I walked into an interesting store the other night. It was a like an upscale REI for the harshest of cold weather. You could buy the warmest and lightest winter clothes and inner wear. There were pots, pans, plates, cups, and other cooking tools, which were light and well-made. There were beautiful lanterns, tents, hammers, and backpacks, all made with the highest of craftsmanship for the extreme cold. It was quite the store.
I found myself looking at exorbitantly priced items that I had no apparent use for. I rarely go on a hike in the winter and would probably never climb a mountain, but this store had my attention. I was mesmerized by the attention to detail and the novelty of having what this store offered. But I’d probably never use any of the things I’d buy from here to their full potential. I would be merely a consumer, wanting and buying what I thought I needed, but in reality just accumulating more stuff.
I didn’t end up buying anything from that store, but it got me thinking. Why is it that we want what we don’t need? What attracts us to the shiny and the new? Is it the hope that one day we might possibly use that thing to its full potential? I’m really not sure. And I don’t speak as someone who’s better at this than the rest of us. There are a bunch of things that I’ve accumulated through the years, where now I wonder why I bought those things in the first place.
Living In Plenty
I live in a part of the world that is at the top of the consumption ladder. There is no place on earth that consumes like we do. There are entire national economies that are propped up by how much we consume. Consumption here does not just include buying, but also discarding. We live with a lot, not just a normal kind of lot. We have options and choices and decisions and the list goes on and on. We’re not just satisfied with what we have, because every year something newer and better comes out. There’s always a newer model or a better design, and we just have to get our hands on that thing. Older versions of something are discounted, and everybody is encouraged to go after what’s new.
To someone who’s not accustomed to our consumptive ways, we look like we play the same game every year. We run around buying, selling, discarding, without a care in the world. We want what’s new and what whets our appetite, and we call that progress and the American way. We are a culture that always wants more than we need. Eventually we find what we’ve accumulated doesn’t satisfy, and while we’ve satiated ourselves with stuff, we’ve ignored the very things that matter most in life.
Christmas time can be the worst display of all of this. People go into debt to try to make sure loved ones have what they want. In the grandiose hubub of our Christmas-gift-giving, we can camouflage our greed and empower it in others. Am I saying that giving of gifts is wrong? By no means. But I wonder if the best gifts we could give have nothing to do with a dollar amount, but have everything to do with our heart connection. It’s not really about what we might want, but what we truly need. It’s not about accumulating or discarding, but something more than that. Can we stop ourselves from playing the game year in and year out.
Living In Me-World
I live in a culture that is focused, it would seem, entirely on me and mine. Products, services, consultations, books, videos, you name it… everything is focused on how something can make my life or the lives of those around me better.
The other day a salesperson came to our door; they were selling top-of-the-line vacuum cleaners. “Would you like us to vacuum and shampoo your carpet?” It seemed like an offer we couldn’t refuse. Why not? We let her into the house and she proceeded to tell us about her company’s amazing vacuum cleaners. She even had filters on the whole setup to show us how much dirt their vacuum was picking up. We couldn’t believe our eyes, so much dirt from our carpet. Who knew so much dirt had lodged itself there over time?
Little did we know that our afternoon would be hijacked by this vacuum company salesperson. She started with cleaning our carpet, then turned into vacuuming our sofas, then it was cleaning our mattress. All the while trying to sell us on how amazing these vacuums were.
After some time of this, her ‘boss’ came in and tried to emotionally goad us into buying this vacuum cleaner. He began with, “Why do you think it would be good to get all this dirt out of your house?” That turned into how we would be making a dumb choice for our future if we didn’t choose to buy their vacuum cleaner. It was definitely low-balling, but I was pretty firm with them that we didn’t need this right now.
He kept asking us to think about our growing family and how important it was to have a clean house. The boss eventually left, and sales-person kept telling us to name a price and make an offer he couldn’t refuse. We couldn’t afford something like this, and didn’t want to be locked into some long-term pricing plan. So I quickly thanked her for her time, and the clean house we got out of her two hour long sales session, and off they went on their way.
After the ordeal with the vacuum people, I realized how easy it would been to give in to their shenanigans. Entire companies are built around the simple thought that we are completely focused on me and mine. The me-world we live in, catches us by surprise because after all, we do want what they’re selling. But what happens is that we are often willing to mortgage out our future, so we can have something right now.
More Than What’s Right In Front Of Me
Some animals can only see their next step. Anything further is too far out there. Often people live this way too. I wonder what would happen if we lived with a different set of filters.
As we make decisions, what are some of the filters we should consider?
- Learn from the past — I wonder what would happen if we remembered our past, our stories, how we came to be. I wonder what would happen if we listened to the experiences of those who’ve gone on before, their mistakes and failures, accomplishments and victories. If we lived with a sense of what’s gone on before, we probably wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
- Prepare for the future — I wonder what would happen if we thought through what our future would look like. What are our hopes and dreams? What matters most in a situation? Is there something more important than getting what I want? I wonder what would happen if our today’s were informed by our tomorrows. What kind of a tomorrow do I want to have, and what am I going to do to get there?
- Live with a sense of your story — Too many of us live for just a moment. What is the greater story at work in your life? We often blame our upbringing for where we are, but then never do anything to move past that negativity. Others are born into blessing, but squander it away with bad choices. What is your story telling the world, and how does it connect with your past and empower your future? I wonder what the world would look like if we lived with a sense of our stories.
So in the end, it’s not about shady salespeople or upscale cold-weather stores, whether it’s right to spend money or save money, or about accumulating or discarding. In the end, it comes down whether we think through our lives, and live not just for what’s right in front of us.
There’s more to the story than that…