Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Summer Affluenza

“If an individual has a sufficient spiritual base, he won’t let himself be overwhelmed by the lure of technology and the madness of possession. He or she will know how to find the right balance, without asking for too much, and know how to say, I have a camera, that’s enough, I don’t want another. The constant danger is to open the door to greed, one of our most relentless enemies. It is here that the real work of the mind is put into practice.”  the Dalai Lama
Eleven months of the year I am content with the things I have. Mostly I think about paring down my possessions.
But each June, the fires of greed flare up. I’ve noticed this for almost as long as I’ve been teaching. For 30 Junes I’ve ventured into the marketplace to buy bikes, canoes, kayaks, computers, sailboats, camping gear, even cars! It’s always something. I would tell myself that I was only equipping myself for summer vacation.
I know better now: summer provisioning does not really explain my June bouts with affluenza. 
Underneath my greed I see churning feelings of sadness and loneliness. A lot of it comes from having to suspend my teaching. Teaching rewards me deeply, and I miss it during the summer. Retail therapy also distracts me from facing long lonely hours that can be difficult to fill when living on a budget. (And it sure doesn’t help to have blown the budget as the summer gets underway!) 
Apple computer company understands and exploits the links between loneliness and greed. They don’t market their products so much; they market a promise that their newest tech-toy will make their customers feel more connected, entertained, or creative. 

I've fallen for this false promise so many times!!
These gadgets actually—let’s be honest—have exactly the opposite effect: these devises separate us from the people who join us in our actual here and now.
So, how did I do this summer? Well, the gap between knowing this and putting what I know into practice is still huge. 

Sure, I didn’t buy the car I was researching on the Internet. 

I did buy something I did not need—an iPad—as did other teachers on my staff.


The Solitary Walker said...

Interesting, Dan. My own view is this. It's OK to have a mobile phone, an iPad, a car, camping gear. (It's OK not to have these things too.) They can be useful, pleasurable, some of them even essential in today's society (whatever criticisms we may have of this society and its economic structure). Their production provides emplyment for people. Etc. However, the big danger, as you say, is greed, and getting seduced by the marketing and the 'promise'. Buying the latest, the newest, the shiniest never lives up to the promise, and we end up feeling empty and unfulfilled. We've all experienced this: that feeling when the excitement of some new item wears off (which it does pretty quickly), and it breaks or gets scratched or goes wrong. We have that awful, empty feeling of money wasted which perhaps could have been spent more wisely. When we can see through all this, distinguish the realities of life from its illusions, recognise the hype for what it is - just hype - then our lives become so much happier and less stressed, and we find that the really fulfilling things are not material goods and the latest this or that. As you, I think, discovered long ago.

steven said...

dan - interesting post. i'm not at all interested in what i'm told will happen when i buy a piece of technology (even a bike). i'm very interested in the degree to which it mediates my experiencing of the relationships between myself and everything else. the digital must allow for analogue sensitivities and expressiveness. at the most fundamental level of binary code, this is a lot to ask for but there it is. my usual practice is to use an item as thoroughly as is reasonable and then trickle it to my kids who can tweak it to do what they want it to do. steven

Teresa Evangeline said...

It's an insidious thing, this consumerism, especially when we look at the latest gadgets (I call them contraptions and look at the root word). I think the key to this whole question lies in your statement about the feelings that are engendered when people realize this new gadget is not really making them any happier. Their core being is still feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled. People can only kid themselves for so long, then they decide to simplify and go deeper into the real meaning of life, or they look for the next gadget that they believe will make them happy, constantly seeking something outside themselves to give their life meaning. A lot of people are still kidding themselves, but will continue to make rationalizations and deny what their hearts and minds are really telling them.

This is a very interesting and thoughtful post. Thank You.

Dan Gurney said...

Robert, thank you for your thorough reply.

As you point out, the newness and novelty of new things quickly disappear and pretty soon a dent, scratch, or some imperfection appears and we're no longer satisfied.

I frequently use this stratagem to quell my desire/greed for new things:

I picture whatever it is I'm about to buy in the garbage can after I'm done with it.

Dan Gurney said...

steven, I do that, too, I think you mean your students, not your children? Anyway, I do that too for my students. A lot of my "stuff" ends up in the classroom eventually. I just sold a guitar to a former student.

What I really wanted to get across in this post, though, was the realization that my greed is stirred up by the end of school and the long summer months. Non-teachers imagine that the best three reasons to teach are June, July, and August. For me that's so not true. I teach almost in spite of the enforced seasonal layoff.

I had not noticed that I use consumerism as a buffer for loneliness and isolation.

Dan Gurney said...

Theresa Evangeline, thank you. Yes, you're right. Boy, it seems you and Robert anticipated the next post I planned to write. In this post I was trying to point out the how sadness & loneliness can stimulate greed and consumerism in me.

Ruth said...

I went through an unsettling couple of days last week when we lost power due to heavy winds. No electricity or water (we have a well with an electric pump). I wasn't angry or frustrated, and we were getting into the groove of sponge baths and a camp stove. We were grateful for all we had. But I still felt unsettled inside. I needed to 'go inside' and see what was wrong. What is essential? I wrote a post about it, and at the end talked about music, and I asked folks to leave their essential music in comments. It was an interesting process and discussion. What do we "need" to "survive" at the soul level?

Great post.

neighbor said...

I must say that this June I'm not having this problem. I'm dealing with the purchases of the many Junes before (as you know from my recent post) and remembering my long standing commitment to think three times (or more) before buying something. It's not unheard of for me to wait months and months for something I "want" and then find it wasn't that necessary after all. It's a great practice.

Currently the problem rears up as the many many things I didn't buy but that somehow made it into my house!

I wonder, how do you "deal" with all the gifts you probably get at the end of the school year? I can't imagine teachers really keep all of those things forever, but...?

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks, Ruth! I just read your post and added a comment, almost the hundredth—wow.

For me, the essential music is inside, it feels like it resides in my heart region (something about the rhythm, perhaps) and rises up from there.

My ukulele helps me mine, refine, give voice, and share the music inside. What a fine gift!

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, neighbor, yes, it's amazing how things we never bought seem to end up in our garage clutter. I marvel, sometimes, at the things I've brought home only to store and then toss, give away, or sell at a garage sale.

As for teacher gifts? The smartest thing I've ever done is put out a collection jar and bought ukuleles for the classroom. I have a large number of "Best Teacher" mugs. I guess most teachers do.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ipad is a media that has never existed before. It's a tool of creativity and I'm sure you will make the best of it.

I just ordered an iphone, so in a sense I am on a wavelength with you. Cool!

Dan Gurney said...

Yes, the feature that hooked me is the HD DVD camera and the ability to upload little videos on the web. I imagine using it to upload ukulele and kindergarten video clips. If I had a phone, it would no doubt be an iPhone.