Monday, February 23, 2009

Share what you covet

In a Daily Beast article this morning, Noreena Hertz wrote,

"While it is true that over the past few decades there has been a growing obsession with material worth, this may be more a case of nurture than nature. Anthropological studies show that societies that have less share more, while recent work in behavioral economics has confirmed that benevolence is not alien to human nature. So while under Gucci Capitalism there was a tendency to bowl alone, it might just not be the case that we are essentially individualistic.

More likely is that we are entering an age of pulling together, as was the case during the Great Depression and the Blitz, and that this will be one of this era’s key defining characteristics."

I have a confession to make. I have secretly been hoping that the economy would fail for this very reason. For years I have been personally offended by the celebration of wealth at others expense. I've been equally disgusted by the rampant materialism that seemed to have taken hold of our culture. For some time it has seemed that the primary thread that connects us as a culture is our consumerism, our desire to covet, and have. The problem with this, as I see it, is that if we are gratifying ourselves with the acquisition of things, where does it end? When do we have enough? And, do the things we buy for gratification really gratify us long term? I think not.

I admit, I'm guilty of such gratification. I have a shoe and bag habit, albeit comfortable shoes and second hand bags, it's a habit just the same. And I admit, that the more I acquire, the less I give. I start to become very attached to my things. It's the ugly underbelly of relative success.

What Hertz writes about sharing is true. I've seen it at Burning Man where sharing becomes infectious. Once you are out there, you're limited to whatever food, water and supplies that you've brought. If you're like me, you go uber-prepared, ready to share the many extra things that were packed. Last year, we shared, powdered drink mix, aloe vera, lotion, an extra moo-moo, a bike inner tube, lots of bacon and cereal and of course cocktails. It's good to be reminded of this on a yearly basis.

Even in my current travels I try to share, but recently I was reminded I do not share enough. It happened Friday, on the ferry when I struck up a brief conversation with a fellow New Yorker reader. We talked about how we had both let our subscriptions run out. He had just bought the most recent issue at full cover price, which we both agreed is absurd. At the end of the ferry ride, upon our arrival to the home dock, he handed his issue to me. "Here," he said. "I've read it." I was both grateful and shamed because I seldom share my New Yorkers. They are something I covet. But here was someone who understood why I covet them so much, willing to share, without provocation. It's a reminder and a lesson that offering what we have to each other is far more gratifying than covetting for one's self. I think it will be something to really work on this year.

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