First of a three-part series
During the last half of the 20th century, the concept of “citizen” was hijacked and became that of “consumer.” This great loss has made it extremely challenging to exhibit our “best self”—a concept that earlier generations worked so hard to instill in us. While we may exhibit our best briefly, reaching out to help others when natural disaster strikes (as it did in January in Haiti), it mostly lies dormant. We need to feed, nurture, and reawaken this aspect of our natures.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word consumer is defined as someone who “devours, wastes, or destroys.” Consumers focus on taking rather than giving or giving back. This is evident in our everyday accumulation and hoarding of “stuff,” our exploitation of the earth’s resources, our focus on instant gratification, and our lip-service compassion for those in need.
Don’t get me wrong. We all need to consume daily to survive–breathe in oxygen, drink water, eat the fruits of the earth, and surround ourselves with the goods and services that have extended our human lives over the millennium. But balance is necessary to maintain this multidimensional energy system we are a part of. The question is how much are we taking, and what are we leaving or giving back to enable our children and future generations to thrive?
Gifts you’ve received
Much of the world envies our prosperous society. The latest fashions and gadgets can be bought by most anyone, even with minimal budgets, at Wal-Mart and Target. Yet so much of the stuff we buy for ourselves and others is superficial. We buy gifts not because others need them, but because it’s the thing to do. It makes us feel good. Yet, the recipients soon stuff them in closets, basements, and garages.
Think about the genuine gifts your parents have given you. They made a huge investment of time, money, and resources for you to have a better life than their generation. Then, there were your teachers, relatives, mentors, and even strangers. Your elders, ancestors, and a multitude of others invested in this country with their hard work, tax dollars, and even lives to provide the institutions, goods, services, and opportunities for you to live a happier, more peaceful, and productive life than they experienced. Giving and sacrifice were their core values.
Make the shift
Isn’t it time to turn away from self-serving entitlements to focus on what I call “other-serving”? Mahatma Gandhi said,”There is always enough for the needy, but never enough for the greedy.” The needy can teach us much as they somehow manage to keep the spark of life alive through life’s challenges. Witness the survivors of the recent Haiti devastation, a nation of people who have weathered many disasters throughout their history and yet always manage to adapt. The needy can also enliven the spark of giving in us when we help empower them by sharing our excess. “Less is more” is an adage that few live by.
Our country has lost much of its power due to mounting debt. We are being consumed by our own greed just as our natural resources are vanishing. More people are living on the edge. Many who were looking forward to their “Golden Years” have lost pensions, investments, and homes and see retirement pushed well beyond the horizon–if at all.
What’s our role?
A citizen’s role is one of responsibility and partnership. A citizen cooperates in making his/her part of the world a better place–not just for the present, but for future generations. A citizen not only gives time and resources to help build safe, physically and spiritually enriching environments, but also helps the sick and less fortunate find a new path toward empowerment. It’s a citizen’s responsibility to contribute and, yes, make sacrifices when necessary for the greater good of all. The whole then becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. When we work together to create more balance–make this world a better place–we become immensely enriched. What actions are we taking, and what are we giving back to regain and maintain the balance of Life?
What is at the core of consumerism? In a heartfelt book that captured the nation, Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom shared the wisdom of a dying man. Morrie believed that when one lives exclusively in a materialistic world of gadgets, conveniences, getting ahead, and accumulating money, our lifestyle is generally seeking to replace what’s missing: human relationships, health and well-being, and joy. One can fill this void by treating others with respect, kindness, love, and dignity.
Having, over the past year, spent a lot of time in a retirement/nursing home environment attending my elder family friend, Mae, I can personally vouch for the importance of these acts. While no longer surrounded by the material things that once filled her life with such importance, she is content with a few small mementos. Her face always lights up when I walk in the door. I am so impressed with how the aids treat community members with dignity and respect.
What’s missing in your life? What lies underneath the consumerism, hoarding, and cravings for stuff outside yourself? What gives you true meaning and purpose, and how does this feed your inner spirit? Do you have a true connection with your Higher Self?
In my next article I will be writing about ways to create a “Generosity Consciousness,” which, I hope, will help you become your best self and will enable all of us to be partners in making the world a better place.