Tag Archives: Consumerism

A Brief History of Everything: Where Science and Spirituality Converge

In some fields, the deeper you get into them, the more the field seems to approach spirituality. A perfect example of this is science. No doubt, there’s already plenty written about the convergence of science and spirituality, especially if you take a walk through the “self-help” section of a bookstore. And that’s not to detract from it. For some, reading about science and spirituality in this way is very helpful.

Today, I wanted to share with you another one of those science and spirituality convergences, but from someone I didn’t expect: Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Note: when I first watched the video, I didn’t realize that deGrasse Tyson has actually written a fair amount about spirituality and science.) Below, I’ve included a video set to start at the 6:20 mark. Watch the next minute or so of the video, as deGrasse Tyson takes us on a quick journey from the beginning of time to the present and through it, connects the dots between us and the beginning of time.

I totally understand that people have different views on science, spirituality, and religiosity, but it always gives me pause for reflection when it can be so well articulated that there’s this connection between us and the beginning of time. From the video, we can conclude that we are made of the universe, so “technically,” we are the universe discovering itself. You probably already knew that, but I find that every one and awhile, it helps to be reminded of things like this as it may help to put a current problem in perspective.

Watching a video like this also reminds antiquity. In particular, places like ancient Greece where it might have been more common to sit around and think about the things that deGrasse Tyson talked about in the video. But I wonder… was it? If we think about our world today, the percentage of people who have time to sit around and think about things like those in ancient Greece did is probably not very high, but maybe that was also the case back then. Maybe there weren’t that many people who were sitting around and pontificating on the nature of life.

Maybe I’ve just got a glorified view of the “intellectuals” from that time period, but I wonder how different our Western culture would be today, if we had more time to sit around and think ponder the ‘meaning of life.’ Don’t get me wrong, I understand that time to think is a luxury that not all of us enjoy (and if you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the lucky ones for which time to think is a luxury), but in thinking about our consumeristic ways, part of me wonders how different we could be in a world where we pursued knowledge and not stuff.

Buy Less Stuff: Parenting Without Borders, Part 2

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Chapter 2, we’ll explore “stuff.” That is, all the things we buy when we have kids.

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You can probably imagine the stereotypical parents walking to their car in the parking lot — trying to carry all their new baby purchases. We’ve certainly seen this stereotype in movies, but I bet you also know some parents (maybe it’s you?) who went out and bought. Everything. Baby-related. Ever. Created. How many times have you used that thing in the corner? Or what about that *special cloth* on the shelf?

I feel pretty fortunate in that the course I mentioned in the introduction, “Bringing Baby Home,” spent some time talking about the things that some parents think they “must have” versus the things that are “nice to have.” In the second chapter of this book, Gross-Loh also goes into detail about the stuff we buy when we become parents. In the US, actually:

The average American family gains 30% more possessions with the arrival of each child.

Whoa! You could probably argue that Americans probably already have too many possessions (before bringing in a new person into the family) and then to add 30% more to that! Sheesh. Here’s another important passage:

American parent seek meaning in their lives and find purpose by making a career out of priming their children for success. Today, instead of being told we should wear high heels and pearls while vacuuming the house, we worry that by not buying something for our child that will help foster his unique interests, he won’t live up to his potential. UPenn sociologist argues that the way we spend money on our children reflects our commitment to the idea that we should do whatever it takes to help each child cultivate his individual talents.

When you couch the consumerism like that, it doesn’t sound as bad, does it? Parents are just trying to right by their child. One last small reflection of the American culture found in this chapter:

In the US, there are more shopping centers than high schools.

There’s probably more to that statistics than what’s on its face, but it does sound a bit startling to think that there are more shopping centers that high schools.

As you might expect, this rampant consumerism doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. For instance, in Japan, children often have far fewer things. More importantly, it’s part of their culture. Gross-Loh shared an analogy of one child being jealous of his friends because they had no family car (while this child did) because riding buses/trains seemed far more fun by the way the child’s friends described it. We could also probably talk about the size of Japanese homes versus the size of American homes. As you might expect, homes in Japan are smaller and as a result, have far less room to store stuff.

There are also examples from France where parents are employing a “delayed gratification” with their children in that children don’t always get what they want. The idea behind this is that the child then gains the satisfaction from waiting. That might be a tall order for some parents.

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Overall, the message from this chapter is that we don’t need as much stuff for our kids as we think we do. Of course, given the culture of consumerism, it’s easier said than done for some. Regardless, some of the research shared in this chapter points to the fact that having fewer toys  or “simpler, open-ended playthings” are better for the development of children. Given that parents are only trying to do what’s best for their children, telling them that research shows that “less is more” might make it a bit easier to swallow.

 

Look Closely and You’ll See that America Values Philosophy and Idealism

About a month ago, I talked about the best kept secret to traveling – tours. Since that post, I’ve been back into DC a few times to visit the monuments and the other sites that there are to see. There was something that struck me as particularly poignant — the US values philosophy/ideals without even knowing it.

You wouldn’t know it to watch TV, go the movies, or listen to the radio, but deeply embedded within the US is a value of philosophy and ideals. What makes me say this? Well, in visiting the monuments, you can’t help but think this. All of these important people in American history and what’s the unifying theme (besides America) between them? They had an ideal or a philosophy and they remained steadfast in pursuing that philosophy. FDR, MLK, Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, George Mason…

Speaking of George Mason: even though I just finished an MBA from George Mason University, there were some things I didn’t know about the man that I found particularly interesting. For instance, did you know that he was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson? How about that he was the smartest man that George Washington knew? Or, how about that he wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights? And that Thomas Jefferson borrowed heavily from the Virginia Declaration of Rights in drafting the Declaration of Independence?

I wonder if there will be a time (again?) when these American values will be more apparent. That is, when they will be more overt.

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After one of these trips into DC to see the monuments, I found myself sitting on a bench outside one of the stores in the Mosaic District. I was looking up at all the store fronts and thinking to myself how distracting consumerism can be. I had just spent the day steeped in American idealism — learning and reading about some of the important figures in American history and now I found myself dropped into consumerism. It [consumerism] seemed so small after FDR, MLK, and Jefferson. It seemed almost insignificant. The most appropriate word I can think of for my thoughts that day: distracting.

It really seemed like everything was distracting. That is, everything but the philosophy/idealism I had spent time with that day. The stores and consumerism — it was distracting away from the philosophy and idealism. To be fair, maybe it’s not reasonable to always be thinking about idealism and philosophy. Maybe it’s fair to sometimes indulge. I should also clarify that I’m not judging consumerism, no.

I was just noticing that after spending a day with idealism, consumerism seemed… distracting.