For the next few days I am republishing favourite posts from each month of the first year of On Living and Working. This is from July 2013.
We’ve built our culture on the premise that more is always better. That there’s no such thing as enough.
We think we’d be better off we had more time, more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, the latest fashion, the newest smartphone, a bigger job, more market share, more efficiency. We construct our lives around this premise and we construct our organisations, institutions, and politics around it too. It’s endemic.
We’ve even gone as far as to relabel ourselves in this fashion. We’re no longer people but consumers. Without acknowledging how demeaning it is to be understood as yawning open mouths sated only by the arrival of more stuff, companies and politicians refer to us in this way – and we take it. Once upon a time we used to be citizens, but you’ll have to listen hard to hear that in our public discourse these days.
All of this ‘more’ seems so obvious, and so unquestionable, we can’t see what it’s doing to us. We can’t see the way it has us relate to the whole of life as if there were not enough. Not enough time, not enough space, not enough shiny things, not enough holidays, not enough growth, not enough experiences. We can’t see how it has us hoard our possessions such that many of us have way more than we require, while others cannot meet their basic needs. We can’t see how it has us work like machines, ignoring our families, our loved ones, our friends, our relationship with nature, with art, with stillness, with beauty. We can’t see how our obsession with more fuels the degradation of the environment in which we live, and of the bodies that support us. We can’t see how our sense of lack, even when all our basic needs are more than fulfilled, eats away at our lives and our experience of living.
If you look closely at life, you’ll find that once you’ve satisfied your basic, most essential needs, acquiring more on its own rarely – if ever – produces the fulfilment and feeling of safety you’ve been longing for. Or if it does, it doesn’t last for very long, replaced as it is by a gnawing anxiety that what you now have still isn’t enough.
Only when you start to see the hollowness of the ‘more’ narrative we’re all living in can you also begin to see what’s genuinely satisfying. Deep, truthful, courageous relationships. Community. Seeing and being seen. Serving others wholeheartedly, and accepting the gifts of others’ service. Finding your voice, your unique contribution, and bringing it. Curiosity and wonder. Being part of a commitment bigger than yourself. Slowing down enough to be present in life rather than ever absent from it.
The best question to ask yourself when you are caught up in the spiral of more is ‘for the sake of what?’. If your only answer is ‘so I can have more’ or ‘because I want it’ you’d better ask again. Perhaps you’ll find a genuine, honest answer why more is necessary. But if you can’t find one perhaps it’s time to turn away from what you’re so sure you must have, and into life itself.