Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Wanting is the Hardest Part

(From late 2007.)

Lately, when I take my youngest son into a store he is overwhelmed with wanting. Indeed, he wants everything, not taking into account whether he likes what he sees or would use it. Everything is so wonderful.

I found out a few months ago that the wanting made him feel badly. Because he couldn't have what he wanted, he thought he was bad for wanting it. Oh no, I told him. Even grown-ups go into stores and want things. Sometimes they are things we would use and love, and sometimes they are shiny and new and grab us by virtue of a color, font, package, or function.

The desire, the wanting, it is part of who we are and part of the culture we live in. On a rare trip to a bookstore my oldest, who has recently become a proficient reader, was suddenly awakened to the multitude of books available. Books he recognized! King Arthur! The Three Musketeers! Robin Hood! He saw a sign on a table and mistook Humor for Homer, and well, you should have seen his excitement at the idea of piles of books written by Homer!

I quickly told him that most of the books he was interested in could be found at the library. Now, the library is wonderful. It just isn't designed to grab you the way a bookstore is. There is little merchandising. There is no holiday music in the background, and certainly not the scent of coffee and warm baked goods. For the most part, children can't see the covers of books. That's really sad, because if they could, they might check out something that they had never heard of before.

As we continue with our goal of mindful buying, it is helpful to remember that the wanting is not a bad thing. It simply is a desire, like any other. It is what we do with the wanting that takes on significance. Do we need it? Can we get is used? Can we use something else? Can we do without?

Where was is made? By whom? How was that person paid? How was that person treated? How are the costs externalized? How much energy was used to make and transport the goods?

Why do we want it? Are the advertisers appealing to emotion? Are they trying to make us think that our lives would be better if we just had their product? Is that true?

It becomes a new way of thinking, and then a new way of living. None of us can be perfect. We can, however, go past the wanting and look into what it is we want, and why, and then we consider the ethical impacts of our desires, as well as our own lives and happiness.

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