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Finding the Good Life

Roderick Haig-Brown lived with his wife Ann and their four children in a modest farmhouse on the banks of the Campbell River.  Roderick was a writer and magistrate, as well as a respected advocate for the environment and social justice.  His writings indicate that he was very satisfied with the life he was living. “I am, after all, about as happily and comfortably situated as any man could ask to be” he expressed just prior to being deployed to serve in World War II.  They lived simply, gardening for both food and pleasure, reading, working and being very involved in the community.  This thoughtful man’s philosophies about life and the world around him often ring as much or even more true today than they did in his time, and there are lessons to be learned from his writing about how to be satisfied in life.

In 1970 he wrote, “If there is a common denominator in this search for a life of meaning and quality, it is this: a desire to work with people and for people, either directly or in such a way that the effort is plainly dedicated to the ideal.  It is a people-oriented rather than profit-oriented philosophy and by extension is concerned with all living things rather than inanimate objects.”  Beyond Campbell River Roderick was known for his environmental activism and his writing.  Eventually he was honoured as a person of National Historic Significance due to these contributions to the country.  However, working for and with people is one of the things people in Campbell River remember most of Roderick and Ann.  Today the Ann Elmore Transition House, an organization dedicated to helping people, is an example of the significant ways that the local community has chosen to honour this couple.

A conservationist at heart, Roderick Haig-Brown had concerns about how development, especially with boom and bust economies, impacted the environment.  He also looked at the impact on individuals’ quality of life living with the economic uncertainties and the environmental degradation of unrestrained development.  “It is difficult to know how much or how little human happiness grows out of such a boom, but the total seems less than before.  There are more worried and anxious and uncertain people that there were before,” he notes describing a boom and bust economy in the community of Elkhorn.  “Even the most ambitious of them speak regretfully of simplicities they loved in the earlier Elkhorn, which now seems lost in the surge of progress they called for”. 

In his book Measure of the Year, Roderick considers the relationship between that which we consider progress, to that which people most desire – happiness, and suggests that the true value to people be considered when making decisions about development.  “The sanctity of “progress” with its tricky little catch phrase, “We can’t stand in the way of progress,” seems suddenly false and treacherous.  It is a good time to ask, “Why can’t we?”, to a thing called “development” in terms of values that already exist, in its relationship to the economy of the whole nation and the whole continent; above all, in its relationship to human happiness.”

(This article was written by Erika Anderson and appeared in the Campbell River Mirror in February 2017.)