I like to think that American society is finally moving on from the culture of consumerism. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since George W. Bush told Americans after the disaster that was 9/11 that the solution to our problem was to spend the weekend shopping.
I was recently gifted with a number of higher-conciousness movies, programs, and snippits of technology that help drive people to be a part of the solution. One of these programs, The Century of the Self, speaks about how American corporations and politicians worked to use Freudian theory and analysis to control by convincing them they didn’t have enough.
It’s interesting listening to the description of how most people lived their lives before this psychological campaign started. The narrator describes people living within their means, only purchasing new items when needed, and using their own resources to grow or make things for themselves. The series goes on to describe how corporate advertisers worked together with psychologists to convince those of us in Western cultures that the only real way to be happy is to “keep up with the Joneses.”
What’s interesting to me is that the descriptions of “do-it-yourself-ness” and resourcefullness and thriftiness of our forebears is where I believe our Western culture is returning. I have a profound sense of optimism when I view our culture. I am blessed to continually meet and interact with people who have seen a “new” way of living and embraced it, shunning the message that “more is more,” and that it is necessary to acquire things to justify one’s self worth.
Instead, the people I meet and interact with are putting their resources into purchasing experiences, opportunities to grow and learn, helping others, and maintaining a spiritual, emotional, or physical health.
What’s more, many people I interact with are turning their back altogether on the capitalistic economy and embracing the gift economy. Sharing resources, knowledge, and opportunities without expectation of return. More and more it seems that there is a movement that has germinated in the younger generation and is quickly spreading to change our culture and perspective. I see this demonstrated in chance encounters, for example:
- with a lady in the ferria, or farmer’s market, who tells me she’s been working to offer high quality items at an affordable price to help create a world that her children can afford to live in.
- in the young man biking from Chile to Nicaragua without a pocket full of cash, trusting in his ability to meet his needs in the moment and to share his experience and story with all he meets.
- in the numerous people I’ve encountered offering to share their expertise in yoga, raw food cooking, singing, or writing by offering free or donation-based classes wherever they find themselves.
This spirit not only strengthens whatever community it seeps into by infusing new skill sets and knowledge, but it spreads quickly. When we begin to wake up to the fact that our cups are overflowing and there is no reason to hoard, we are all more likely to share what we have. Just as a smile can spread from one person to the next, so do these acts of free-spirited gifting reverberate throughout humanity.
I’m lucky to live in a crossroads such as this as it gives me an opportunity to see the speed with with change happens. Here in Costa Rica, there is a community of locals who interact with a community of extranjeros from all over the world who interact with a constantly changing flow of tourists visiting from throughout the world. Kindness and generosity shown to any one of these people quickly spreads to the rest, and then travels home with those who are only visiting. (And aren’t we all?)