Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What matters?

Did you ever see something like this? Someone who is supposed to come from an under privileged home, but they wear a Stussy cap and other brand name clothes. I can remember seeing that going on. Of course, sometimes it looked as if the brand name shirt was the only bit of clothing they had. It looked as if they slept in it! So instead of a number of clothes, cheaper to buy but not 'cool', they own one item of status gear and nothing else! Something strange is going on here. I know there are people who are hard up, there really is such a thing as poverty. The concern is that people might be compounding the problem because they get hung up on silly ideas about how to spend what they do have. It comes to a question of, what really matters?
Do some people get so caught up on image that they try to get their hands on a few things that are fashionable and supposedly give them status, and go without more important things?
In other words, what are they trying to live for? It could be really cruel if they get made slaves to the idea that without certain accessories, they deserve no respect.
When I was teaching, you never stopped hearing about what terrible problems some kids were supposed to have. Then a woman who had worked overseas, in a rural area where some kids hardly had enough to eat, said that kids in the Western world didn't know when they were well off. Some peoples' idea of poverty is not having cable T.V. It's true, life can be made too easy and people can become indulged, and jaded, like the proverbial spoilt kid crying for the moon. Whatever they have, they still want more. But then: when someone is surrounded by material things, and everybody boasts about what they've got, then having possessions can seem to be the meaning of life. Did we give people reason to think that wealth and trophies are what give them worth, and if they don't have them then life is not fair to them? If it works that way, then the message is: to have any self-respect they've got to have things, and show that they have them. That is the only way to get a life!
This is not original, I know. Thousands of people talk about 'the meaning of life'. But it's a continuing problem, like crimes of violence. So we don't have much choice but to keep thinking about it. What do people live for? Is it just to keep up with the 'trendies', the 'cool group', the smart set or whatever you want to call them? If that's how it is working, then people who fall for it are trapped on a treadmill that won't get them anywhere - because there will always be someone who has more, and it will torment them to know they haven't made it until they've got the same. Deadly!
So how can that be changed? Once again, this is not original. As the Scripture says, "What benefit is it to gain the whole world, and lose your soul?" The human being needs something to live for apart from the material world and its trappings. If that's all they can see, then like the horizon, what they want will always be out of reach. Don't worry, I know we need some material things. I love to eat, and more importantly, my children have to eat so I'd better make sure the food is there. The same goes for their clothes, and more besides. But life is more than that. It has to be! And realizing that is important. Failing to realize that can happen when people try to leave things of the spirit, the factor of God, out of the equation when they try adding up the sum of life. I can't tell everybody else how to live. They have the same right to their views as I have to mine. But is it right or not that, figuratively speaking, "Humanity does not live by bread alone." The body is not all. The spirit too has needs. Is the modern western world seeing that and telling its children in time?
Any thoughts and comments? I'm still learning.


Democracy Lover said...

I would say that the modern world is not a good place to determine which things are of real value and which are not. Our media, beginning at a very early age with the commercials on the cartoon shows, teaches us that the way to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be powerful and gain the admiration of others is to buy stuff - the more stuff, the better.

We used to restrict this sort of thing, by limiting the number of commercials, by mandating some quality programming for children, by having an economy that enabled families to have a parent at home with the children, but no more.

Strangely enough, many people who decry the shallowness and amorality of our culture are the strongest supporters of the politicians who oppose any restraints on corporate greed or advertising, who support policies that force many families to have 2 breadwinners in order to keep a roof over their heads. That is what I don't understand.

Andrew Clarke said...

I can see exactly what you mean, democracy lover. On the one hand they say it's shallow, then support those who keep it shallow.

Deborah said...

I just wanted to let you know that I read your book. I thought it was very good. I had a hard time putting it down. Have you written any others.

makemeaspark ~>----- said...

Its really hard, Andrew, to know what was going on with the "status hat". Some folks are poor because if they get a little bit of money they say "well I got 50 dollars today, I think I'll buy that hat" instead of investing in tools to make something they could sell. Or instead of using that 50 for seed money for college. But sometimes there is a despair that says, "Hell, I don't have enough to go to college and never will." or "even if I get tools and make something, nobody will buy it, then i got no 50 AND no hat". So they buy the hat.

At our house, we come from middle class folks, who can buy the hat for one of us for a birthday or something and then the rest of our clothes are wearing out. Right now, i am too proud to beg so my shoes have holes in them, but i have a very expensive second hand Kenneth Cole leather bag, that a girlfriend got for me at a garage sale. She got it cheap, so its not like i could sell it to get shoes, but i look like a walking contradiction myself.

You really just never know. The hat could be the last thing left over from when times were good and kept as a treasured object of pride....

My mother refuses to get involved in Christmas presents for poor kids cause she heard about poor kids selling off their abundant bounty from charities, over Christmas, at school. But I never told her about the year that me and my kids got sponsored. I had NO money for presents for the kids but was called by an organization that had my name referred to them. I was embarrassed to make a list for them, and include my own small wants, so it was a conservative list including boots for myself and some bubble bath. Whoever anonymously sponsored us, bought everything i asked for!!! I thought it was a preference list! It was very humbling and helped restore my faith in humanity after my husband shockingly divorced me. God bless

Andrew Clarke said...

Good comment, "Make me a spark." I'm glad you visited. And I'm GLAD someone sponsored you and made Christmas better for your family.
That's one of the most important measures of a society - whether it properly recognises the need to reach out to others when they have their down times, overcome by circumstances beyond their control. Blessings to you.

jel said...

Hi Andrew,

I'm back online now,

took me 2 weeks to get your book,

and it was an AWESome!

hope all is well

Edie said...

Hi Andrew - I so agree with this post. People in this culture spend so much time trying to get what we want and rarely stopping to consider if it's what we need. I know that I'm guilty of it too to some degree but I am amazed at what is considered norm.

I read a survey that showed that in the US, the average number of TVs per household exceeds number of rooms! If it weren't for the news, I probably wouldn't even own one. Not only must we own at least one TV per room, we must have HDTV, we must have a DVD player and recorder (for each TV), we must have cell phones for every member in the family with unlimited calling and all the perks, etc, etc.

I watch as people who cannot afford to pay their rent or mortgage obtain all this stuff and then cry for help because they are about to be evicted. And then I see others who do everything in their power to make ends meet, and with a great deal of prudence. It's the first group who usually get the help but the second group who should be helped.

I also wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog. I read the excerpts from your book. I have to say I was thoroughly engulfed. Yes I did purchase it and it should be here in about a week. :)

Please feel free to stop by my blog and say hi anytime. Have a great week!

Laurie Ann said...

I do wonder what they are trying to live for in situations like these. It's sad that materialism has driven people to seek value in that "status symbol". I would love to talk to the teenagers today and tell them that if they place more value on themselves inwardly and on God, that the status symbols don't matter. The materialism goes away. Getting caught up on image is a culturally driven mindset. Media has a lot to do with it, as does the person's self-esteem, I believe.

Thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting on the At the Well post. Please feel free to visit anytime!

Farrah said...

Oh yes, I've seen that sort of thing. Very sad! You are right. There is more to us than flesh and blood!

"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."

Spoken by the King of Kings; water that satisfies the other part we cannot see. :-)

Marshall Art said...

Hm. I like things. Would love to have more things. Don't need too many of them. Hardly any at all.

DL and I don't agree on too much, but I would agree that the modern world is not a good place to learn much of anything about such things. It is being of the world as well as in it.

I never bought the idea that manufacturers were trying to tell us we need their stuff to be happy. They're only trying to sell their stuff to make a buck and pay their employees. Perhaps it's guilt at having been in possession of the attitude of want one's self that conjured this notion. I mean, really, how many commercials actually make such suggestions as opposed to merely insisting that there product or service is the best of it's kind and one is better off with theirs if one is to buy such a product or service anyway?

There are lots of reasons why the economy of today requires two incomes to get by and the charge of corporate greed is specious at best. Who among us doesn't seek more pay? Very few if any. Why would corporations be held to a higher standard. They have more dependents which are called employees. It is silly to speak of corporate greed even if one avoids added wealth for himself.

Overregulation has more to do with the rise in the cost of living than any mythical corporate greed. High tax rates have more to do with the rise in the cost of living. Corporations and manufacturers do NOT make their dough by screwing other people. They do it by providing products and services for the most people possible. Most people aren't filty rich as has been suggested here. How much can a company make by only marketing to those who are? Keep products as affordable as possible for the most people is basic business practice. Evidence? Bill Gates. Before him, the average dude could not afford computers. Henry Ford. Before him, the average dude could not afford a car. Having more customers is how corps get wealthy, not by having fewer or screwing people.

Marshall Art said...

Sorry for the above tangent. I can't let that stuff lie, because a lie is what it is. Of course there are crooks in business. Good business people don't need to be crooks. Too many people merely assume that the successful stepped on people to be that way.

That attitude is part of the reason people struggle. It's easier to assume evil than to face one's own shortcomings. And this factors into your post.

People DO want to enjoy the good things in life. Indeed, I believe God wants us to enjoy his Creation as much as we can as long as we do it on His terms. The problem comes when the Creation becomes our obsession. When we make "having stuff" our whole reason for being, rather than God Himself.

Like I said initially, I like stuff. I want stuff. I don't need much of anything, but if the bills are paid, the kids are eatin' and I've gotta few sheckles left over after taking care of business, a little diversion is fine. But there's the rub, one has to take care of business first and if the money's only enough to do that, then no diversion.

I think God delights in the success of His children. To attain economic success provides us with more oppotunities to, not just collect toys, but to do some real good in the world. Sponsor a child? How about a whole village? It's easy to donate when one has money with which to do it.

But if we're on a lower rung of the economic ladder, it takes some work and sacrifice to rise above it. How many are prepared to defer personal gratification in order to attain the kind of wealth that can allow one to enjoy more of God's Creation as well as help those in need? It's almost selfish to NOT seek greater wealth. It's a goal of mine of which I am unashamed. I want to be the one who can help when help is needed. If I can learn how to create wealth, because it is created and not a matter of diverting money from others, I can teach others how I did it and do a lot better than throwing them a bone.

But here's where the selfish part comes in: if I can create wealth, I can obtain that which I desire more than anything else---time. Time is the true measure of wealth. How long can I go without working to pay the bills? The more money I can attract, the more time I will have to use as I see fit, rather than as my boss sees fit. Time to play, time to shop, time to help as I can then donate my time as well as my cash.

Am I good to go without dough? As long as I live as closely to God's terms as I can, absolutely. But that doesn't mean that I shouldn't seek more. So long as I do it right, seeking more is a good thing.

Andrew Clarke said...

I can see what you mean, marshall art. There is such a thing as honest gain from honest work; and to provide for your family, and thereafter give aid to those in need is entirely a God-given thing. I'm not a communist. It's true that unhealthy consumerism arises partly from the folly of people who want to buy status and power with material things; and consider them the entire meaning of life. I'd suggest though that it's important to remember: material things perish, and they can't hide personal problems for long, and we need to point this out to all society's members, especially at a time when their attitudes and habits are developing. In sum, it's just so empty and in some ways damaging to mistake the value of things, like the person who has to have a Stussy hat but does not have proper shoes - and who will get themselves a brand name hat rather than contribute to the Salvation Army's appeal for the homeless. Best wishes to you, and to all who visited and commented. Please visit again anytime.