March 16, 2000
Having recently returned from Watatu Island, I find myself filled with renewed enthusiasm for the school which they have established there. From the quiet majesty of their facilities, to the skill and accomplishments of their students, the list of things to admire is endless. What impresses me most, however, is that their method of education could easily be extended beyond the tight confines of Watatu.
On my first two visits, I was only able to stay a brief period of time. Thus, I observed the school as an outsider, and my examination proceeded without much comprehension. By my third visit, however, gaining insight had become an important priority. Accordingly, I cleared my schedule and devoted the better part of a year to immersion in the Watatu school and society.
My quest for understanding was aided, beyond measure, by the kind assistance of Madame Diotima, the director of the school. She was a soft-spoken, matriarchal woman, who commanded an immense amount of respect and influence. She spent many patient hours describing the intricacies of an alien culture and worldview to this painfully slow foreigner. In particular, she helped me understand the guiding mission that forms the solid center to all Watatu life: To be true to one’s own individual self, to be a integral part of the larger society, and to be an obedient child of God.
In our society, of course, such concepts carry the musty scent of a bygone era. Even if we did consider these as valid goals, we would see them as quite separate things, in opposition to one another. And yet, the Watatu view them as interrelated, and pursue them as a single objective! It was this that I found hardest to accept. At first I resisted the Watatu philosophy as assiduously as the meaningless “mission statements” I often encountered at home. Yet, as Diotima often reminded me, the Watatu mission was foundational to all the work done in the school (and outside of it as well). Gradually, with her help, I was able to release the concept from the prison of abstract idealism (where I had placed it in my mind) and to see it as something woven into the fabric of everyday life, in a surprisingly pragmatic, practical, and functional manner.
In the end, I came to see the mission, of which I had been so dismissive, as the true treasure of the Watatu. The worldview of the Watatu people turned out to be much more than the collection of superstitions I had arrogantly expected. To my surprise, their outlook held unexpected insights into the problems and opportunities faced by my own larger and more “advanced” society.
When I told Diotima about this revelation, she agreed unstintingly.
“Your society and mine,” she said, “have much to learn from each other. Here, we live in harmony and fulfillment, but our world is too small and enclosed. Someday perhaps, we can bridge the gap, and take our place in the diversity beyond. As for you, you come from a place rich in difference, but poor in understanding. My wish for you is that you come to see how unnecessary is your strife, ignorance and willful misery.
“Even if we wished to remain isolated,” she continued. “It is no longer possible. The world outside has become too much of a single place. If you have a war, we will be invaded. If you poison the ocean, our fish will die. Even if we could somehow reach perfection, it would mean nothing, unless you also solved your problems and healed your discords.”
That conversation was the inspiration for the the slim volume you hold in your hands. Modern life is too fast-paced for the slow depths of understanding favored by the Watatu. Therefore, I have tried to distill their wisdom into its vital essence, translating and reinterpreting it to be clear and accessible to a modern American (or citizen of the world), who is pressed for time, but eager for insight.
The book is divided into three large sections. The first explains the Watatu view of the individual, the society, and religion. The second section contains a description of the Watatu method of education, detailing the way it springs from their philosophy and worldview. The book concludes with further conversations on the subjects of technology and beauty.
This book has been a labor of love for me, and a difficult one. I trust that you will forgive me the times I have been insufficiently clear with the complex ideas and over-explained the easy ones. I wrote this book because I consider the information it contains to be important and valuable. I hope you will find it the same.