Thursday, January 8, 2009

“It is not in getting what we want, but in wanting what we have”

In the airport, waiting to return to Honduras, I am thinking already about my stuff that seems to be strewn all over the United States. My dog in Alabama, my personal possessions in Texas and my car in Missouri. Where will I be in 5 months? What about all of my stuff? Things, objects, materiality comes and goes. We invest so much of ourselves in these temporal ideas and belongings. When they break or disappear, or become obsolete, we worry. We pay taxes on them, buy maintenance and cleaning supplies for them, rent storage units for all of this stuff. We have grown so familiar to constantly increasing levels of material comfort. We stare at the television talking to us, inviting us to feel a void, a loss, a threat of losing this comfort.

We defend our standard of living- it’s one of the greatest in the world. But one question comes to mind. Are we better off for these things, this comfort? Maybe it’s like when we are kids and if we behave well on our dreaded doctor’s visit, there is a cherry flavored lollipop waiting for us as we leave. If we follow this often unspoken and unidentified expectation to behave properly, as an adult, ambitious career, gated communities, retirement plans, following credit card payment schedules, then we reward ourselves at the checkout. I cannot judge or chastise anyone, I am a product of the same grooming.

I once found a quote that I brandished outside my classroom door in Brownsville from some anonymous smarty pants. “It’s not in getting what we want it is in wanting what we have.” Maybe it’s a condition of our animal humanness, we always need to strive for something to keep us hunting and gathering or facing rush hour day after day. If we already had everything we needed, then what would be our purpose? So we listen to all of these well strategized and researched marketing messages in our media telling us that feelings of sadness, loneliness and regret can be removed with this patch, pill or potion. Can you see them? These layers of unfulfilled expectations and emptiness?

This sort of dissatisfaction exists everywhere I’ve seen capitalism without rationality or forethought. I’ve chased escape down the clearance aisles of the sunglasses section at the Marshall’s department store. In Honduras, I was told by someone in possession of multiple houses and cars in different countries that $12 per day is a decent wage for his worker, a father feeding a family of four in the slums. I’ve been robbed by individuals I was teaching, all of us struggling to make sense of this materialistic rat race surrounding us all over the globe.

Now for what I think is the great part. Choice. No matter what material pressures seem to be controlling us, our actions and words, absolutely nothing, no one can control our thoughts, reasoning and perspective. We can resist blindly following some unauthentic expectation for our lives. Our resistance relies upon our desire to be whole and connected. It requires a look at what makes a high standard of living for the individual. If we seek something that is not accompanied by a receipt, plastic bag or credit card bill then we have a choice to be different.

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