Here’s a link to an article I enjoyed and recommend: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-human-cost-of-stuff/the-real-value-of-things
The author, Simon Okelo, who moved from Kenya to the U.S., describes his transition from a traditional society to a society of excess. I’ve read similar stories before and have been able to get to know a few people who made similar journeys. For them, the experience of being in an American grocery story, filled with aisle after aisle of food, was mind-numbing. I recall that when we returned from our first trip to Haiti the stores here just seemed obscene (“pornographic” was the word Cherie used). Thinking of the suffering, scarcity and poverty we’d experienced there, the waste and gluttony of our culture seemed unconscionable.
A Liberian classmate of mine once told me that she found the way Americans say grace before meals so unlike how it was in her country. There, she told me, they see every meal as a miracle and a gift and their prayers of gratitude were heart-felt. Here, it seemed to her, they were just given out of habit or routine.
Once we get used to some luxury it doesn’t take long before it begins to feel like a necessity. And because we are constantly being bombarded with ads and images designed to create discontent and desire, the list of things we consider “necessary” just keeps getting longer and longer. And we pile up more and more stuff.
I like the way Mr. Okelo concludes his article:
Memories of my childhood help—like my neighbors enjoying a cup of water after a long wait, taking each sip as if it were the most delicious and expensive drink in the world. Like them, we could savor our possessions, share what we don’t need, and take pleasure from others’ enjoyment. Consuming just enough.
Savoring our possessions. Sharing what we don’t need. Consuming just enough.
That, it seems to me, would be a good way to live.