Bentoism, or the art of living well without having more than what you need

Adriano Silva - November 1, 2019 Bentoism, or the art of having exactly as much as you need, was a key takeaway from this year's Elevate Tech Fest

Please don’t spread the word, but I don’t like events.

The problem is mine, of course. I’m not good at mingling. I don’t know how to do social networking. I’m terrified that I’m being intrusive, that my timing is off, that I drag the conversation on too long – so I don’t use these opportunities to get to know people I’d like to know.

On the other hand, by failing to do so, I imagine it comes off as me being snobbish or rude. So I often just don’t attend events… which also possibly makes people think I’m withdrawn and self-sufficient.

Here’s what most people don’t realize (or simply prefer not to forgive): staying in your corner often isn’t a deliberate antisocial message but rather just plain introspection and clumsiness. The guy who isolates himself may be signaling nothing more than his own shyness.

Another discomfort of mine with events: in terms of content, it’s rare to find a talk that moves me, makes me laugh, makes me rethink something I thought I had completely understood.

Just between us: if the speech doesn’t tease me, question me or grab me by the collar, I count those minutes as an excruciating waste of time.

All this is to say that I attended Elevate, one of Canada’s biggest innovation and entrepreneurship events, in mid-September, here in Toronto. It was my first big event after moving here to launch Draft Canada.

Alongside almost 20,000 attendees, I saw Usher, Guy Kawasaki, Martha Stewart. But the talk I enjoyed most was Yancey Strickler’s, co-founder of Kickstarter, perhaps the world’s largest crowdfunding platform. (Kickstarter launched in 2008 and inspired other crowdfunding sites, like Catarse, created in Brazil in 2011. Strickler was the CEO of Kickstarter between 2014 and 2017.)

Here’s my take on Strickler’s 15-minute pitch (all the Elevate pitches were very short) named after his just-released first book, “This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World”.

Bentoism: having a little of everything without having anything in excess.

What happens if capitalism deteriorates? A tough question, but Strickler didn’t back away from it as he jumped into the relationship between people and companies, lining up weak and strong signals and some interesting data from the US business environment.

As companies move increasingly toward what he called “financial maximization” – pressure for very short-term gains in immediate relations (or in nonrelations marked by the most arid materialism and the most cynical selfishness), all the emphasis today rests on the “I” and none on the “we”; all energies focus on securing the “now” and none on securing the “future,” he said.

That’s where the concept of Bentoism comes in. Bento – Japanese meals, pre-assembled in compartmentalized boxes – is governed by a few rules. Among them: having a little of everything without having anything in excess, and offering a varied and colorful diet in a harmonious and frugal gastronomic experience.

All the emphasis today rests on the “I” and none on the “we”; all energies focus on securing the “now” and none on securing the “future.”

Bento is designed to satisfy 80 per cent of your hunger, leaving room for your appetite to grow until the next meal. It prevents you from ingesting more than you need and compulsively harming yourself and the world surrounding you.

A cool concept that applies to both life and business, Bentoism speaks of balance, respect for the available resources, self-consciousness and awareness of the contributions you need to make the reality in which you live.

Bentoism is also about efficiency. Strickler calls for a more generous world, but we could also think of a more efficient world as we manage what we intake for our survival and well-being and what we dump on the other side in the form of waste.

This reasoning goes for companies and people alike. And not just for consumption, but also for investments, business administration and relationship management. It’s a call for more sustainability in economic activities and exchanges between individuals.

It’s about not taking more than the fair amount from others – your employee, your boss, a customer, a supplier, a member of your family. (We could also include here the animals and plants that share life with us on this planet. Or, if we want, we could consider Earth itself and its finite energy and mineral resources.)

“It’s a call for more sustainability in economic activities and exchanges between individuals.”

We’re talking here about giving back to others the benefits they granted us. After all, if accumulation means taking more from the world than what you give back to the world, then accumulation is a problem.

Most likely, you’ve heard the term “zero carbon footprint” – our obligation to produce oxygen in equal amounts to the carbon dioxide we emit. But we can also talk about zero footprint in garbage production, energy consumption and even the number of children we plan to bring into the world.

Let’s go further, extending this idea to the foods you eat, the clothes you wear or the time you demand from others. How about achieving zero footprint on your relationship with women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people? So far this year, have you made more people smile than frown? Have you caused more joy than discomfort?

Zeroing your impact on the planet is almost like zeroing your karma. Make sure you won’t fade away indebted to future generations. Make sure you leave behind a positive legacy that is at least equivalent to the resources you consumed in your time here.

This way of thinking appeals to me. As a child, I had a somewhat stoic upbringing in a materially austere home life, with both ecological and anti-capitalist motivations. I have always carried with me a personal motto: not to waste anything.

“So far this year, have you made more people smile than frown? Have you caused more joy than discomfort?”

When I was little, I made the most of the resources available. Saving anything that could still be used was a matter of survival both for me and my family. Today I have more than I need, but I still act the same way. Still for the sake of survival – though perhaps now a collective, generational kind of survival.

What started early in life as just a sentiment has, over the years, become a personal ethic and yardstick for decision-making: in theory, none of us should do anything that would be unsustainable if everyone else decided to do it, too.

Or: If you take actions and make choices that would implode the system if others took the same actions and made the same choices, that is a problem. You’d be entitling yourself with a right that should not be yours alone.

It’s not easy to live by this axiom. But it must be clear that every time we act outside this rule, we overload the gears and generate privileges on one side and scarcity on the other. (And your children and grandchildren will be the ones suffering from the shortages caused by your excesses in a few years.)

That’s why Bentoism made so much sense to me. I am, in a way, a Bentoist avant la lettre. Thank you, Strickler. I will read your book.

Adriano Silva is Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of Draft Canada. He is also the Founder and CEO of Projeto Draft, launched in Brazil in 2014.

Photo by Richard Iwaki on Unsplash


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