Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What's Making Us Discontent?

I heard a story that I can't verify is actually true (despite numerous searches on Google), but I thought I'd pass it on. The story goes like this:

A large american corporation opened a factory in a remote part of the world where the local people had little in the way of local commerce - no local shopping at all. The company was pleased that they were able to employ plenty of people to work and things got started well. The factory was running nicely for the first one or two pay periods, then people simply stopped showing up for work. The plant managers were confused until they learned that their employees, who'd never had much income at all, suddenly had all the money they could need, as they were living just as they had been before the company came but now had several good paychecks to provide plenty of security/comfort. The managers were baffled about how they could get the employees to return to their jobs, until one of them had an idea. They had a Sears catalog delivered to everyone in the village. The villagers, having never seen all the things that their money could buy, suddenly realized that they didn't have nearly enough money for everything they could want. They returned to work and the plan no longer had any difficulty getting the workers to show up. 

Whether it's a fact or a parable, the lesson is poignant. The villagers were perfectly content with the lives they were leading and the comforts they possessed until they let someone else, whose goal was to get them to buy more, start showing all the things that could make their lives "better". Once they'd been convinced that they "needed" those things, they were willing to trade large portions of their lives (M-F, 9AM-5PM) for the things they had just recently been content without.

The question I have is who am I allowing to make me discontent? There's a multi-billion dollar marketing industry who's whole purpose is to make me believe that what I have isn't sufficient and that what they offer is. The fact that this industry is kept in business speaks to the fact that they're successful at their mission. The mailers that come to my mailbox every day, the emails from the various stores/websites where we've spent money in the past, and the banner in my web browser - all of these are tailored specifically to convince me that I should purchase what they have.

One of the things I've really appreciated about being on our shopping fast so far is that I've come to see these things differently. I used to take the monthly mailer from my favorite woodworking store and keep it as my bathroom reader for a while. Though I don't buy new clothes too often, I keep allowing one of my favorite clothing stores to send me emails EVERY DAY - in case something comes across that I do actually "need." Since buying any of this stuff is not an option right now, it's been really easy to realize what these things are trying to do - they're trying to make me break our fast! Ok, that might not exactly be what they had in mind, but it comes down to the same thing.

So, if I know that these things I've invited into my life are trying to get me to do something I don't want to do, why keep them around? I've been unsubscribing from every advertising email that comes through my inbox, and it's amazing how quickly the spam mail goes down :) We set up a recycle bin right by the garage door so all those mailers can go directly in the bin without them having the chance to try to make us discontent with the wonderful things we already own.

Stopping the mailers is a bit more difficult than stopping the emails - it turns out that signing up for the mailers is very easy, but unsubscribing takes at least a direct email, more likely a phone call. Another option is to mute advertisements while you're watching TV. Better yet, turn the TV off and put your time into a pass-time that's more personal gratifying - family time, playing games, reading, crafts, hobbies.

We can't stop the billboards on the side of the road, but we can definitely choose what messages we grant a forum in our minds at home.
- Morgan

P.S. If you really want to mess with the website banners, spend a little time "shopping" online for things you don't care about in the slightest. The results will be amusing and not at all tempting :)

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