Materialism: A Divided Heart on the Chase
"It is clear the true problems of our nation are much, much deeper than gasoline lines and energy shortages. Deeper even than inflation or recession. In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but what one owns. But we’ve discovered that only things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives that do not have confidence or purpose. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance but it is the truth and it is a warning"
- President Jimmy Carter, July 15 1979, Address to the nation on Energy and the Crisis of Confidence
One day our children or perhaps our children’s children, or perhaps even our children’s, children’s children will ask how the world came to be like this. What happened?, they will wonder aloud. And we will go back in our memory to the stories of how the environment came to be polluted by factories, how conflict created millions of displaced people, how landfills seemed to grow like skyscrapers, and how we began to hurt ourselves, gradually, without even realizing. We will talk about things like the energy crisis, just as we are now. Maybe with a bit more urgency.
Our conclusion will one day be what many know today: People were unhappy so they looked for happiness in all the wrong places. They were trying to fill a void that could only be filled with connection and love for one another rather than things. We were looking for the deep connection with ourselves, but found it hard to get to because there was so much “noise” all around. We rarely experienced silence. We consumed each day, without even being conscious of our consumption.
Little did those people realize, or maybe they did at some point, but were too far deep to press the breaks and reverse. Perhaps it was alcohol, gambling, or drugs. However, if we look a little further, we see that it may not have been the stuff society explicitly “looked down” upon. Rather, it was the things that people envied such as status that came with high paying jobs, nice cars, big houses, the latest phones, or cute clothes.
In the documentary, The Minimalists, one of the interviewees says, “you can never get enough of what you don’t really want”. This life, the life of want rather than need isn’t what we are looking for. Happiness was never meant to be bought or made, happiness is learned. We are looking for something so intangible that it is so much easier to attain with people and things that simply fill, rather than bring meaning and purpose to our lives.
For many of us, especially with the Millennial generation, we are seeking freedom. Freedom with our time, freedom with our life path, freedom in the way we consume, freedom in the way we eat. Freedom has become parallel with how much money we make. While this might be true, we might have less freedom than we think through falling into the trapping of a consumerist culture.
What we seek is a freedom to pursue passion, meaning…purpose.
There are those out there who are waking up to the reality of the “old story of separation” as Charles Eisenstein says. Life transforming experiences have jolted some awake through physical or mental pain. Our bodies sent a message through sickness or it was depression and a loss of vigor for life. Whatever it was, it told us we could not keep living the way we were. Something had to change.
Perhaps this suffering is a message to change not just for ourselves, but for the future generations. The complexities lie much, much deeper than we see in our world today. All we see is a manifestation of a deep longing and disconnection that has been present for decades. Now, we are seeing it bubble to the surface. We can no longer run from our own short-comings nor can we ignore this deep dissatisfaction for a way of life that doesn’t serve us.
“We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path -- the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our nation and ourselves.”
While Carter was referring to the nation’s crisis in his speech on July 15th, 1979, he was also sharing timeless truths. Trust yourself to have the courage to leave what hurts you. Trust yourself to speak your truth. It’s that courage, that I often try to find inside myself to step into the things that I feel hardest to do. Maybe that courage comes in the form of patience or sharing your deepest longings.
What we need right now…what your future children need, maybe more than new policies, is you stepping into your deepest, wildest self. Whatever it may be…the time is now.
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