashing. The other example that comes to mind is Apple. They mentioned they were trying to go carbon-neutral with their products. They made this whole presentation about it. It made me feel good as an Apple consumer. I like their products and the ethos but there’s also part of me thinking, “I’m sure there’s a lot more behind the scenes that most consumers are not aware of.” How much of this is greenwashing to make us buy more?

That’s how we started talking in the very beginning. How do we balance the need for technology with all the downsides of it and what we’re part of? How do we disentangle ourselves from everything we’re involved in? If I wanted to say I want to live without doing any damage to the planet, I can’t do it. If I’m out purchasing anything, I’m a part of the system. I can try to make the best decisions and most informed decisions. Do I have control over where it originates when it comes to me? I have no control over that. All I can do is say, “This is what they’re saying. I’ve tried to do the research. This is what it sounds like to me. They’re making a lot of attempts to do the right thing.”

It is extremely hard to live without doing any damage to the planet. If you are purchasing anything, you are part of the system. Click To Tweet

We have to go back to the local. If we can’t go back to the way things were when I was younger, we could drive down to our local market. The food was growing there. We bought it there. It’s the same thing in India. Everything was natural. It was right from where you lived. You knew where it was coming from. As long as we’re living in this global structure where things are out of our sight and we don’t know what’s going on, we are, to a large extent, going to be misinformed and uninformed. We need to cut ourselves some slack.

I don’t think we need to be so hard on people and say, “You’re doing something and that company did such and such.” All you can do at the end of the day is do your best. Frankly, part of the problem is to a large extent, industries and politicians are putting the onus on the individual. As much as the individual has responsibilities, I have to take personal responsibility for my recycling, my garbage, what I put in, what I buy, and what I consume.

The onus needs to be put on the industries that are producing these things in the first place. When we have alternatives out there, we can use things that are already recyclable, biodegradable, and natural. Why are we paying more for organic foods than we do for foods with chemicals on them? Why are we allowed to put chemicals on foods? We have to go to the source.

Vinegar is a perfect example. You can use vinegar as a cleaning product so why is it legal to sell chemicals when we have alternatives that are not harmful to the planet? I don’t make those laws. Who makes those laws? The politicians are allowing these corporations and industries to continue producing chemicals, toxins, and harmful products. They’re selling them, making massive amounts of money on them, and then putting the onus on us to say, “You are not disposing of them properly. You’re buying the wrong thing.” That’s wrong. That has got to stop.

I’ll do my part but I don’t have the same impact on the ecology as an industry that’s spewing out tons of waste every day, every month, and every year or dumping it into the oceans. Let’s put the responsibility back where it lies. The people who have the money and the people who are making the money off of destroying the planet are not individuals. They’re corporations. These people need to be held responsible. The politicians are looking the other way and, in many cases, covering up for them and allowing all of this to go on. The media that never reports what’s happening is another thing.

I can go on about the news. That’s the problem. I spend so many hours every week thinking, “Where does this go? Does this go in this pile or that pile?” There are times I still feel guilty. I’m like, “I don’t want to put that in the landfill,” but I have to live with that. Meanwhile, the people who are responsible for destroying the planet are off in their yacht. They’re cracking open the champagne and are not giving it a single bit of thought. That has got to change. 

I’m so glad that you brought that up because that can contribute to so much stress and guilt. I’ve been studying and aiming to be environmentally responsible for so many years. I’ve gone through all the different phases. Even when it comes to purchasing an electric car, I think I’m doing something so great for the environment and then all these people start pointing out all the downsides to it. I feel like, “What decision am I supposed to make? I thought I was making a good one.” You can constantly be exactly critical of yourselves. Over the years, I’ve learned to be more relaxed but then I start to feel guilty for being relaxed about it. I’m like, “Am I too relaxed? Should I be more stressed out about this all the time?”

There are a couple of things that are going on in that situation. One is that we forget people are multi-dimensional. I’m not going to sit here and say great things about Musk but people are multi-dimensional. They can make a great contribution. Some people complain about Mahatma Gandhi. They’re like, “He did these things and they weren’t right.” The guy had an amazing impact on moving the world in the right direction. How many people are doing that?

Elon Musk probably has his issues, flaws, and problems like all the other people in the world. Unfortunately, because he has the money, he can have much more impact in terms of his negativity and so with his positivity. Sometimes what we have to again say is, “I can only be personally responsible for my choices.” My choice is to try to make the world a better place. I am not responsible for Elon Musk’s behavior. How can I control what he does and what he says? I can’t. All I can do is say he’s made something that, for me, helps the planet and I will support that. I’m not going to support everything else he does and says.”

That gives me comfort probably because I’m very connected to that. First of all, you and I could keep talking and talking. Being mindful of time, let’s make sure that we talk about the childless choice. This is something that makes people very uncomfortable. Given that getting uncomfortable is the theme of the show, I want to hear about that. It doesn’t strike me as uncomfortable. I’m curious, A) Why you’re child-free by choice, and B) Why do you think it makes people uncomfortable when you tell them that?

These are pretty important things to think about, for sure. One of the reasons I became childless by choice is simply because of my early experiences as a teenager and seeing what was going on in India or the country of my origin in terms of the overpopulation, poverty, the plight of women, how one did not have any choice over their destiny, and how they wanted to live their life. That became something, for me, much more critical in terms of making conscious choices.

Losing our ability to be in control of our destiny has very significant consequences. We’re raising people in such a way to be on what I call autopilot or a default basis. In other words, people don’t even think about it. For example, somebody might have had seven children. If you sit down and say to somebody, “I’m curious. What led you to decide to have seven children?” I haven’t heard anybody give me an answer that makes any sense to me. There doesn’t seem to be a plan. It’s like, “That’s what happened.”

People are losing the ability to be in control of their destiny. Many are just on autopilot and don’t really think about what they are doing. Click To Tweet

That’s so interesting because we forget that it’s a choice. Some people are on autopilot. They have children because that’s expected. Some people that I met in university would do the same thing. They’re like, “I go to school. I get into grade twelve, go to college, and then I’m going to get married. I’m going to have four kids and do this.” I would go, “You’re not even married yet. How do you know you’re going to have kids?” It’s not even a thought. It is going to happen.

I also worked as a child protection social worker for about 30 years. I raised children as their permanent legal guardian so I saw them from birth to adulthood. I saw the trajectory of many young people who were pregnant at, believe it or not, 9, 10, 11, and 12. If you think about having a child as a default or on autopilot, think about your life as a twelve-year-old being pregnant and responsible for another child. In many cases, you’re going to be a single parent. If you’re having a child at twelve and having a baby with another teenager, where’s your future? Where’s your destiny? What were you meant to do on this earth before this default thing happened?

Many people have become trapped in a life before they even have a chance to think, “What do I want for my life?” They’re there and are locked into it. They’re trapped in it. That becomes their destiny and future. We have people every day who are fighting for our right to have freedom, choices, and independence. Yet, here we are living in a so-called free country where we have education, access to contraception, and so forth. We have all these people who are becoming parents by default.

It’s a hugely daunting task when you have a relationship that may not be healthy or successful. We’ve got such complex relationships because people are married 3 or 4 times. Blended families are happening. These are very complex societies that we have created because people haven’t necessarily given much thought to, “Do I want to have children? If I do, how many? When? With whom? Can I afford it? Can the planet afford it?”

We don’t think about eco-friendly or earth-friendly planning. We talk about recycling and getting an electric car but how many of us say, “If I have children, how many more resources will I be using on this earth?” Nobody thinks about that. People get very uncomfortable if you tell them that that is something we should think about. I’ve had many people become quite hostile when I’ve discussed not wanting to have children and making a conscious decision and a choice.

Maybe for the right reasons, many women would become uncomfortable with that discussion and many would not accept my decision. They would argue with me and tell me I’m going to change my mind and that I have to have one because that’s what I’m supposed to do or what women are supposed to do. They tell me I can’t be happy and there’s going to be nobody to look after me when I’m older. There are all of these arguments that, at the end of the day, are not very good arguments for having a child nor are there any guarantees that anybody is going to be there for you when you do get older.

I’m going to leave it with my mentor said it the best. When people would ask her and her husband why they never chose to have children, and they were in their 80s and 90s when they died, she simply turned around and said to them, “We’re waiting for a people shortage. We’ll do our part when there’s a people shortage.” That’s very true. Why are we compelled to think that is right for everyone? Why should we all want that?

I had a discussion with somebody on Facebook about the population. She said, “Stop spreading that nonsense. There’s never too many people on the planet. There are never too many humans. That’s bull.” I’m like, “Do the math. Seventy-five of the earth’s surface is water. The water table is rising, which means less land and surface area of the earth. It’s 25% and getting less. We keep adding 400,000 babies a day. Where are they going to live?” Our planet is not getting bigger. People forget that. It’s a finite place. Earth doesn’t keep expanding as we add more people to it. We simply have to look at it and say, “We cannot talk about saving this planet if we’re not putting population into the equation.”

We cannot talk about saving the planet without putting population into the equation. Click To Tweet

I have found that most environmental organizations refuse to talk about it as well, and I find that a problem. People blame the seals, for example. They’ll say, “There’s not enough fish because of the seals. The seals are eating up all the fish.” Number one, seals only eat fish. They’re not omnivores like we are. We don’t have to eat fish if there’s a shortage of fish but we demand it. We’re entitled. If we want it, we get it. If that means the seals die so be it. That’s how we think. How can it be that we say seals are the reason why there’s a shortage of fish but never think is there any shortage because of humans?

This is also relatable for me and resonates because I am childless. I’m at a stage where I don’t know for sure but it’s very unlikely that I will have children. The older I get, the more I feel grateful for that. One huge element of it is not just the environmental and financial implications and all these downsides that you shared so eloquently but also the mental health side of it.

What I’ve witnessed over the last few years with a lot of my friends having children is how much they are struggling, especially my female friends. Even the men in those relationships seem to be struggling as well. It’s a huge toll on them. It’s hard for a lot of people to talk about and acknowledge the stress and mental health challenges that come along with raising children. We have no idea what decisions will be made for humanity. When you bring a child into this world, you feel responsible for introducing them to a state of the planet where the future is very uncertain.

Tell me if I’m wrong but I believe statistically that more children are ending their lives by choice than ever before. To me, I’m thinking, “Why would I want to bring a child into this world of suffering as much as I have hope for my life?” I want my mental health to be maintained but I also think that if I had a child, their mental health would be my top priority. If I have no control over their mental health because of the state of the world, that’s going to cause this ongoing cycle of despair.

Not just children but that is true. There is no other species. We have to keep remembering that we are another biological species on this planet and we’re related very strongly to most of the other species on this planet. Between us and the chimpanzees, there’s less than 2% difference in our DNA. We’re biological beings on this planet. We need to start putting ourselves back into that whole equation and say, “Why are we the only species? Are any other species on this planet killing themselves, committing suicide, dying of drug overdose, or killing each other by wars?” No other species on this planet is doing what we do. We are the only ones. 

We need to start analyzing ourselves and our behaviors and start seeing it as if something is wrong. I call that chapter in my book called Signs of Humanity in Distress. That’s what’s going on. It is not normal for 8-year-olds and 7-year-olds to be killing themselves. It is not normal for people to be dying at epidemic rates. Other people are leaving their countries to come to our countries. Here, everybody is killing themselves and dying of overdoses. What is going on? There is something terribly wrong with how we’re living and what we’re doing to each other. We want to look at that.

That’s not to say that nobody should ever have a child ever again. Nobody is saying, “Don’t have one child,” but when you have billions of people and too many people having too many children, it’s not only that we should be making better decisions for ourselves or our children but what are we leaving them to deal with? We haven’t solved any of those problems. We need to make sure that the planet that they’re inheriting is sustainable.

Children are already distressed with asthma. They are having a hard time. This is not to be a doomsday thing. I’m not trying to do that. I’m trying to say we’re part of the biological community. Here’s the difference between the wants and the needs. What do we need? We need the same things that every other species on this planet needs. We need clean air.

Think about it. If you held your breath, how long can you go without air? That is your number one priority. How long can we go without water? How long can we go without food, shelter, and all of these things? These basic necessities that we have are the same ones that animals have. By protecting that, we’re protecting ourselves and the planet. Biodiversity is what keeps the air and water clean, and the soil viable, strong, and rooted in all of that. It’s an investment that we can make in the future of our children but also that’s what is going to help us survive as a planet. It’s all connected.

We’re not saying nobody should ever have children again but we have to start making more conscious, better decisions. In one year, the United Nations Statistics said that one billion children every year suffer from poverty, abuse, neglect, sexual assault, trafficking, diseases, starvation, food insecurity, and health issues. Why? It is because the planet is not taking care of those children. Why are we getting human and child trafficking?

Countries that are poor are trying to find opportunities for themselves to survive. They get caught up in all of these things because we can take advantage of people in poor countries. We can exploit them. We can pay them slave labor wages. All of these things are part of human suffering. They get perpetuated when we’re not stopping and thinking, “What are we adding to here? What are we doing?”

Think about the infrastructure in every city that you live in. It’s the same everywhere. There are not enough schools or daycare spots. The roads are falling apart. There are not enough hospital beds and everything. Nobody ever talks about why. We always say, “This is ridiculous.” We’re always behind. Why? It is because infrastructure will never be able to keep up with population growth. Every year, it’s going to be harder for children to get the resources that they need to have a decent life.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

Infrastructure will never be able to keep up with population growth every year. It will be harder for children to get the resources they need to have a decent life.

Every other species on this planet does not have the right to procreate. First of all, for most of them, it’s a seasonal thing. They may only go into season for a very short period. Only the dominant male in many of these cases gets to pass along his genes. Even though they have no “restrictions” put on them from the outside where they’re not using birth control, they are not allowed to populate and procreate as they want. They never outstrip their resources. That’s how ecology survives. 

It’s very easy for us as humans to say, “There are so many stray cats. It’s a problem.” We can identify when there’s an overabundance of animals in the shelter. There is a huge population issue with animals too. Our hearts are breaking when animals are put down in these shelters and all that. There’s a different mentality that we have for human beings.

One thing that was coming up for me as you were sharing all of that is why people feel so angry at you for making these statements. I feel like they should be grateful that you’re not having children because that’s fewer children that are contributing to this problem instead of taking it personally. I’m sure many readers of this show have children. This is not a personal attack. It’s an opportunity to reflect and say, “I’ve made a decision. I can be more aware of what that decision means and take steps.”

They can perhaps be grateful for people like Arwi and myself potentially that are never going to have children because we’re making it less of a problem. I think about how I feel like I can make a better contribution to the world without a child because I don’t feel a need for it. I don’t feel a major want for it. I can instead contribute in other ways that should be equally valuable. The contributions I can make to the world do not have to be dependent on being a parent.

That’s the irony. I’ve dedicated my life to taking care of other people’s children. Just because somebody biologically is able to procreate and have children doesn’t mean that biologically, they’re also capable of looking after them. That doesn’t exist in the biological community other than humans. In other biological communities, animals look after their children. They will fight to the death to protect their children.

What’s happening in the human population? Many people are not looking after their children, not feeding them, and not raising them. They are abusing them and killing them. There are these things that are going on. I’m not saying everyone’s doing this. No child should be born in a situation where they’re not wanted, loved, or cared for. There is a price that society is paying.

When we don’t invest in raising healthy children, we all suffer. They are our neighbors. They are people that we are having in our society that are not necessarily going to be happy, well-adjusted people. In many cases, maybe they’re the ones who are dealing with substance abuse or have given up on society because they didn’t feel loved, cared for, and that sort of thing. Have a child if you want to look after a child and give it the best life you can.

People see it as a right. They’re like, “It’s my right to have a child,” but what about the right of the child to be raised, loved, cared for, and given adequate food, shelter, clothing, and all the rest of the things that a child is going to need? We can’t isolate those things. I didn’t have children because I chose not to. However, I have raised hundreds of children and hopefully tried to make them as healthy and happy as I could to be functioning, stable, happy, and contributing members of society.

We don’t have to have our own children. Don’t forget that many people who even want children maybe biologically can’t. That doesn’t mean that somehow, they’re inferior to someone else. The ability to procreate is biological. It’s not something like, “I’m privileged because I can do this.” Raising healthy children is the key, not simply procreating and having children. All species can do that. We have to look at it in a different context.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

The ability to procreate is biological. It is not some sort of privilege.

Where people were becoming uncomfortable with me was it was triggering something in them. I was reminding them that having children is a choice. I don’t think that most of us are raised to think that way. Women who were comfortable with their choice and decision didn’t necessarily feel as uncomfortable with mine. They were like, “I’m happy that I have children but good for you if that was your choice.”

Some of them, the ones that had a hard time, it was triggering something in them that maybe they’ve had. There are not very many but there are books that have been written by women who say, “If I could do it again, I wouldn’t have had children or I wouldn’t have so many. Maybe I wouldn’t have had it at that time or with this person.” More people are talking about it.

That has got to be the first step. We have to talk about this as we need to be making choices. Let’s not forget that people say, “This is a biological urge.” They want to have children. What’s going on with Roe versus Wade? If women biologically all of them wanted to have children, why is there so much pressure being put on women to have children against their will? That’s what I want to talk about. This is a global thing.

There are many parts of the world where women are being criminalized even if they have a miscarriage. Some of them have ended up in prison for life because they said, “We don’t believe that was a miscarriage. We think that you terminated this pregnancy.” Women are in jail for that. What’s going on? If we’re promoting this whole idea that women all biologically want to have children and procreate, why all this oppression and forced obligations, duties, and punishments on them for not having a child? They are even being forced to have one if they were raped or there was incest. What’s going on there? We have to ask ourselves.

Let’s not forget this. The other people who are afraid of people not having children are the corporations because their whole formula is a pyramid scheme. They have to have continued infinite growth at the bottom to continue to pour in all that money at the top. The last thing in the world they want to hear is people saying, “We’re going to have fewer kids.”

Between religion, corporations, and politicians, everything is based on this pyramid scheme. It’s like a Ponzi scheme and we’re all caught up in it. We need to start thinking about how we want to live our lives and what we see our future as instead of being a pawn in this huge game or economic scheme that the planet has been driven by for many decades. We’re a part of that. We need to start opting out of a lot of these things.

It’s something that I’m grateful to have a discussion about because there are so many challenges that women are still facing as you were listing out. We still live in a very patriarchal time. It’s important to have this conversation to consider it and walk ourselves through the choices that we’re making and why, our needs versus our wants, our privileges, and the ways in which we might feel entitled. The whole aim of this show is to question what we are doing and why. What’s making us uncomfortable and why?

I’m grateful for you highlighting your stance on it and also contemplating why it makes people uncomfortable. I’m not somebody who gets triggered by this because I am, for the most part, in alignment with the way that you think about it. I don’t know what it’s like to not be in alignment with it. I don’t know why somebody might get triggered by this and what’s going on for them. That’s a very relative person-by-person situation. The aim here is to examine it so thank you for examining that and a lot of the complex issues that we’ve covered.

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global Responsibility

Living While Human

This is scratching the surface so I’m deeply grateful that you have a whole book that gets deeper into this. For those who want to continue this exploration, the first step, I believe, is to check out the book, Living While Human, which Arwinder has displayed beautifully behind her but I don’t know when the visual version of this episode will come out on YouTube. Thank you so much for getting into this on such a passionate, detailed level. You have so much wisdom, quotes, and a lot to offer the world. Thank you for spending the time with me and the audience.

If people want to order the book and they want a physical copy, do not order it from Amazon. I’m sorry to say that they’re selling the outdated version, not the one that’s updated. If you’re going to get an eBook from them, that’s fine but not the physical copy. They’re not selling the correct version. I’ve been getting mine from Barnes & Noble. They’re doing print-on-demand as opposed to mass printing. That’s why Amazon is not able to do the current one. I’m not sure if you will have my actual website on your show but that’s another way that they can also contact me. There is a way that they can reach me through my website.

I use this wonderful platform called Bookshop to link to books. I’m curious where exactly they’re getting their copies from and if that’s more updated. It was an alternative to Amazon as I endeavor to support other platforms and give people the option as Amazon can be problematic. Bookshop, I believe sources from local bookstores but I don’t know fully how it works. Maybe this will change by the time the episode comes out too. Fingers crossed.

I welcome comments and questions that people might have through you or my website. That would be great. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I can be a bit too chatty sometimes. There seems to be so much information to try to get out.

That’s why the show is on the longer side. We don’t have to keep it short so you’re the perfect person to be on the show. Chatty people are my favorite. I’m very grateful for you.

Also, the ones that know how to make people uncomfortable. I’m great on both fronts there so that’s great.

We have that in common.

It was so great to connect and chat with you. Thanks so much for your time and this chance.

Likewise.

 

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About Arwinder Kaur

MGU 492 | Arwinder Kaur | Global ResponsibilityTraveling the world in my youth was the best education I could have received. I learned many important life lessons about what it is to be human and how differently this is defined depending on where one happened to be born or raised. How different it is depends on gender and race. What is considered “suffering” or being “free” has as much to do with one’s external circumstances as what goes on internally in our hearts and minds. What are rights and privileges, and are humans really entitled to everything we want? These questions and the truths I acquired have been critical in providing me what I refer to as a “compass for the soul.” Find the kernel of simple truths through the clutter. A lack of moral clarity that makes living in our ever-increasing world so chaotic and confusing for those who have lost their compass or never realized there was one.
I have dedicated my life to giving to those around me. After attending SFU, I became a social worker specializing in the area of child welfare for almost 30 years. I hope that, in sharing my writing, others too may find it a comfort to have a compass to help navigate their lives as humans on this planet.
After reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in 1994, I was propelled into ecological activism and writing Living While Human. I hope my words might inspire others in some manner, to act for the protection of the natural world.
I am childless by choice. I live with my genius dog Monty, near Vancouver, BC. I am also passionate about music, art and tennis.

 

 

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