When I was an adolescent, I was very impatient with anyone who expressed a “good old days” mindset.
Like many young people, I just wanted to get on with my life, become immersed in the future, not the past. I still am of a “let’s get on with it” state-of-mind kind of guy, and that is perhaps why I am a travel journalist-gypsy and perpetual adolescent.
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
However, time, personal struggles, and the lessons in empathy taught to me by many who had no idea they were engaging in that mentoring role, eventually allowed my personal worldview to coalesce.
Don’t get me wrong; I still do not “believe in” the so-called good old days — I still am very wary of nostalgia and the selective memory that goes with it — but in an existentialist way, I suppose, I now have the advantage of time and distance to understand why certain common sense universal truths and concepts so evident to so many hard-working people in the past are still operative and enduring in the 21st century.
And this, once again, was confirmed in Slovenia.
The principles, practices, and values inherent in the Slovenia Tourist Farms organization are not in any way old-fashioned, archaic, nor spent energy. Quite the opposite; they are as relevant today as they have always been. That is the nature of universality.
Small is indeed beautiful
As I did my best to process the facts, figures, and sometimes overwhelming issues of Climate Change at the FIJET annual Congress in Slovenia (and in its exquisite capital city of Ljubljana), a phrase kept coming back to me: “Small is beautiful.”
Published in 1973, Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered by the economist Ernest Friedrich Schumacher, was one of those definitive and conscious-raising books (not unlike Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring) that was both ahead of its time and is now timeless.
Schumacher’s ideas on economics are as relevant today, especially in terms of the discourse over Climate Change, as they were in 1973. The year 1973 doesn’t seem all that far away (at least to some of us), but it is interesting how his commentary and critique of Western economics, especially as they applied to energy and what eventually we would start referring to as globalization, resonate so strongly today.
His emphasis on the pricelessness of finite natural resources, his articulation of the need for economic systems that have sustainability built into them, and his assertion that bigger is not better, that growth is not inherently good — his theories questioned instead the nature of growth — are at the core of his small is beautiful worldview.
It is perhaps “smallness within bigness” that more accurately describes his philosophy and pragmatic approach. His emphasis on decentralization (the historical irony of Slovenia emerging as a highly successful tourism market from the former “collective” state of Yugoslavia is self-evident), and the integrated economic model in which the whole is the sum of the parts, working not from the top down but from the bottom up, is also the key metaphor for sustainable tourism in which the essential dynamic is a people-friendly mosaic of tourism resources that are renewable.
It is also the essence of the Slovenia Tourist Farms infrastructure.
In some respects, the success of the Slovenia Tourist Farms tourism model is easily understood because it has a clear contextual framework. Slovenia, a relatively small nation, is blessed with a geography and topography that are diverse, accessible, resource-rich, and on a human scale. From its narrow access to the Adriatic, to its sub-alpine and alpine regions, to its rich farmland and vineyards, and to its cities, towns and villages that have retained their cultural and physical coherence and authenticity, Slovenia is one of those countries that is highly accessible on so many levels.
The level on which it is most accessible, in my opinion, is on the human level.
Having said that, however, I have recently visited and interacted with other destinations that are bigger or more extensive geographically and in other ways, and have found them to be following similar principles and practices.
Canada, for example, is a huge country and yet I can point to innumerable jurisdictions here that are also following the principles of sustainable local development.
Furthermore, in the world of travel journalism, one of the essential challenges to writers and to the media outlets who publish our stuff is to not succumb to the big is better, “sexy” destinations mode of travel writing. (In my really grumpy moods I refer to such thinly-disguised advertorials as flash and trash.)
That of course is easier said than done because travel writing is a commercial activity dominated by corporate media outlets with their normal corporate agendas. But that’s a rant for another time.
In his book, Schumacher reminds us that measuring a standard of living is as much a qualitative measurement as it is quantitative. The human who consumes more is of course not always the happiest, especially if that consumption has no checks and balances.
“The way in which we experience and interpret the world obviously depends very much indeed on the kind of ideas that fill our minds. If they are mainly small, weak, superficial, and incoherent, life will appear insipid, uninteresting, petty, and chaotic. It is difficult to bear the resultant feeling of emptiness, and the vacuum of our minds may only too easily be filled by some big, fantastic notion — political or otherwise — which suddenly seems to illumine everything and to give meaning and purpose to our existence. It needs no emphasis that herein lies one of the great dangers of our time.” — Ernest Friedrich Schumacher