“It grieves them more to own a bad house than a bad life, as if it were man’s greatest good to have everything good but himself.”
I guess there really is nothing new under the sun. St.Augustine was referring to the most sophisticated society at the time, the Romans. The passage can easily apply to American culture. (I point out American shallowness not because I believe Americans are the only guilty nationality, but because I eat, sleep, work, and write America. America is what I know.)
The statement reflects two observations. The first is our obsession with stuff. The more, the better. The bigger, the better. The newer ,the better. The shinier, the better. We love stuff so much that we camp out in tents in front of stuff-containing buildings. Once the doors are opened we stampede through like an out-of-control herd of bulls, after which we threaten others with death over the stuff we have our eye on.
We love having stuff so much that some Americans pay monthly dividends just to store it.( For those of you who don’t see the imbecility this suggests, allow me to put it this way; You have spent perhaps a consolidated amount of X years away from family, friends, and leisure just so you can make more money in order to buy so many inanimate, lifeless objects made of plastic, wood, metal, and polyester that you have run out of places to put them and have now incurred a monthly bill to make sure it stays untouched and unused.)
I know a certain individual- who may be related to me- who seriously believes all the crap he/she buys every week will (a) be utilized and (b), will not be forgotten after the initial high of having just tossed the burning bills towards a shiny, new contraption wears off. I can provide eyewitness confirmation that just about every new tech gadget and kitchen contraption that is purchased by said individual ends up in the corner or garage after about three days and, as I’ve shockingly noticed, may even get re-purchased at a much later date. When one lives in a world comprised of constantly buying random crap out of sheer boredom, you tend to forget what you have, as you are also likely to run out of things to buy for under a $200.
The second observation of our thesis is indicative of the sickness as opposed to the symptom. To quote St. Augustine again:”People rather cultivate their houses and their hair, than their minds and souls.”
Unfortunately, this is true. It’s not true for everyone, just most everyone.
What exactly does cultivation of mind and soul entail, you ask? I will mention three obvious and mainstream/politically correct ways one can cultivate mind and soul.
The first way you can cultivate mind and soul is by reading. Besides promoting your vocabulary and increasing your prospects in the eyes of interviewers and anybody you desire to take you seriously, reading broadens and clears the windshield of your worldview. Reading can spark creativity. It can teach you. It can inspire. It can stretch your mind to understand and operate in the world more effectively. And while doing all that, it keeps the gears and levers of your brain greased up and spinning, as opposed to television, which usually causes rust and grinding.
Another way one can cultivate soul and mind is by listening. (I bet you didn’t see that coming, eh?) The problem with listening is that it requires you to shut up. One of the reasons I started writing was because I need to shut up more (some would argue that I’m not writing enough). I figured if I found at least one other outlet for my rambling, I wouldn’t have the itch to always cut in and put my two cents in. Listening is a vital part to being a friend. Having friends is pretty cool and healthy. It especially comes in handy when you’re moving. So start listening more, folks...even if you never plan on moving.
My last soul and mind-enhancing suggestion is to relax. Most people I know never relax. They’re always working, even when they’re not at work. There is, of course, the other side of the spectrum, where too much “relaxing” renders you broke and dumb. So find a balance to where leisure has value. Go fishing. Read a book and have a cup of coffee. Hang out with friends and practice listening. Watch sporting events. Take your significant other out and sit on the patio. Put on some Pavarotti and paint. Take a drive through the mountains while you scream along to Journey. Go to a comedy show. See a movie in 3D.
Leisure is a time to rest from work and reboot. It enables you to be more efficient when you get back to work, back to championing various causes.
Our minds and souls are built for leisure, art, and work. Capitalism works because people are inspired and have the freedom to make products which make life easier, those that inspire, and some that are just plain cool. I’m definitely not anti-capitalist, I’m anti-super-consumerism and anti-stupid. We should work to live, not vice-versa. What brings humanity together and makes us so special is we do awesome things together(build cities, discover free energy, go into outer space, paint the Sistine Chapel, rescue slaves, write songs, etc.,). The mortar between the blocks of our society is based on our value system. Unfortunately, when we value lifeless objects and decorating our shell over cultivating our minds and souls, when we value big-screen TV’s over each other and our own health, the wall of humanity begins to crumble. It’s true, I promise you.
The surface reason to change our values is simply because the quality of life will get better for everyone when we do so. We'll be a gasoline engine running on high octane instead of diesel. Who doesn't want that?