We are in the worst financial crises since the depression and people are understandably upset. Our political and financial leaders have made some horrific mistakes. The top 3% control most of the world’s wealth and resources. We tend to look at it as, “us” against “them,” and although “the man” has inspired some badass rock songs I strongly believe it is largely a myth.
When we start thinking about our government or financial institutions as a distant ruler in the land of OZ we forget that everybody has a boss. Even the wealthiest people in the world have someone they take orders from. Big business provides a service that is demanded by the public. The frustration and anger is understandable but I think too much blame is put on our world leaders.
By examining our personal lives, most of us will find something that reflects our current leadership. Think about the credit card debt you may have or the amount of time you spend volunteering. For me it is a lot and a little. Think about the food and clothes you buy. Places like Wal-Mart are driving our local grocery stores out of business. Look at some of the tags on your clothes, most of them are probably made in China or Japan. We now live in a country that doesn’t make anything and we are forced to outsource labor to keep up with the demand and cost for the consumer.
The consumer is us.
We’re now the best consumers in the world. Americans consume more natural resources and personal goods than any other people in the world. According to Mindfully.org Americans constitute for 5% of the population and yet we consume 24% of the world’s energy. According to the Federal Reserve the total US consumer debt is about $2.5 trillion and the average family has about $16,000 of credit card debt.
I will be the first one to admit that it has taken me some time to learn about personal finance and I am still not as good with money as I could be. It’s so simple and a lot of us, including me, don’t understand. Don’t buy things that you can’t afford and don’t spend more than you make. It’s honestly that simple. Spending money is like an addiction. I feel antsy when I don’t spend money for like a week or I don’t buy something new. We are conditioned to find fulfillment and joy in new purchases.
I recently went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I know nothing about art and I mostly just walked around hoping no one would ask me a question about abstract expressionism. However, I had an enlightening experience. The Met has an incredible collection of art work from every culture and time period.
I walked through the gigantic building and stood in awe of the marble Roman sculptures. I was fascinated by the extravagant elegance and detail put into European sculpture and decorative arts. I was amazed at the skill and detail of the 19th and early 20th century European paintings. Each piece described something about each culture and time period.
As I moved into the Modern and Contemporary Art I felt different. I think Modern and Contemporary Art is largely misunderstood. I have to admit, when I see a giant white canvas with only two blue lines, it’s a little hysterical that someone spent millions of dollars. And even more laughable that it’s hanging in a museum.
However, it provoked a stronger reaction than the most extravagant painting or sculpture I saw that day. It made me angry, but more than that, it made a statement about our culture. I noticed the art work got simpler as time and cultures progressed. Each abstract piece I saw meant something different but as a whole I felt short changed.
I think most of us want to be filled with substance and meaning in our lives. Our demand for quantity has diluted our need for quality. McDonalds used to use real beef for their burgers, Coke used to use real sugar in their soda and friendships were created in person and not with a click of a button. Even our music is compressed into an mp3.
I think we have created a life that values quantity over quality. Our watered down lifestyle and watered down products don’t make us feel complete and we want someone to blame. We continually seek that tiny high we get from buying something new because we feel like it completes us until the cycle repeats itself. I have been trying to figure out for the past year why I feel incomplete and I think it’s because I continually feed myself with highly processed metaphoric food. Our stomachs aren’t full because it’s not real food.
I know this probably sounds like a hippie wrote all of this but I think what I want is for us to come to a place where we question the things in life that don’t carry any substance. I want us to think about our motivation for buying something and what store you’re buying it from. And not just in our purchases but in our personal lives. One of my college professors had a quote from Gandhi at the bottom of her e-mails that said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I think this is the best advice to live by during these tough economic times and our constant criticism of our political leaders.