Paths to the culture of good living

Arthur Jackson, Painting, 1937.


Commentary on the Book of Ailton krenak

Ailton Krenak was born in 1953. An activist in the socio-environmental movement and in defense of indigenous rights, he organized the Alliance of Peoples of the Forest, which brings together riverside and indigenous communities in the Amazon. He is a commander of the Order of Cultural Merit of the Presidency of the Republic and an honorary doctor by the UFJF. Among his occupations are environmentalist, indigenous leader, graphic producer, journalist, poet and writer. Among his books are: The place where the earth rests'(2000), Ideas for postponing the end of the world (2019) 'Life is not useful (2020) and Tomorrow is not for sale (2020)

Paths to the culture of good living derives from a text elaborated from a live and preparation conversations with Ailton Krenak, held during the Bem Viver Week at Escola Parque do Rio de Janeiro, on June 17, 2020, with the title ''O Bem Viver e o Sense da Natureza'', mediated by Bruno Maia and Nina Arouca. Ailton Krenak was invited by Escola Parque to speak about Bem Viver (Good living, in spanish, or Sumak Kawsai, in Quechua), for being one of the great indigenous narrators of today, recognized not only in Brazil, but also internationally.

Good living is one of the references of the Educating for the Sustainability of the School project and the virtual meeting was attended by a diverse audience, including elementary and high school students, university students, teachers and the general public. The questions from live were made by Nina Arouca, Pedro Trindade, Antonia Alvim, Catarina Dutra, Thiago Vedova, Eduardo Russel, Nina Bocchese, Onaldo Brancante and Idjahure Kadiwel.

The work is presented in ten chapters and the format that introduces each chapter is particularly interesting. The chapters are written in clear, easy-to-read language. The author manages to penetrate into the heart of extreme and airy situations, continually persuading the reader to reflect through a direct and personal dialogue, which instigates those who are reading to deepen their gaze on the idea of ​​the profound disconnection of the human being with the Earth organism. (Gaia, Mother Earth, primordial and latent element of an immense generating potential), provoking reflections on the centrality of the human species and the way in which we are relating to the planet. Krenak's speech is current, necessary and tends to remain in vogue, as it continues to be urgent and echoing. It's a wake-up call.

The author explains that Gaia's organism has a fever because we humans are the only ones who have the ability to affect this organism in a disorderly way. And we are threatening other lives, other existences, causing a fever in this organism. It's very didactic. It's not a complicated theory. He emphasizes that life is an organism. The Earth is a materiality of that life. Our body, like that of an ant or a butterfly, is the materiality of life. Life passes us by and goes somewhere else. She doesn't stop anywhere.

This dream of the earth is this life. Life is wonderful and has no end. In this respect, the question of the meaning of human life and its connection with nature is not only related to an individual and his facticity, but also to the life of all men and living beings, because, in the adoption of any hasty conception of freedom , does not only compromise the individual, but humanity and the life of all living beings as a whole.

Krenak, in the first chapter, ''Connection'', invites us to experience some change in our form of contact. This change would be the search for connection with some element of nature. The purpose of this experience is what he called life friction: we will not live in slow motion, because the intention is to have a “start” and actually experience the intensity of this new connection. Krenak points out that this allows us to have a sensory experience, which is exactly that of crossing that distance. Finally, life, its meaning and its value take their meaning from a new connection, a connection that gives man an authentic orientation of his life.

And, in this way, receptive, man uses his freedom to build his existence in the world and project himself to transcendent ends that are beyond his world and that overcome even the apparent failure of death, as Sartre (1905-1980) supposes. , in Being and Nothingness (1997). The central objective of this reconnection is to experience a connection that is not just virtual. There is an invitation for us to make a sensory connection, in other words, with the purpose of our meeting, because that way it becomes more powerful and more encouraging for all of us.

In the second chapter, ''The Origin of Good Living'', Krenak introduces us to this beautiful concept. That as the German theologian Paulo Suess reminds us, it is not easy to express, with words, a notion as broad and complex as Good Living, which encompasses many dimensions and meanings. It can be said that it expresses, at the same time, memory and horizon – on the one hand, pre-colonial and traditional memory of the Andean world – and, on the other hand, protest and struggle against the excesses of globalized agro-industrial capitalism.

In the chapter, Krenak mentions the Quechua people. The Quechua peoples understand their past as a world immersed in Good Living, which today would be the harmonious coexistence of cosmos, nature and humanity. Political outputs assumed in the present are often based on the memory of a good, lost and idealized time, at the same time mythical and historical. This past time can be – and is – often the engine for transformations in the present reality.

In the third chapter, ''What Good Living Isn't'', Krenak warns that good living can be the difficult experience of maintaining a balance between what we can get from life, from nature, and what we can give back. It's a balance, a very sensitive balance and it's not something that we access by a personal decision. When we are inhabiting an unequally disputed Planet, and in the context here in South America, in the country we live in, which is Brazil, which has a history deeply marked by inequality, simply doing a personal exercise of saying that you will reach the state of good living it's very similar to the debate about sustainability, about the idea of ​​sustainable development.

About the question. Iara Bonin, in an article published on the website of the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI), comments that the principles of Good Living lead us to cultivate relationships of reciprocity, respect and appreciation of all forms of life. Finding alternatives in this oppressive system and building solidary relationships is the challenge posed to everyone who believes in a different world. In Brazil, we have the privilege of living with an immense cultural plurality, which also enables us to learn on a daily basis that the beauty of life lies in the difference, in the variety, in the possibility of the new, not in the uncritical adherence to a monolithic pattern, in the which there is no place for everyone.

In our egonarcissistic times, we are losing the prospects for building a united human coexistence. Mario Sergio Cortella, in We are not born ready – philosophical provocations (2015), points out that in our daily life, some popular sayings such as ''each man for himself and God for all'' or ''each monkey on its branch'' or even ''who gave birth to Mateus who rocked him ''. We live, above all, in a consumed society, in which the slightest possibility of fleeting meaning is found in the possession, even if circumstantial, of objects that are announced as being the bearers of the secret of happiness.

Very young children lost the ability to play alone, with a wonderful imaginative and abstract universe, in which nothing material needed to enter; now, they have needs built into them by our adult intelligence and conveyed by a media that is not always concerned with the formative role it plays. In contrast to this excerpt, it is worth mentioning another excerpt from the article published on the website of the Indigenous Missionary Council by Iara Bani. For her, one of the great teachings that indigenous peoples have transmitted to us, since time immemorial, is knowing how to live with Mother Earth, dedicating respect, love and deep care to her.

In the view of these peoples, the earth is more than simply the place where you live. It is sacred, capable of germinating and hosting plants, animals and an infinity of living beings, in addition to humans, composing environments where life bears fruit in all its splendor. Therefore, the land is at the base of Good Living. However, not all Brazilian indigenous communities can enjoy the right to live in their traditional territories, that is, they are unable to experience the primordial condition of Good Living. But is the saying ''let life take me, life take me'' worth it? Well, of course not. In this view, Good Living emerges as an extremely necessary alternative for changing our vision of life and our connection with the Earth.

In the fifth chapter, ''Ideia de Natureza'', Krenak points out that the foundation of each of these perspectives of Good Life and well-being is very different. Well-being is based on an idea that nature is here for us to consume. Even if we do it consciously and carefully, there is a foundation, an ontology that suggests that we humans are separate from this entity, which is nature, and that we can focus on it and take pieces of it. Take pieces of her... how? We take pieces of it by removing the mountains. We extract pieces of it by using the water, the soil, this ancient activity of humans, which is agriculture, in an exhaustive and predatory way. Even when we use science and technology, the purpose is to increase the ability to deplete that organism. We think we can consume the Earth. This is the idea of ​​well-being. For human well-being, we can consume the Earth.

The unbridled consumption by society leads to the exploitation of natural resources at ever higher levels, which has been exerting increasing pressure on the ecological systems on which humanity and other forms of life depend. Such attitudes break a principle guided by Krenak, which is that we should not affect the Earth's body and we should be equal with the Earth's body: living with intelligence in this organism that is also intelligent. Today, as Pena reminds us, there is the devastation of forests and the depletion of even renewable resources, such as drinking water, forests and soil. In addition, non-renewable resources are counting down the days to complete scarcity, such as oil reserves and various ores used to manufacture the most different products used by society.

One of the most criticized aspects of the consumer society is programmed obsolescence – or planned obsolescence –, which consists of the production of previously prepared goods to be quickly discarded, causing the consumer to buy a new product soon. Thus, consumption increases, but also increases the demand for natural resources, maximizing the production of waste, further raising the environmental problem resulting from this process.

For Pena, in addition to adopting social policies to control exaggerated consumerism, it is necessary to find alternative economic means to development based on consumption. However, it is also necessary to promote recycling policies, in addition to the reuse or reuse of products that are no longer used, thus containing the generation of waste and the unbridled demand for raw materials. These measures are vital for the effectiveness of Good Living, linked to building a good reconnection with nature.

In the sixth chapter, ''Earth as a living organism'', Krenak exposes who Gaia is. According to him, the Earth can leave us behind and go on its way. Gaia is this living, intelligent organism that will not be subordinated to an anthropocentric logic. He dismisses us. This understanding seems like a magical, romantic idea, but many scientists consider Gaia Theory [the idea that the Earth is a living organism] to be real. Even the events we are going through now are indicative that this organism is reacting. We are experiencing the fever of the planet. Krenak says that, because of this, he feels joy in inhabiting this fantastic organism that is Earth, Gaia.

Still according to him, for many cultures, many traditions originated here in this place, which is this Planet. For some other narratives, there is the possibility that this Planet itself, the one with which we share life, is such a fantastic phenomenon, constituted perhaps billions of years ago by other stars and transformations that took place in other galaxies. So that's wonderful. We can be part of this story that belongs to the cosmos, to the Universe. That's why indigenous people have a worldview. However, as he declared in an interview with Anna Ortega, in the Journal of UFRGS: ''We are disorganizing life here on the planet, and the consequences of this may affect the idea of ​​a common future – in the sense of us not having a future here with other beings. Humans are finally included in the endangered species list''.

Finally, it is worth commenting on the eighth chapter, ''Pandemic''. In it, Krenak emphasizes that we have to understand that this wonderful organism on Earth is not silly. He is smart and has fantastic power. His power is incalculable. So this living organism, intelligent and offended by our rudeness, can erase us, and we won't be missed. Like the billions of other beings that inhabit the Planet, we are one. If you take us out, we've already wiped out a list of species, you know that. On this issue, in an interview given to the Journal of UFRGS, he stated the following: ''The pandemic event was mainly seen as a “terrible threat against the human”. Of course, the human was so comfortable in the dominant position that a virus destabilized this dismal confidence. It broke that trust''.

Another interesting statement made in the interview is the following: ''This bellicose discourse that the search for a vaccine has restored is as if we had a declaration that the enemy is inside the house. Well, he doesn't have it out of the house. In the Earth's organism, the planet's biosphere has no externality. Companies tend to leave the damage they cause out of their accounts''.

The pandemic arises as an effect of our lack of connection with the Earth, so we need to re-establish our connection with Gaia, seek a better relationship with her, learn from her, recognize and respect her. Only in this way will we achieve our perspective of Good Living and, by achieving it, we will finally be able to live in harmony with everything that surrounds us. And as Krenak reminds us: “O Bem Viver is a production. It is not something that is ready for us to appropriate (…) It will also demand a donation from each one, so that the world around us is collaborative, welcoming and that stimulates the creation of life”.

In general, it is a guide for those who want to know more about critical thinking, mainly from a practical point of view. It has an adequate format, which facilitates reading-study, serving for self-learning, without necessarily the help of an instructor or teacher. I suggest reading it for all audiences and those interested in understanding and applying critical thinking in everyday life situations.

*Vanderlei Tenorio is a journalist and is studying geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).



Ailton Krenak. Paths to the culture of good living. São Paulo, Cultura do Bem Viver, 2020. 36 pages.



SARTRE, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: Phenomenological Ontology Essay. Petrópolis, RJ: Voices, 1997.

CORTELLA, Mario. We are not born ready – philosophical provocations. Petropolis, Voices, 2015.

SESS, Paul. Elements for the pursuit of Good Living (Sumak Kawsay) for everyone and always.

BONIN, Iara. Indigenous Good Living and the future of humanity. Indigenous Missionary Council. Available in:

KRENAK, Ailton. Earth can leave us behind and go on its way. Interview granted to Anna Ortega. Journal of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, p. 1-11, Nov, 2020. Available at: < Ailton Krenak: “Earth can leave us behind and follow its path” | (>.

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