It’s helpful during holidays to stop and put our lives and living conditions into proper perspective.
You and I are under a lot of influences in our lives – constantly bombarded by TV advertising, newspaper ads, mail fliers and catalogues, social media influencers, bus stop ads, billboard ads – you name it; in America, if you can stick an advertisement in it or on it, it’s pretty much been stuck. We’re taking advertising bombardments 24/7, save our precious hours of sleep … and soon that refuge may disappear.
It’s already all but impossible to live a life free from the thrust of hugely powerful corporations vying to first prink your brain, then pick your pocket. We’re force-fed want, desire and lust like geese with tubes shoved down their throats. New cars that … drive themselves. New phones that automatically make you look however stunning you choose. Forever new beauty treatments. New streaming services offering oh, so many new shows … with even more advertisements inside all those shows selling even more new stuff …
I’ve pretty much given up on watching football. It’s become an overdose of advertisements bookended by mere moments or minutes of actual play. One Saturday I counted seven separate ads between plays. The norm is five or six. Over and over again. A brain could explode! But advertisers wouldn’t shell out the billions pushing their “want-filling stuff” if it didn’t work. It does, and often we don’t even know it.
You and I might have less independent thought than we imagine. Our preferences, tastes, what satiates us – are all subject to heavy influence from outside, forcing their way inside.
Are you pretty enough? Young enough? Do you have enough? “We have just the thing …”
Years ago, I built a ministorage facility. It turns out erecting metal boxes for folks to put their overflowing stuff in is great business! There’s also some guilt in it. Ministorage enables our excess consumer society. We acquire so much stuff we need extra places to stick it all. And the dirty secret: Many folks never visit their stuff again, having once put it in storage. Some stuff sits untouched until the old folks kick off, and then the kids … toss what is now “junk,” away.
Like Charlton Heston waving his rifle over his head, “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” we just won’t let go of more and more … stuff. Yes, it can be guns (I have a friend with over 40), or cars (many families have two, three, four cars) the size of homes, brands of schools, purses, dolls, golf clubs – whatever.
Tracy Chapman wrote a great song on the topic, called “Mountain o’ Things”:
To have a big expensive car
Drag my furs on the ground
And have a maid that I can tell
To bring me anything
Everyone will look at me with envy and with greed
I’ll revel in their attention
Oh mountains o’ things …
Consume more than you need
This is the dream
Make you pauper
Or make you queen
I won’t die lonely
I’ll have it all prearranged
A grave that’s deep and wide enough
For me and all my mountains o’ things
Yes, for many, there’s real need. Some 20% of us live below the poverty line. A million or more homeless. We’re tolerating a national disgrace.
But for most, well, we have our own large or small mountain of things. We enjoy standards of living and stuff folks just 200 or 100 or 50 years never could have imagined.
Real indoor plumbing with indoor toilets. Electricity. Heating for the home without dragging in coal or wood. A car in a garage. A chicken in every pot. Antibiotics. Vaccines. The internet. Computers so small they look like watches or even just everyday glasses. Makeup, clothing, gadgets of any style … all available online, delivered right to your door in 24 hours … for free!
It sounds like I’m on some sort of Thanksgiving bummer, but it’s the opposite. With few exceptions, this Thanksgiving, most all of us in the Santa Clarita Valley can pause and look around, consider our stuff, our community, the excellent services around us, and conclude we’re blessed far, far beyond “need.”
We can hit the pause button on stuff; be thankful for what we have, and instead, perhaps read more. Visit folks more. Give more. Create more. Recreate more.
In short, live more as humans and less as consumers.
“You can’t take it with you,” remains a certainty. So, let’s be most thankful for life itself, instead. Thankful for those who love us. For those who’ve helped us. For our beloved pets, our teachers, health care providers, service workers, farmers, farm workers, planners, builders, parents and kids.
Stuff? Your kids will eventually throw most of it out of your garage or ministorage when you move on to whatever afterlife you believe in.
As to the associations and communities from which our lives are sustained? Let’s practice deep, gracious thankfulness for folks who love and help us, and feel contentment with our inanimate stuff.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.