Saturday, July 4, 2015

What is Freedom in a Country made of Ad Campaigns?

The Fourth of July started with a beautiful sunrise, cornflower blue sky and wild strawberries ripening in the lawn. A baby rabbit runs out to sneak a taste of succulent grass then races away as the puppy chases it.

You can't put a price tag on it.

Today is a celebration of freedom. The freedom to express beliefs and opinions. People in other countries do not necessarily have that. We have the choice to be active in shaping politics, communities and in the directions we walk in life. Some choose to tune out, to follow money and things, pursuing the pabulum claimed to be news of celebrities instead of actual news. Money's tight right now and I have traveling to do this week. I found a bright pink printed $20,000 bill from a game in the dirt. I thought about how little separates it from real money and how worthless money is when you stare at a sunset or watch a meteor shower.

I think about how we seem to need to buy things, always buy things to demonstrate what we stand for or to feel better or to chase away boredom. It's a hollow pursuit.

I spent a week helping friends move. Vast collections of things, family members deciding what to take and what to yard sale or donate. The mindset of having four or five in different color schemes as necessity makes me cringe, knowing one day that frivolous impulse will result in another overfilled landfill blemish.

What do we do when someone is sad? We feed them, pour them drinks, or buy them something. No wonder so many people feel depressed, disconnected and lost. What happened to listening and being there? Why have we forgotten the true value of real emotional support?

What do we do to celebrate? We eat, drink, and buy more things. What happened to just enjoying the moment? When did the value of a compliment get reduced to clearance prices?

When was the last time you spent the day with someone, just enjoying the time rather than shopping, buying things you don't need? When was the last time you actually talked and put the internet down for a while?

Here's an idea. Empty your pockets. Leave your wallet at home. Go to a shopping center and walk through it, notice how the ads and packaging are all designed to target specific interest groups, how they seem to buddy up or present products as if they are the penultimate thing you never knew you had to have. Study the vast, oversupply of things encouraging shallow, narcissistic egocentrism.

Now picture it all in a landfill. Think of how soon it'll break or the fad will end and the items will be discarded- the cheap possession high long faded and lost with a crumpled receipt on the floor.

Walk the aisles visualizing that.

Now, think of someone you love. What is the most valued memory you have? I think of my great grandmother Alice, sitting and having tea with me. I remember touching the lines on her hands and asking her if I had to have lines like hers when I got old. Her wrinkled perfect smile, the violets we tended in her garden. My grandfather rolling his glass eye to mess with people. The ridiculous and obnoxious antics he did to amuse himself. My other grandfather singing ditties and bouncing the youngest grandchildren on his lap to calm them when they were distressed.

I cannot find these things on a shelf, no sales flyer offers them, and no matter what I buy it is not these moments.

I hope that on Independence Day you choose to liberate yourself from materialism.

Merrill, a friend, always said "that which we enslave, enslaves us." He is correct. Things do not lead to happiness. Living, connecting, caring and accepting that maybe the world isn't less of a priority than self interest. Our society reminds me of undergraduate biology lab. A Petri dish with only so much nutrient in it, yet bacteria will consume it all until they have nothing left. They die. Emptyness around them and within them. I'm humbled that instead of rising above the limited self focused drive of a single cell organism, we instead demonstrate ourselves as fancier, more complicated, self destructive organisms with the same short sighted selfish choices of single cell organisms. I'd like to see us choose more wisely. 

We toxify our world and justify our destruction through rationalization or allow ourselves to tune out by looking away from the damage we do. Time has come to accept responsibility. Freedom has a price. Striving to reach beyond the limitations of our own self absorbed psyches, to evolve, we have to let go of the things we do not need. Our ancestors let go of the tree branches. They stood, uncomfortable at first; they struggled and made tools. It had to be rough, some chose not to stand, some went extinct. That's change. 

Today as you watch fireworks, think of the choices you have. How you spend your time, how you care and interact with others, how active and aware you are of the lives of the folks around you. Do you know your neighbors?

We can choose to enhance each others lives through relearning healthy social support behaviors. Eye contact, putting down the smartphone and conversing with the living beings around you, giving a hand, an ear- who isn't worth a little effort? Maybe if we stop trying to feed and pay off the emptiness within ourselves we can finally connect enough to heal. 

Independence Day, so I hope you choose to use that freedom wisely.