How We Rationalize “Business as Usual”,
Take Holidays for Example
Alas, I seem frequently to land on the ‘curmudgeon’ side of how things look. I just caught an interview with two individuals who are making a genuine effort to help us find ways to change our habits. Their specific interest is green Halloween practices. (See: http://www.greenhalloween.org/ )
They have some very good ideas, some thoughtful solutions to reducing Halloween consumption: Composting pumpkins rather than sending them to the landfill, for instance. They did not mention roasting pumpkins seeds for a treat in the interview, but likely they suggest that as well.
With a little generalizing, their ideas can apply to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the other holidays during which consumption of non-essentials rises. I suspect any one who is interested can figure out many of their own ways to use personal and earth resources more wisely – with or without input from a website. It’s always my experience however, in exploring ideas of others, that someone has thought of something I did not. So it’s great they’re doing this, sharing ideas at their site! Kudos! – sort of?
I sigh at what seems to me falling short of a mark that should perhaps be our target – real change. I suggest a more radical shift in our expectations and attitudes about resource use, about what makes “fun”, about how holidays can be enjoyed.
I “can’t help it”, I tend to look at society’s doings from a perspective often just outside “conventional”. With holiday celebrations, I seem to have been “inadequately socialized” by a rural farm childhood where dollars were short. At Halloween, this meant a very modest rural school afternoon event with nearly all costumes created by families rummaging through whatever old clothes could be found at home. (Limited financial resources have inspired creative re-cycling possibly for as long as humans have walked this earth! – Read: William KamKwamba: “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind!”, http://www.williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/) We did not have a special ‘trick or treat’ activity. Some parents may have driven their farm children to nearby villages or towns for trick or treating. But mine did not. Also without television, I had little awareness of how the broader culture practiced Halloween. I remember family singing silly Halloween songs around the piano with energetic, much enjoyed, harmonizing.
I was not absolutely happy with my family’s Halloween practice, but it made sense. I knew the forces at work that gave shape to our modest approach.
I know that most strong consumerism around the holidays has developed over time. I know when I was a child there was much less of this, even in families with more financial resources. I know that as more households became dual income homes, there was sometimes more cash available, and certainly less time. Costume purchase rather than home-creation developed. It made ‘sense’ and broadened variety. But over time, our spending at Halloween and all other major holidays, we have, quite frankly – gone berserk!
What are we thinking!! (We have not been, and may still not be, ‘thinking’.)
As I listened to the women being interviewed, I heard them speak of using http://www.freecycle.org/ , and other sites, to re-cycle costumes. Makes good sense. (Freecycle is a great web practice if you have not yet come across it).
But here and there, on various Halloween entertainment options, they spoke of “buying less”, and I wondered: “Why buy anything at all!”
I have written before that we “rationalize” the various ways we “just don’t quite need to do what makes very best sense.” We do this in every moment to moment decision, day-to-day life. We especially do this with consumer “wants” vs “needs”.
I imagined myself asking my question (“Why buy anything at all?”) of the site founders. I imagined their answers, which might range from “good for the economy” to “Life has to have some fun, especially in this time of worry for so many.”
In the interview, effect on overall economy was not mentioned. That’s OK, it wasn’t their intent. Their question, and the question I believe so many of us ask ourselves about our decisions, is: “How can I shift my choices without actually challenging myself or my family?”
And we begin to rationalize: (“It’s so much fun and life has to have some fun, … “; “If I do even a little bit, I hardly notice the ‘sacrifice’ and at the same time I contribute to a better world. It’s ‘win-win’ because I don’t have to really take change seriously, and the world still benefits.”) Not requiring ‘real’ change of ourselves is a strong motivation that I believe we seldom notice.
I have also written much on “unexamined beliefs”. What IS our belief about what makes a holiday “fun”? Where did we learn that? What is our belief about challenging ourselves to more radical change in personal habits and choices? What is our resistance to doing this?
Especially, what is our resistance when the issue is nothing more than a culturally developed “need” to buy more “stuff” to make Halloween “fun”!
A valuable work offering comprehensive and generalized examination of who we are, how we operate, what we think makes life “satisfying” is Richard Wilkinson’s and co-author Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level: How More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. They have combed research and international statistics to discover how income disparity (spread) in many countries in the world influences citizen experience in well-being (and also how it effects very real access issues, such as to food, shelter, education and health.) The authors include “perspective”, comparisons we make of ourselves to our culture. See: http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/
For those disinterested in “a spiritual focus”, the authors themselves say their title is ‘odd’. I have found three audio/visual presentations by them, and ‘spirituality’ is not mentioned once.
Back to Halloween, back to “making a difference”, back to radical rather than comfortable change: Abrupt change does not have to be uncomfortable! IF we understand that in significant ways we ‘hold back’ from ‘radical change’ of personal habits because we think it will “look weird” to people around us, (or because without thinking about it, we’ve followed developing cultural practice), we strip ourselves of the very autonomy that mature thinking needs – not ‘mature’ as in “no fun”, but mature as in – well – mature!
If we are going to shift direction, in any significant ‘critical mass’ measure, more of us have got to break free of unnecessary socialized “going along to get along” and unexamined motivation. No one really is going to care that much if we buy nothing at all for Halloween except treats to offer trick and treaters if we live where this happens.
We also tend to believe we’ll wait on radical change until someone shows leadership, or until someone of training tells us what is wise. (Is this true? – I observe this ‘restriction’ to autonomy at work.) What is truly relevant to our choices in holiday spending? What are “needs”, what are “wants”? How do we develop our list of “wants”?
What – when we stop to think about it – do holidays offer that is timeless? One of the best things they offer is shared community, shared fun. Dollars spent need have nothing to do with either of these! A more radical way to practice a “green” Halloween might be to purchase absolutely nothing (except those treats for those marauding costumed folks!)
Happy Halloween! (I do mean that!)– MaggieAnn