J. Donald Walters’ (Swami Kriyananda) newest book, Hope for a Better World!, is a “call to action” to anyone who is interested in cooperative communities. Though largely based upon Walter’s involvement with Ananda Village, which Walters founded in 1968, the book never mentions Ananda by name, but rather describes the underlying principles that have made Ananda one of the most successful communities in the world.
History’s great theories don’t work
Walters states, unequivocally, that change begins with the individual, not with grandiose theories that don’t take into account flesh and blood human beings. Much of the book is devoted to analyzing the theories of great thinkers such as Plato, Copernicus, Machiavelli, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Walters shows not only how their influence has proved adverse, but also offers deeply considered alternatives.
Yet, as Milton Staackman says in the introduction, “This book…doesn’t reject the wisdom of the past. It is even-handed, intelligent, and respectful of the genius every culture possesses. At the same time, it repeatedly asks a very simple question: ‘Does it work?’” This key question shows why the great theories of history have failed to create the perfect world.
Communism, for instance, while promising a utopia, has inflicted only misery on large segments of humanity. Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, which advised rulers to behave ruthlessly, became a virtual bible for men like Napoleon and Hitler and ultimately led to their downfall. Sigmund Freud offered learned theories, but concentration on one’s problems, as distinguished from positive life goals, is clearly not the best way to reach a solution.
A need for practical solutions
In a recent interview Walters said of these authors, “I realized that most of them had simply asked the wrong questions. It wasn’t so much that they were wrong given their own contexts. Rather, it was that the contexts were too narrow. And the conclusions they came to were discouraging, not hopeful. I saw in every case that their vision was limited.”
Walters goes on to say that first and foremost what cooperative communities have to offer is practical solutions, not mere theories. What is needed, according to Walters, is a change in consciousness, something that small groups in particular can demonstrate. As people see changes in action, they will be convinced. The beauty of conducting small experiments is that they can be adjusted as necessary by those interested in doing so, instead of trying to force the experiments on people who aren’t interested.
Cooperation: a key to success
The “great thinkers” of the past based their theories upon the idea of competition between individuals, but Walters shows that cooperation is the key to success in any field of endeavor. Drawing upon his personal experience in developing communities, he describes how, by fostering a spirit of cooperation, communities can inspire people to fulfill their own higher potentials and to deepen their relationships with others.
Walters argues persuasively that just as the Wright Brothers persuaded people that a heavier than air object could fly, even though all the experts said it was impossible, so also will people be convinced of the value of small communities when they see for themselves the kinds of changes communities make possible.
Hope for a Better World! offers compelling solutions to many of the challenges that face humanity today. In so doing, it succeeds in offering real hope for a better world.