Tuesday, June 3

More than a consumer

This week the elements of the stew that is my thoughts contain these: Reaction to reading the books Littleheathens and Affluenza, a good friend of mine calling me a hippie -- a few times, and starting to read Simple Prosperity, a follow-up book to Affluenza, written by one of the Affluenza writers and local guy David Wann.

I don't mind getting called a hippie. Some of my favorite people in my childhood were the "hippies" my parents hung out with. I think I knew even then that there were different kinds of hippies. And that the make your own clothes/eat out of the garden/be kind aesthetic was shared by hippies and non-hippies. My folks never got into the drugs/drinking/mind-blowing side of it all... they were always more engaged by the build-it-yourself and a hands-off government strains.

Likewise, our great-depression neighbors and our Mennonite neighbors, and our Hawaiian neighbors were never hippies per se, but part of my "hippie" ethic comes from thinking about how Mrs. Harvey would use this, or remembering her massive garden, or weaving rugs and playing cards with the Mennonites.

And still, in the middle of all that richness, the thing I wanted was money. I was the kid with the get-rich-quick schemes, who was out on the sidewalk during the house tour selling lemonade.

The argument of Affluenza is that there's an epidemic disease loose in our culture (and world) that affects our brains so that money, and buying things, becomes the most important thing. We start to think of ourselves as consumers rather than citizens.

I started the book Friday evening, and by Saturday, I was interested in trying to spend a day observing when I was in consumer mode and when I was in citizen mode. I grabbed one of my roommates and we took the recycling to the yard and headed in to the Farmer's market. I bought a couple things I need for the week, then we sat down on the grass with lunch. We sketched and talked about the tuba/accordion duo playing in the distance and after an hour or so, walked a few blocks over and visited the surplus store and a used book store.

I did manage to have some conversations I wouldn't have been open to in the past -- I asked the duo if they could play "The Ma-nah-ma-nah Song"... which they didn't know, but they did do a very playful rendition of the Sesame Street theme. And I found someone who could help me fix a brake cable on my bike. And I talked about my "cool mattress" idea for summer sleeping with a guy who sells the hammocks he makes at a kiosk in the plaza. I think in those ways, I was a citizen -- open to new experiences with people. But I also saw myself defaulting to consumer behaviors. "Oh that's cute, I want one." "Oh I don't have any thing to do -- let's go shopping." "Oh I have this thing I've been thinking about. Let's see if we can find one."

That exercise has extended into the week. I'm fighting the urge to go buy CDs. I'm not listening to CDs at work or in the car, and only rarely at home. I do love my NPR station and the music they play is plenty. But I keep trying to "own" the things I enjoy. As if "owning" them would make the experience of enjoying them last forever. (Baca Beyond is currently delighting my ears.)

So, I have affluenza. And I think I've had it since childhood.

The next wave of thinking is that here we are now, with Colin over at No Impact Man and a hundred other voices in the public square calling for real change in our lives. Ten years ago we had Elaine St. James and "Living the Simple Life." 20 years ago we had Your Money or Your Life. 30 years ago we had Diet for a New America. Is it really taking this long to build up a head of steam? Or are these waves and each time a wave hits, do more of us escape the boat?

Okay, I can't afford to worry about what everyone else is doing. I have to work on my sphere of control (40% energy savings last month over May of last year!), and my spheres of influence (a sit-down dinner last night, with Zombie Fluxx from Looney Labs, with both of my roommates).

And this is where Simple Prosperity comes in. It's argument is that once you know you've caught affluenza, one way you get well is to value the non-financial wealth you have. Social ties, for example. Getting into a flow state with your hobbies and your life outside of them.

I expect to comment further as I read more, but one more story. In high school, I was assigned an essay on "What makes me happy." As part of the course work around that, we learned that Aristotle said you couldn't truly know if you were happy until you had a worthy life to look back on. Wann includes the whole quote in his book:

Happiness consists of a blend of moderation, gentleness, modesty, friendlieness, and self-expression.
I can live with that definition. ;-)

1 comment:

monkey said...

not discounting your efforts at all. i'm very intrigued by what you find... but i gotta say this much.

be kinder to your younger self eh? :)

to most kids, money is power. power to edit our world that we could otherwise have no control over.
it's not too much of a wonder why most kids will seek it out. it's something that's in their hands and thiers, and if nobody's looking, they can do what they please with it.

you're finding your power in many more ways now :) excersizing it constructively and mindfully :) but you're measuring a kid who didnt know better to your current standards.

i guess what i'm sayin is, be gentle with younger you like ya would with me.

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.