John Robbins is the author of THE NEW GOOD LIFE: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less. He is also author of the international bestseller DIET FOR A NEW AMERICA: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth, THE FOOD REVOLUTION: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World, HEALTHY AT 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, THE AWAKENED HEART: Meditations on Finding Harmony in a Changing World, and RECLAIMING OUR HEALTH: Exploding the Medical Myth and Embracing the Source of True Healing. John’s work has been the subject of cover stories and feature articles in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Life, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many of the nation’s other major newspapers and magazines. His life and work have also been featured in an hour long PBS special titled Diet For A New America.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Welcome, John Robbins.
JOHN ROBBINS: Thank you Caryn. I’m really glad to be with you and thank you for having me.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I’ve been looking forward to this for a very, very long time. So lets get started, there’s a lot to talk about. You’ve probably talked about how you got on this path probably thousands and thousands of times. I know I’ve told your story hundreds of times but just so the listeners know a little bit about you, can you just give a little brief introduction about what got you on “the path”?
JOHN ROBBINS: Well, yes. I have told it so many times but I was born into the Baskin Robbins family. My dad and uncle were the founders and owners of the company. My dad had planned for me to succeed him, take over the company and run it with him and he groomed me for that purpose. As my own values began to emerge I felt pulled in a very different direction and I walked away from that. I didn’t work with him any longer. I told him I didn’t want to have any access or dependence on his financial achievements. So I led a very different life than the one he had outlined for me and lived very simply, very frugally, trying to create a lifestyle in harmony with the earth and be an advocate for that way of life that respects the planet, respects ourselves as part of the earth community and respects the whole web of life so that we don’t prey on it so that our economy isn’t predatory, isn’t exploitive, so that it could become sustainable—which it hasn’t done. Now we’re seeing the impact of that. The tremendous cost that the ecosystems are paying for our economic activities and for the way we have defined prosperity, the way we have sought success—the “old good life” I call it. Shop till the planet drops. I’ve written my new book, The New Good Life, because I think there is another vision of prosperity and success and human fulfillment and how we might live together on this earth.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I think what I loved most about this book were your personal stories. I know people like to read about other people and their experiences and there were some things that I didn’t know about you so it was really fun to read. How you did live so simply with your wife Deo for a period of time in this log cabin of sorts.
JOHN ROBBINS: It was a log cabin, it wasn’t “of sorts”, it literally was. I built it. After I left Baskin Robbins we had to live very simply. We wanted to live beautifully though. We wanted a quality of life even though we had very, very little money. We ended up buying some land on a very remote part of a small island off the coast of British Columbia. We actually paid only $1500 for the land. Then I built a one room log cabin on it. That’s where we lived for the next ten years. We grew most of our own food during that time. Our son Ocean was born into my hands in that cabin. It was a very, very simple life. It really was a pendulum swing from the way I had grown up because in the family in which I grew up in I used to jokingly say, although it was only half joking, that roughing it meant that room service was late.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Well you know it is all perspective.
JOHN ROBBINS: Money can really isolate people. A lot of people with money use it to isolate themselves from others’ suffering. But when you do that you disconnect from your ability to respond to other people’s suffering in a constructive way. If you’re not feeling it, if you’re not connected to it, you don’t respond to it. That’s led to a tremendous gap between the rich and the poor, frankly between the ultra-rich and just about everyone else now. That annoys me, that offends me, that angers me, it grieves me because it’s not a way to live. It’s not in alignment with our compassion at all. It’s not sustainable socially and it leads to economics of privilege rather than economics of nourishment.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We’ve all been socialized to appreciate this old good life that you describe. You bring up lots of good things in this book and lots of remedies to get to a better place but it’s really challenging because some of the things for example that you mention in the book…I live this book and I try my best in my own personal life. We live in New York City. We don’t own a car. We take the subway. I don’t use a dryer for my laundry. We can’t hang it out because we’re not allowed to but I dry clothes in the house. I’m always thinking what can I do to live more lightly on the planet. OK, good for me. When I think of everyone else, they think I’m nuts. People connect certain things to poverty. I know there are some people that connect riding a public bus with poverty.
JOHN ROBBINS: Yeah, I remember being with a family once and a bus drove by and the kid, there was a ten or eleven year old boy, and he said something like “there’s all the poor people.”
CARYN HARTGLASS: So it’s going to be a big leap for a lot of people to get past that.
JOHN ROBBINS: Yes, there is and it’s imperative because these stigmas—so if you don’t use a dryer but you hang out your laundry so the sun can dry it which is free and uses no fossil fuels, no coal, no oil, no energy—you get marginalized for that. Whereas that is the thing that is obviously the more appropriate for our times. Is my voice echoing there?
CARYN HARTGLASS: I don’t hear an echo but if you want we can call you back and get you a better connection.
JOHN ROBBINS: I think that we would.
CARYN HARTGLASS: OK. You hang up and we’ll be right back. While we’re waiting for John to come back I wanted to talk about a number of books that he’s written. He’s most well- known for his book Diet for a New America. It’s sold over a million copies. It’s translated into many languages. It really was groundbreaking for its time. It came out in 1987 and it talked about the connection between our food choices and the impact on obviously our health—we talk about that all the time—but the environment and the treatment of animals. There’s been a lot more discussion about it since that book came out but it was really first of its kind. That’s really what put John into the limelight and that book made a tremendous impact on so many people. We’re still talking a lot about it today. Are you back?
JOHN ROBBINS: I’m back.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I was just talking a little bit about Diet for a New America while you were gone because that was such an important book.
JOHN ROBBINS: Thank you. You know eating low on the food chain has been associated with poverty too. It’s peasant diet. We’ve looked on meat eating as the reward of affluence and the sign of affluence to the detriment of our cardiovascular system, to the detriment of the planet, to the detriment of the animals trapped in agribusiness’ factory farms, to the detriment of the people who don’t have food available who starve because grain that could have been available to them is fed to livestock.
CARYN HARTGLASS: And there are many, many more people that live outside of the Western world in developing countries that want to live more like us. Many of them are coming here and they want our lifestyle, they want our cars, they want our diet.
JOHN ROBBINS: I know, Hollywood sells it. The image is very attractive. We have developed a way of life that is high on image and low on substance, low on spirit, low on quality of connection to ourselves, to each other, low on community, high on competition. It’s a really high cost, low joy lifestyle. It’s spreading world-wide. It’s up to us here, in the belly of the beast really, to start to transform the way we live and think and the way we relate to one another so that we can live with more respect for ourselves, more respect for each other and more respect for the possibilities and opportunities of the changes that are now inevitable. Our economy is built on cheap oil to an extent that most people can’t fathom. The inevitable increase in the price of oil, the inevitable decline in the availability of oil and other non-renewable polluting energies is going to force us to restructure our economy. Are we going to do it consciously and intentionally or are we going to be victims dragged through it?
CARYN HARTGLASS: In your book you talk about the gross national product, the GDP. I read a lot about it and how it is really an inadequate model of our resources and our wealth—things that aren’t taken into consideration as if people couldn’t grow their own food.
JOHN ROBBINS: The GDP or the GNP, which are basically cousins of each other, have been the measure by which we have assessed our economic growth and productivity and prosperity. If the GDP is rising we say the economy is doing well. If it’s stagnating we get concerned. If it’s dropping we get frightened. Really, all the GDP does is measure the movement of money and from a taxation viewpoint where the movement of money is what is taxed, that makes some sense because you’re measuring what you can tax. If that’s what you want to know then that might be a valid indicator. But if you want to know anything about the quality of life that that economy is supporting the GDP and GNP are terrible indicators because they are guaranteed to get everything wrong because polluting activities count but baking bread at home doesn’t. Paying for childcare counts but taking care of your own kids, doesn’t.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s so screwed up.
JOHN ROBBINS: This BP’s oil spill in the Gulf is tremendous for the GDP. It is fantastic for the GDP but it is a catastrophe, obviously for the ecosystems of the Gulf and really the whole planet.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I like that you bring up in the book the one country in Bhutan that has the gross national happiness we’re reading about at some point and really delighted in that someone is doing something to measure…
JOHN ROBBINS: They have actually instituted as their primary governmental criteria for assessing their policies the concept of gross national happiness.
CARYN HARTGLASS: What a beautiful thing. I just love it.
JOHN ROBBINS: It is a beautiful thing and they are very protective of the environment. Mining is illegal. Hunting is illegal. It’s a Buddhist country so its reverence for life is a highly esteemed value. Ranching is illegal. They are very, very careful about their forests. Since this policy has been instituted…it’s a very poor country in monetary terms. Fifty years ago the literacy rate in Bhutan was only about ten percent. Now it’s eighty-five percent. Now, this country, which still has very few financial resources, does provide basic medical care for all of its citizens. Something that the United States with its exorbitant and extravagant levels of financial dealings is not doing. Kind of puts a little bit of shame I think on us when you compare the priorities.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I really believe it’s up to the individual to make a difference and one of the great things about you and all the books that you’ve written is you certainly walk the walk, you don’t just talk the talk. You practice everything that you preach. We all need to be, as Gandhi would say, the change that we want to see. That’s really hard for a lot of people. People say how is what I’m doing going to make a difference? I’m only one person. I really think it starts there. We have to know that each one of us…
JOHN ROBBINS: That’s one thing that we have control over, is our own choices and actions and attitudes. When you add kindness to the world you’re making a contribution that’s very different than if you add disdain. If you treat others contemptuously, if you talk down to them, if you think poorly of them, if you judge them, if you push people away with that kind of attitude, you create a vibration that then feeds out through the network of humanity in different ways. On the other hand, if you bring out the best in other people, if you treat them with respect, if you bring kindness and beauty and compassion into your life and into the way you are with others as best you can and as often as you can and you work and struggle to do that then what happens is life becomes lighter for you. The people around you have more gratitude and feel better and self-esteem grows and everything that’s good starts to bloom. This is how we do it. This is how our lives interact with one another.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It can be contagious.
JOHN ROBBINS: It is.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I know just by walking on the streets in New York City where people do not tend to smile when they don’t know you. When you smile at them you usually get a smile back. Now some people might think you’re crazy smiling because we do have some of those walking around the street too but I think it is a contagious thing where just a smile can make someone else feel better.
JOHN ROBBINS: If you live your life inhibited by the fear that other people will think you’re crazy that’s pretty constrictive. I don’t care that much what people think of me. That’s one of the steps that has given me freedom to actualize my potential and to express my creativity and to enjoy my passions and to make a difference in the world at whatever level I can.
CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s one of the secrets—not to care what other people think. In a good way, certainly your friends and family you want to know how they are and what they’re thinking but you have to follow your calling.
JOHN ROBBINS: The fear of other people’s disapproval for a lot of us it ends up running our lives—to the extent that we don’t find our unique joy and strength.
CARYN HARTGLASS: So in the early part of the book you talk about this experience you had with an old TV show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. It was really a fun story to read. I hadn’t heard about it before where you talk about they approached you to do a show and—if anyone remembers that show—it was specifically about how the very rich live and you get to see this overwhelming, abundant and luxury and consumption. I guess you’re supposed to dream that this is the ideal life and just catching a glimpse of it is a good thing. But you weren’t living that way.
JOHN ROBBINS: No. We were kind of the opposite of it. Yet they called me and wanted to do a show on me, feature me. I couldn’t believe it honestly because I was the opposite of everything that they’re about. I told the producer who called. I said, “you know your Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, you glorify the shallowest parts of people. Your motto should be Shop Til the Planet Drops. At a time when the environment is groaning under the impact of our out of control consumption your show doesn’t have a place as far as I’m concerned. Every spiritual tradition, every religion has taught to seek your ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment and peace through the acquiring of material things and consumption is insane and won’t get you there. Here you are preaching that very error.” So I told her I didn’t want to have anything to do with the show but she was very persistent. She said “once a year we’re allowed to do a different kind of show. Once a year, we the people on the staff, are allowed to put together a show that’s about people that are doing really good things with their wealth—philanthropists and so forth.” I said, “That’s very nice. I wish you did that show every week and once a year you did your stupid show.” At the time I had very little money. I would have loved to be a philanthropist but I didn’t have any extra money at all beyond our basic needs and even that was sometimes a challenge. So I said “you know I don’t live that way.” She said “some of us on the staff have read your books and we think they’re incredibly important. We want to get your message out to an audience that’s very large and probably would not be exposed to it. We want to be creative and find a way to do this with you.” That kind of won me over so I said, “well I guess…” and they did it. They ended up doing something very tasteful and beautiful. They had me on this show—this is Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, of all shows—and I am quoting Thoreau saying “I make myself rich by making my wants few.” That’s really not their typical message but they have me on there quoting it. They show our little home. It was actually fun. At the end of the show, the end of the segment on me anyway, they brought up a photograph of the earth from space. It was first taken in 1969 when we first saw the planet suspended amongst the stars, this beautiful jewel, this exquisite thing, the first image of the whole earth that we had. They brought up that photograph. They had lovely music behind it and they kept that image on the screen for some time which is unusual. They usually flip the images constantly to keep you uncentered and susceptible to advertising’s predations. They left it up there and they said “this man’s life goes to show that he who believes “he who dies with the most toys wins” doesn’t see the whole picture.” And there was the photograph of the whole earth.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Almost like the earth was sending us that message.
JOHN ROBBINS: I felt that if this message that I’m trying to advocate for and understand and my life represents to people can be found on a show like that, of all places, then something is going on here beyond what meets the eye.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Let’s continue talking about the media because that’s one of the reasons why we’re in this damaged place that we’re in today. People in general tend to be like sheep. We want what we see others having. We want what we see on television telling us what we want, telling us what to think. Just as a tiny little silly example, last night on the news there was this brief little program, a researcher talking about plastic bags and canvas bags and kind of giving a warning about canvas bags that you have to be really careful because you have to wash them because if they get dirty you might spread some bacteria and do horrible things. They did tell that the research was done by the companies that make plastic bags. Crazy kinds of information come from the media that make people very confused and misguided.
JOHN ROBBINS: They are always trying to show the opposition side. Like with global warming, the scientific consensus—that the earth is warming due in part to human activities and the burning of fossil fuels and the building up of carbon in the atmosphere—is overwhelming. The degree of unanimity amongst climatologists is extraordinary. They are saying not only that it’s happening, but that it’s happening rapidly, it’s extremely dangerous to the future of human life on earth, to the nature of civilization. Yet the media treats it as if that’s half the story and the skeptics have the other half. They give them equal time as if they were equally valid. That keeps people confused. That plays very deeply into the pockets of the oil industry, the coal industry, the status quo basically. I think everyone of us has an opportunity to be complicit, an accomplice, to the status quo or everyday revolutionaries—warriors for a different way of life.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I like that.
JOHN ROBBINS: That is the choice that we make. We make it every day.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It really surprises me sometimes, even in relatively intelligent sources—the in the New York Times this past weekend there was an in-depth article about the tuna industry and about how blue fin tuna is now on its way out because of this aggressive hunting and fishing that’s going on. It was really in-depth and talking about even in fish farming how lots of smaller fish and algae need to be scooped out of the ocean to feed these farmed fish and how inefficient it is. And yet at the end of this small type, many page in-depth article never did he say we should eat lower on the food chain and we should all be eating more plant foods.
JOHN ROBBINS: It’s that more is better mentality that we’ve had that makes it very difficult for us to face that it’s our choices, our lifestyles, our actions, our consumption, that is driving, in this case the strip mining of the ocean, the extinction of fish stocks and the pollutions of the oceans which is contributing to—as well as is our voracious consumption—to the decimation of the fish stocks and whole ecosystems of the oceans between our over-fishing, our pollution. One example of which is egregious, egregious, geyser of oil and methane erupting into the Gulf of Mexico right now.
CARYN HARTGLASS: And one of the messages we get is to eat more fish.
JOHN ROBBINS: Yes.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Keep these fishermen in business.
JOHN ROBBINS: They won’t be in business for long in the Gulf. That accident is a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions really. It’s illustrating how unsustainable our entire way of life is. When you say somebody is successful isn’t it what that you’re actually saying they’ve made a lot of money or have a lot of money?
CARYN HARTGLASS: Absolutely.
JOHN ROBBINS: So we define success in monetary terms. When we do that and we do that so commonly that we don’t even think about it but when we do that I think we actually impoverish ourselves. It leads to people equating their self worth with their net worth. It leads to people thinking that only by having more money and spending more money and having more stuff and projecting the image that you can when you do that of the successful person that you can be well thought of.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We need to talk a lot more about that because it’s a very important point but we’re going to take a little break.
Hi I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food and I have with me John Robbins who’s the author of the very wonderful new book The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in the Age of Less.
Caryn Hartglass: John, we were just talking about success. This is such an important topic because so many people really feel that money is what defines success.
John Robbins: Yes but that’s not going to be possible in the coming economy. It’s really hard for many people to comprehend the degree to which our economy has been based on cheap oil. There is debate now about whether we have reached or when we will reach what is called “peak oil”. That date may only be known with any certainty in retrospect. What we do know for certain now is that we have reached the day of “tough oil”. Any new oil discoveries, any new ability to extract oil from the earth is costly. It is difficult. It is in difficult places to reach. It is in unstable political situations. It is nonconventional oil such as from oil sands and shale. These are all things that are very expensive and polluting to get at. The low-hanging fruit in terms of oil has been harvested. Now it’s much harder and more costly to get oil. The good news on that is that as the price of oil goes up, and it will, predictably and painfully…
CARYN HARTGLASS: I shouldn’t be buying a new car then.
JOHN ROBBINS: No. Buy a Prius or a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid or an electric car or an electric bike. You know? That’s what I’m looking into personally. The point is that we have to find a way to uncouple our economy from oil. That’s going to mean local food and local energy sources. It’s going to mean everything local. On the good side, it may mean recovery to a degree of our manufacturing base which we’ve basically given up on. We’ve been buying all our stuff from China because the cost of labor there is so much lower and the corporations aren’t hampered by environmental regulations or human rights concerns. The cost of transporting the goods is going to increase as the price of oil goes up. With that the cost advantage of that cheap labor is going to go away. So maybe we can start to create jobs again in this country that are green.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You know, just like you had pointed out in your first book, Diet For A New America about how our food choices impact not only our health but the environment and the treatment of animals, one thing that I was always reminded of was that eating a plant-based diet was good for all reasons. There were no negative downsides to that. It benefited so many different things so taking it up a notch I would like to believe that the things that we’re going to do, that we have to do—bringing industry local and making most, if not all, of the things that we need in our own local communities—is going to be good for everything, for all reasons, for the planet, for the environment, for our own well-being, for our economy.
JOHN ROBBINS: If we take the reins that’s what will happen. If we do business as usual and just continue trying to find our economic prosperity through more and more growth and globalization and don’t recognize the limitations of our oil addiction, really, it’s going to be rough. It’s going to be brutal.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Yeah, it is. OK, so I’m a believer as I mentioned before, that it’s really up to us, as individuals to make a difference in our lives and move forward. I’ve been reading a bit about some of the very rich like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett who have been trying to get the other billionaires to contribute half of their wealth to good causes. How do you feel about those folks kind of doing good but also…is it up to them to kind of decide what’s right for all of us?
JOHN ROBBINS: The way we’ve structured our economy those individuals have an absolutely extravagant share of the wealth and it is in their hands at the moment what they do with that wealth. If they choose to follow the lead of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, in this case, Ted Turner started this some years ago also, and take the socially responsible path rather than the self-indulgent path, it would be a tremendous thing. And it would set an example. I think we need to develop an economic system where the money is more socially just. It’s not right that a CEO makes more money before his coffee break in one morning than the average worker in the company makes in the year.
CARYN HARTGLASS: …or in their lifetime, sometimes.
JOHN ROBBINS: …or in their lifetime, sometimes. It’s just not right and it takes a toll on all of us to have that degree of wealth separation, that big of gap. The concentration of economic resources in the hands of the very few has costs to all of us including those very few, by the way, that we don’t see when we’re hypnotized by this consumer trance. The new good life is breaking free from that trance and it’s raising your quality of life even though your standard of living which is, again, is measured in monetary terms, may be going down. We need to learn how to live elegant, beautiful, creative, passionate, loving, quality lives with less stuff, dependent on less energy from outside, more locally-based, more relationship-based so we find the joy and our capacity for joy in our relationships with one another and our relationships to the living earth and to the spirit of our times and to the best in humanity.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We all certainly need a shift in perspective about what really means something and what doesn’t. You made a good point in your book about what your real hourly wage is. It was enlightening or eye-opening to read about what our time is worth especially in terms of the jobs that we have and the salaries that we make and then in turn, as you put it, the products that we buy—how many hours of work does it take to get that?
JOHN ROBBINS: It does put a different light on your spending habits when you see how much time it takes you to acquire the resources to purchase that product or service. I’m a big fan of frugality. I don’t like waste. I don’t like to see food wasted. I don’t like to see money wasted. I don’t like to see human spirits wasted. I think if we have more time and less stuff we can be more creative, we can be more joyful. There will be more laughter in our lives, more love in our lives, more truth in our lives. We can revolt then against the oppressions that we’ve internalized. We can see the patterns that no longer serve us. We can reflect also on our public policies and become citizens again instead of just consumers. There’s been some way that we’ve been defined as consumers rather than citizens. If you can get large numbers of people to willingly acquiesce in their own brainwashing, you don’t need blatantly totalitarian government.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Just as an example, when Obama was running for president there was a tremendous surge and interest in energy and people getting all excited about making a difference but unfortunately once he took office I think people felt like, “ok, it’s up to this guy to make everything better for us and we can go back to doing everything that we’ve been doing.” People just don’t take enough responsibility for their own lives.
JOHN ROBBINS: I thought Obama was a really exciting candidate. I do not find him to be a really exciting president. How that got lost is still a bit an enigma to me. What’s very, very clear is that each of us is going to have to take a great deal of responsibility for the quality of our lives in the days to come. A lot of the old assumptions that were the basic tenets of the American faith are no longer valid or credible. For example, it used to be understood that if you worked hard and showed up and were honest and cooperated you could count on a decent life—raising your kids, putting them through college, medical care when you needed it, a decent retirement. If you did your part and played by the rules, you could count on that. But now it isn’t really true any more and it’s not going to be true. People are going to have to be much more creative, inventive and responsible in their economic lives and are going to need to learn how to live better in an age of less. That’s why I wrote the New Good Life really, is to give people solid ground on which they can build their economic lives in these times to come, in the coming economy.
CARYN HARTGLASS: There’s a lot of wonderful things in this book. I really encourage everybody to pick up a copy. There’s just lots of very practical, good information in addition to uplifting, inspiring information. One of the things that I liked is what you wrote your wife Deo when your daughter “in love”…
JOHN ROBBINS: I am very fortunate to live actually in a three generational situation. My wife and I have been married 44 years. We live with our 36 year old son and his wife who is our daughter-in-love and has lived with us for 16 years and their sons, our grandtwins who are 9 and a half. The boys were born extremely premature. There was substantial and repeated oxygen deprivation to their brains at birth and afterwards which is not a good thing. They have a lot of special needs. Raising them is quite exhausting sometimes. It’s very demanding and it’s a very good thing that there are four adults here, four parents really. My wife and I are very involved. Deo, my wife, in particular spends a great number of hours with the boys. One day Michele, our daughter-in-love, was thanking Deo, my wife, for the great number of hours she puts in and she said to her, “Do you have any idea of how much money you’re saving us in childcare?” Deo shot me a look that just said volumes to me about how much she enjoys often playing with the boys and also how she didn’t want Michele to feel indebted. What she said was, she said something so amazing, she said, “Well that’s one way of looking at it. On the other hand, do you have any idea how much money you’re saving us? Do you know how much it would cost us if we had to go out and rent grandchildren?” So that’s the new good life. If generations are together and if the values are compatible which is a necessity for generations to be together, it can be a wonderful thing. It’s really traditional. That’s the way people have lived throughout the centuries. I think that there’s an awful lot of kids today who don’t even know their grandparents.
CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s right.
JOHN ROBBINS: That’s a loss. That’s a tragedy really in the community of America.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Yes, I agree.
JOHN ROBBINS: It’s a loss to the children and it’s a loss for the grandparents, too.
Caryn Hartglass: …everyone…
JOHN ROBBINS: It’s a loss to the parents because they need the help.
CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s right. It’s tough though because not everyone can live together like your family does.
JOHN ROBBINS: I understand that. I wouldn’t want to live with my parents. So I totally get it. As I said, “if your values are compatible” or congruent, in a way, then it works. We can always have extended families. You know Hilary Clinton wrote a book with a title based on an African proverb that it takes a whole village to raise a child. If you’re raising special needs twins the way we are, it takes two villages or three. I’m really grateful for all the friends and our extended family, our community that helps out and pitches in and supports in different ways. When times are difficult we need each other.
CARYN HARTGLASS: People may not know this but you recently experienced something very difficult in terms of your financial situation with Bernie Madoff.
JOHN ROBBINS: Yes, we lost 95% of our net worth overnight. I was not an investor with Bernie Madoff. I had never heard of Bernie Madoff but I had invested our money with a financial advisor who was a dear friend. He had invested it in a company that then got invested three steps down the line with Madoff. So I didn’t know it and I was told things about our investment that turned out to be untrue, quite a number of them actually. What happened to us overnight was very, very hard to deal with but there’s a lot of people who are losing the rug from under their feet today, economically. A lot of people, maybe not overnight, maybe over the course of a year or two, a lot of people are finding that the things that they relied on for their economic security aren’t there any more. The things that they were counting on for their retirement, the things they were counting on to sustain their lives aren’t there. This kind of suffering can be very, very challenging to people’s lives. It’s really the reason I wrote The New Good Life is to help people live better than ever even with this kind of adversity, even with the limitations that this involves. There are ways to do it where you find your resilience, where you find your resourcefulness, where you find your ability to respond to these challenges, to this adversity in ways that really serve your spirit and serve your relationships. Someone once said that joys that are shared amongst friends are doubled, sorrows that are shared amongst friends are halved. That’s the spirit anyway in which I’m talking, that when we work together and build relationships of respect and mutual reciprocity and courageous commitment to our own and each other’s well-being then we can go through these difficult times with intelligence, with wisdom instead of with fear and agitation.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You co-authored a book about twenty years ago in 1991 with Ann Mortifee In Search of Balance…
JOHN ROBBINS: It was later released as The Awakened Heart actually.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Right. Do you ever go back to that book and read some of the profound things that are in here? It’s almost like many little prayers and meditations.
JOHN ROBBINS: Yes, that’s really what it is. Pretty much on a daily basis, not necessarily read that book, but I write things like we wrote in that book. I’m trying to center myself in my spiritual potential. I’m trying to find my solid ground in what really matters and let my mind be guided by the wisdom of my heart and of our collective heart because that’s where our courage is in that connection with one another. I don’t mean heart in the sentimental sense. I mean heart in the sense of courage, strength, that which grounds us in our commitment to accomplish, to effectively persevere, to follow through, to manifest competence and strength in the way that we live together.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Did you pick the title for the book The New Good Life?
JOHN ROBBINS: Actually it was my agent who thought of that title. I love it though.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I love it too. Was it in any connection with Scott and Helen Nearing’s book?
JOHN ROBBINS: Yes, it was. Helen Nearing was a very dear friend of mine and of our family’s. I didn’t know Scott except through his work. I met Helen shortly after Scott died. They of course wrote The Good Life. They had the Good Life Center in Maine. At one time Helen wanted to bequeath that to Deo and I. She saw us in many ways as the successors to them, the way that they were living and what they were about. She was a life long vegetarian and a very spiritual woman. Her first boyfriend had been Jiddu Krishnamurti, the famous philosopher and she left him for Scott. Pretty fine people, she had lots of fine people in her life, a wonderful, wonderful woman. She and Scott were true mentors and exemplars for many generations.
CARYN HARTGLASS: What I find interesting about it is… my understanding is that they left the world that they were in to this new life, this good life, where it was a time in the depression and they were both professionals and then decided to buy some land up in Vermont and just farm. The story is fascinating. They had balance in their lives. They would work hard for part of the day but then they made sure they had time for reading and relaxing and being with friends.
JOHN ROBBINS: You’ve got to have time for loafing. The importance of loafing has got to be understood. By loafing I do not mean watching television and mind numbing activities. What I do mean is time that you can be creative, time for hobbies, times to hang out with people, times to watch the sunrise or sunset, times to dance and sing, times to celebrate the transitions of your lives and the lives of people that are in your circles, times to be with those who are hurting and help to be a strength at those times. We need time for that. If all of our time is spent in making money and spending it, as is the case for a great number of Americans, then we don’t have enough time left for our souls, to nurture our souls, to take care of our souls and to take care of the earth and to take care of our animals and to take care of our friends and to take care of our family and our deepest human needs then don’t get met while we are busy satisfying wants that really aren’t essential, that have been imposed on us by advertising and the corporate agenda. The ability to make a discernment between our real true needs and our external wants that are extraneous, that are alienating, that are superficial—to make that distinction—and then to structure our lives in terms of our true needs, to me that is one of the underlying principals of the new good life.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You’ve written many wonderful books and they are all worth reading: Diet For A New America, May All Be Fed, Reclaiming Our Health, The Food Revolution, the book you co-authored The Awakened Heart, Healthy at 100, and now this new book. You’ve also been posting articles on Huffington Post recently that have been really very informative and you have a website johnrobbins.info where there’s all kinds of wonderful things up there as well. One thing I noticed you ended all of your books except this one with “may all be fed, may all be healed, may all be loved” and I know that that’s a sign post on the path to your home. It’s really a beautiful combination of statements. But this book you ended a little differently, “may your time on this earth fill your heart to overflowing, may love be your blanket piece, your pillow and joy your constant companion.” Is there a reason why you chose some new words?
JOHN ROBBINS: Oh, I don’t know Caryn. They say the same thing to me. Sometimes I change the words just to keep my mind awake. The prayer may all be said, “may all be healed, may all be loved.” It’s inscribed in my cells. It occupies my thoughts to an extent that I can’t even describe. It’s in my breath, it’s in my dreams, it’s really in every moment of my being. It’s also a prayer on behalf of all of us and that’s one of the key things. I’ve never thought that personal satisfaction, personal fulfillment is, in and of itself, sufficient. It’s nice and I want all of us to have that but at a certain point the commitment of my life certainly is inclusive and as long as there’s anyone who’s starving to death or suffering from preventable illnesses that we aren’t preventing because of our lifestyles, because of our pursuit of the old good life then I’m not satisfied and I’m not at peace. I need us all to recognize the human family and our role in it. If my success is dependent on your poverty, if my consumption levels and satisfactions of those desires is dependent on the violation of cultures or of animals or of ecosystems or of segments of our society, it’s not success, it’s not valid, it’s not credible to me. I’m always listening for ways that we can awaken together into our responsibility to one another.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We just have a couple of minutes left. I know so many people are just overwhelmed in their lives with their responsibilities and when they hear things like this about how to make a difference, deep in their heart they want to, but they’re just so overwhelmed, is there a good place to start?
JOHN ROBBINS: Start anywhere you can. Start where you are. Start to find ways to live with more respect for yourself. Start to find ways to live with more respect for other people. From that every step leads you closer to the heart of life, closer to the powers that you carry inside yourself. Calm your mind. Simplify your life. Get out of debt. Be free to be the beautiful, magnificent, loving, caring human being that you are.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I wish that for all of us
JOHN ROBBINS: Me, too. Thank you Caryn. You’re an inspiration to me, always have been and I’m sure you are to all of our listeners.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Thank you so much. Thank you for this book and everything that you’ve written and everything in the future that you’re going to give to the world.
JOHN ROBBINS: Thank you.
Transcribe by Suzanne Kelly, July 27, 2015