September 25, 2012

Spectrum

I had a dental cleaning/check yesterday, which means that from September 1st when I flipped the calendar page and saw the appointment, until yesterday when I was walking out the dentist's door, you wouldn't have been able to convince me the world was a happy place. Now I feel open to the concept.

Whenever I go to the dentist or have an appointment in the near future, it sets off a smoldering annoyance I feel with a whole category of...stuff. Things. Now comes the challenging part, where I try to say what that category IS.

Okay, it's like this. Let's picture the WORLD, for a moment. The whole world. And now let's picture a Dental Spectrum, representing the dental care levels of the world. At one end, we're going to have no tooth care at all, and adults with many missing teeth. No dentist, but maybe some local guy who will pull a tooth for you when it's hurting.

One step up from that is going to be people who figure out a sort of self-care for their teeth: scrubbing them with sand and twigs or something. Still no dentist.

One step up from that is going to be a situation where you can buy the things you need: toothpaste, toothbrushes, floss. Maybe at that point in the spectrum there's a dentist, but maybe he's 30 miles away by foot, or maybe he's a traveling guy who only stops by every couple of years and anyway he still only does basic, basic stuff. No, like, root canals or crowns.

One step up from that.... Well, I don't think we need to do every single step. But here is what causes the smoldering annoyance: picturing the other end of the spectrum, the last tiny smidgen pressed right up against the far edge, where we have such things as "Making one's teeth WHITE enough" and "Making one's teeth STRAIGHT enough" and "Going to see the dentist every 6 months at great expense, whether you need it or not, or else you are unclean and irresponsible."

Those things are all crowded up ALMOST at the tippy-edge of the spectrum, right before the Hollywood part where it's "Getting all your teeth capped, and it has to be a special expensive KIND of cap." And yet we're supposed to think of this crazy-high level of care as STANDARD and MINIMUM.

It's the same with fashion. Picture the world again, and now picture the fashion spectrum instead of the dental one. At one end we have just enough clothes for pure safety/use/protection: a little cloth to prevent pain and flopping, maybe. Something on the feet if absolutely necessary. An animal skin when it's cold enough to otherwise die of exposure.

Then it's clothes for privacy and comfort. But it's whatever can be obtained: certainly fit is not an issue, or color, or style, or number of holes, or matching, or ANYTHING like that. And it's probably one shirt, one pair of pants held up with rope---not, like, multiples of each item.

Then let's skip to wayyyyyyyy up at the other end of the spectrum, it's "Clothes must fit AND flatter AND be this season AND be appropriately accessorized AND be quality AND be expensive, AND you have to get rid of them all and start over in three months or else EEW. I mean, take CARE of yourself, amirite?"

Those things are all crowded up at the farthest edge of the spectrum, right before the Hollywood part where it's "And never wear the same item twice" and "No, seriously, it's completely reasonable for a dress to cost multiple thousands of dollars"---and yet we're supposed to think of them as STANDARD and MINIMUM.

Oh, and feet. FEET. (I remember reading somewhere, like in a novel where some characters were old-timey high society, that the word "foot" was acceptable and the word "feet" was vulgar. Isn't that funny?) The world's foot spectrum appears before us; at one end, no footwear at all. Then it's any shoes available, certainly no quibbling about size, appearance, style. Etc., etc., I'm sure you're getting the concept, and then we get to the upper part, where you must have pedicures or else you're gross and an offense to society, AND you must have many pairs of shoes, AND they must be custom-fit to your feet by an expert, AND they must be this season, AND they must be perfect in both color and style with your outfit and purse, AND it is perfectly reasonable for them to cost multiple hundreds of dollars.

I mistyped and then misread "foot" as "food," so yes, let's talk food. World food spectrum, starting with "Trying not to die." A BIG step up the spectrum, and then it's "Trying to get adequate nutrition so that one's teeth don't fall out and one's bones don't snap." Another big step and we're at "Being able to buy food at a store" and "Being able to choose between foods" and "Having access to food that is mostly still fresh/bugless."

Then let's look at the verrrrrry top edge of the spectrum, where it's "The food has to be FRESH" and "The food has to be LOCAL" and "The food has to be ORGANIC" and "The food has to be a CERTAIN BRAND and/or from a CERTAIN STORE and/or sold in a CERTAIN KIND OF PACKAGING." It's right below the very top edge where people spend multiple hundreds of dollars on a bottle of BEVERAGE to go WITH their meal, but it's supposed to be considered STANDARD and MINIMUM. Anything less is GROSS and IRRESPONSIBLE and DANGEROUS.

And what really starts turning the smolder into something more volcanic is that these spectrums cover EVERY SINGLE AREA OF LIFE. Everything. Down to our TOENAILS. Up to our HAIR, which must be not just in existence AND clean, but also cut regularly, by a professional, ideally an expensive professional, and also cared for with a variety of expensive products and tools for a long period of time each day, AND colored every 6 weeks, AND worn fashionably, AND EXISTING NOWHERE ELSE ON OUR BODIES.

And home maintenance! And yard maintenance! And pet care! Eye care! Eyebrow maintenance! Love relationships! Exercise! Housecleaning! Parenting! Car ownership and care! Optional insurance! Appliances! EVERYTHING must be obtained and maintained at the 99TH PERCENTILE or else it is CRAP. DO IT ALL, OR YOU ARE A CRAPPY AND IRRESPONSIBLE HUMAN BEING WHO JUST DOESN'T CARE AND/OR IS TOO STUPID TO KNOW ANY BETTER. OH AND BY THE WAY IT ALL COSTS A LOT OF MONEY, BUT HAVING LESS MONEY IS NO EXCUSE.

These are terrible ways to measure human worth---and yet there they are, totally in place, and established so that people feel comfortable referring to them as givens.

Oh, I know, the answer is to just DISREGARD these silly standards and make my OWN decisions about what is worthwhile and important and valuable! Yes, yes, thank you, Buddha Jr.! But we do LIVE on this planet, constantly exposed to these standards, and it puts me on a constant low smolder to be reminded of them so persistently and from so many different directions. I don't even like those standards to EXIST; and so since other people ARE applying them, it helps only a little to remind myself that I don't have to do so.

47 comments:

MaggieO said...

Holy cow, I'm pretty sure I never wanted to have this spelled out for me like this because now it will fester for me too. Or maybe I did...anytime I'm not meeting the 99% standard I will tell myself that Swistle says it is OKAY.

Ginny said...

Yay rants! I was getting very grumpy-face this morning because I'm wearing a brown T-shirt, black workout pants, and a navy blue overshirt, and I feel sure other people on the train are judging me. I have to change into my work uniform when I get there, and there's some walking and biking as part of my commute, so I don't see any point in dressing for anything but comfort, but the (imagined) judging bugs me. I hate how I feel like I'm supposed to Look Good any time I'm out in public, even if I'm not expecting to meet anyone whose opinion I care about. I like dressing nicely for dates or to meet with a friend (and obviously for professional stuff), but I don't see why I should bother if I'm just commuting or running errands. But obviously I'm in that uncomfortable spot where I don't care enough about strangers' opinions to dress up for them, but do care enough to feel naggingly self-conscious.

Also, I haven't been to the dentist in years. My excuse for a while was "irresponsible young adult" and then it changed to "no insurance," and I don't know what it'll be when I have insurance again.

vanessa said...

I love you. the end.

HereWeGoAJen said...

Grrr. Now I am festering too.

I only take care of these things to about the 80%. I just try not to tell anyone else that. (Let's just say that the last time I went to the dentist? Elizabeth sat on my lap because she couldn't walk yet. And the time before that, she didn't exist, even a little bit.)

Swistle said...

Ginny- "I'm in that uncomfortable spot where I don't care enough about strangers' opinions to dress up for them, but do care enough to feel naggingly self-conscious." HA HA HA YES. That is EXACTLY where I am!

Nowheymama said...

"Buddha Jr."! I just did a coffee spit take.

Sarah said...

The hard thing about spectrum comparison is that we have no concept for how crazy it COULD get--like where you visit the dentist every week and he uses ground diamond powder to buff your teeth and a sonic radar to detect miniscule amounts of plaque beneath the gumline. Things just seem nuts because we have no idea how nuts they could get.

I think of things we take for granted like email and hairspray and deodorant. My great-grandmothers would have thought that these would be so extremely unnecessary as to be ludicrous. Or how in the old days babies used to just wear a huge, long white gown from the time they were born until they were two. Just one or two gowns and it sufficed for that whole long period of time. But now we buy fitted baby clothes (a whole wardrobe) every three months. But it could get even crazier--we just haven't seen it yet.

I take comfort in knowing, when things seem insane, that I have only seen the beginning of how crazy it's GOING to get! :)

MomQueenBee said...

Yes! Yes, yes, yes. When I asked my dentist why I needed every-six-month check-ups when I hadn't had a cavity in 43 years, and everything seemed pretty stable in my mouth, he said "Well, if you can't afford it...." and I CAVED. "No, no, no, it isn't that, it just doesn't seem necessary, but since I have insurance..." I hate my inability to resist the 99 percent when I KNOW it's stupid. Thank you for spelling it out--I will be strong and resist the pedicures. Except occasionally.

Laura Diniwilk said...

I feel like I score embarrassingly low on so many spectrums, and when I'm high on more than, say, 2, everything else goes to shit. Like, if I'm on point for makeup and clothes, my nail polish is chipped and my brows need plucked and my grays are showing. It's way too much to care about at any given time. I think it would be great to look put together 100% of the time, I just can't imagine expending the effort to do so.

For a minute there this whole line of thought was making me a little depressed and slackerish feeling, but then I remembered that there are a lot of areas in life where my attention is better focused, like work and kids. Totally worth the unibrow.

Shelly said...

Oh, this is just brilliance! I love it. "Yes, yes, thank you, Buddha Jr.!" made me snort.

H said...

I have many thoughts about this topic - too many to put in a comment. Suffice it to say, I am frustrated by the standards and also sometimes fear that I don't know what the standards are and where I fit in the spectrum. Then I think I don't care, but then sometimes I worry people wonder what's wrong with me. Eh.

HOWEVER, the dental work issue has been on my mind for years. I have an aunt who has crooked teeth. Not horribly crooked, but pretty crooked. She's probably 65 now, I'm not sure. But always, I have wondered if she would get braces as an adult but she hasn't. My daughter has often asked me why my aunt hasn't gotten braces so I realized my daughter (she's 21) is growing up in a generation in which perfectly aligned teeth is practically the norm. When I was growing up, the only people who had braces were those with significant and obvious crooked teeth. My mind then goes to crazy places about conformity and lack of individualism.

Maggie said...

Excellent rant! A few years ago before my son started kindergarten, we moved to a different neighborhood because it has really good schools. What I failed to realize was that in so doing, we were inadvertently moving up the spectrum. The standards for almost everything went up. I strive to resist giving in to the pressure on many of these things, but it's kind of exhausting. I can't wait until my kids are done with school and we can move someplace where it's not a matter for comment that someone's lawn is not constantly mown to golf course length or they brought unorganic snacks to a soccer game.

That said, I will likely continue with my current high spectrum level for dental care only because due to genetics I have crap teeth that require that level - even at that level I've got three crowns, have had several root canals, and generally have funded my dentist's vacations and hobbies. Sigh.

Sarah said...

I was JUST ranting about this to a friend at the playground this morning. I am so TIRED of worrying about maintaining every damn thing to an "acceptable" level: the yard, my clothes, the kids' clothes, everyone's health care, everyone's meals, worrying about being judged because I don't regularly wear makeup or "fix" my hair, let alone color it, shoes for everyone, vet for the dog, cleaning the dang house all the time, etc. I'm just... tired. And that's even leaving out the giant looming home addition and yard regrading project, which I imagine will remain giant and looming for another year at least. Sigh.
P.S. My word captcha is y strain. Why indeed!

Ann Wyse said...

Are you familiar with the Boston Brahmin? There's a whole political/power side which you can trace back through Choates and Adamses and Quincies and read about on Wikipedia, and then there's this very understated, not very much talked about aspect to the Boston Brahmin culture, whereby it wasn't okay to flaunt your money or wealth too conspicuously. There was a tendency towards living in a ramshackle house and wearing shabby clothes and driving old falling apart cars and these tendencies alone were seen as generational badges of honor to be passed down.

The Boston Brahmin culture probably has roots in Europe, where you still see this among many of the more affluent or powerful families. There's a marked decision that being/doing anything too high on the spectrum makes you look like nouveau riche. (And that is not a good thing.)

Growing up in Europe, my husband's mother actually told him, "Everybody knows we are rich, so you don't need to wear new clothes." Now, first of all, his family wasn't rich, BUT, I mean, what a fascinating way to try to be seen as rich. And what an interesting way to distance yourself from the ever-accumulating piles of crap we seem to think we NEED.

I feel your pain. It bothers me, too. But when I'm out about in my messy clothes, with hair that hasn't been cut in a year and my undone nails, I just tell myself that I'm Boston Brahmin (I'm not) or that I'm European royalty (also not) and I let the nouveau rich be. Somehow, if I can imagine that I'm upholding a semi-secret identity of generations, I feel a little less bad about the moment.

Giselle said...

Yes, yes, and YES. I went on a weekend trip...one overnight...with a group of ladies last weekend, and I brought a toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, a clean pair of underpants, shorts to sleep in, and an extra shirt. Also a box of chocolates to share. This easily packed into a small purse-like bag. I was shocked when every other woman showed up with a medium sized rolling bag. I couldn't imagine how they would have so much stuff...and I am sad to say I was embarrassed that I had not even a clue what they could have needed for an overnight that would fill a bag that size. (hint...they had multiple outfits, and makeup, and hair styling appliances, and 3-4 pairs of other stylish shoes, and accessories...)

Then I had a play date, and the mother greeted me at the door instantly apologizing for her hideously dirty house. Which was a bit dusty and cluttered with toys...but certainly NORMAL. No, better than average, I'd say.

All this to say...I GET this post. I LOVE this post. I would like to be your sloppy, unstyled, cluttered neighbor just so I wouldn't feel judged.

Jenny said...

I am instantly joining the Boston Brahmin group. As of today. (Also not rich, or royalty, but I'm not wearing makeup and I'm wearing brown sandals with a black skirt. Everyone can tell I come from the elite now, right?)

alice said...

I love you. These are the times when I wish most fervently that internet communities could translate into meat space communities, so that we could have a critical mass together to re-establish expectations.

And on another tack, there's often an expectation that we keep things at the 99% effort level, while at the same time making it all look effortless (Mary Anne Mohanraj has a great piece on this 'sprezzatura': http://www.mamohanraj.com/journal/show-entry.php?Entry_ID=5354).

And I don't fully know why it's soothing to know that other people are all in a lather about this, but it really, really is.

Anonymous said...

Love how you end up with more and MORE CAPS!! :)

-Amanda

Swistle said...

Ann Wyse- How NICE! I think we need to bring Boston Brahmin into vogue as a term! Maybe it'll help the way "slacker mom" and "introvert" helped!

Swistle said...

Giselle- I've had some luck forcing myself to stop feeling awful about / scrambling around cleaning / apologizing for my dirty house by thinking of it from this very point of view! Like, if I showed up at someone's house and it was kind of messy and she said not one word about it, I would breathe a huge sigh of relief and think "Ah! Maybe we can be FRIENDS!" (So why oh why do I keep thinking I should clean MY house for someone stopping by?? Crazy talk!)

Marie Green said...

You know the one that gets me? The safety spectrum. We are in such a FROTH about safety (I'm thinking for our kids: baby proofing, car seats that "need" to be rear facing until age TWO now, not letting kids outside to play unless we are with them EVERY SECOND!, etc) and how that spectrum drives me crazy. We aren't actually CONTROLLING anything with this level of vigilance (accidents still happen), but if we don't get frothy about it, we're slacker parents.

SIGH. Thanks for allowing me a place to rant about that! Also, I love you. I do. With big, puffy, pink and red hearts. xo.

Leslie said...

I read your blog regularly, but rarely leave a comment because they'd pretty much be "EXACTLY." And if I did that on every post, all the time, it'd start to look like spam. This one really resonated with me today, so, EXACTLY!

Jessica said...

This makes me feel so much better about not scheduling my six-month dental checkup. Of course, I really do have crap teeth, so I suppose dental care should probably be my hill to die on (I think I need ANOTHER crown). (And, yes, I realize I don't actually NEED it, but it's quite painful without it and while people further down the spectrum have to live with that pain, I am extremely privileged to *not* have to live with the pain.)

I wonder how many 'hills to die on' each person can reasonably have? I'll tell you for sure hair, exercise, and fashionable clothing aren't any of mine!

Are startling expenses (TM Swistle) necessary to get to the top of the hills?

Nicole said...

Still laughing about the food spectrum "Trying not to die."

Ahahaha.

We are all so SPOILED. I was just thinking about this, how when we were kids very few kids had braces and now everyone does, which is fine and everything, but where does it end? Evidently with all capped and whitened teeth, I guess.

Brenna said...

This helps me a lot to have it all explained so clearly. So many days I feel like I'm failing at life but for no other reason than I didn't get to the vacuuming, or we had sandwiches for dinner. Now I realize this constantly not living up to unreasonable standards has a cumulative "beating down" effect on a person.

I think I will bookmark this post to come back to, just to reset that 'reality' button in my head.

Rah said...

Such a thoughtful, well stated analysis. Just recently I have overhead at 2 different parties, people guessing some well-known person was from a certain country "because of his teeth." We have such first-world desires and standards ["grande nonfat, nofoam, half-caf, sugar free peppermint latte," compared to "half a cup of water, just half a cup for my baby"].

Lynn said...

I was thinking along these lines just this morning. A really, really smart guy from China was on talk radio this morning talking about how now that China's economy is up and coming, everyone there expects to be rewarded with the same kind of disposable/many choices/plentiful goods style of life that Europeans and North Americans currently enjoy. However, it's completely un-environmentally sustainable to have the entire population of China and India live this way. We all have to change our lifestyles and expectations and habits to make things work. Lately I find myself just feeling guilty whenever I do simple things like grocery shop and get a haircut. It's hard to find the right balance in life, isn't it?

Shalini said...

I am going to go around calling myself Buddha Jr. now. Well, that and the ultimate arbiter of tastes. I must be both, otherwise there is no excuse and I am irresponsible and unclean with my thoughts.

Carmen said...

Oh man, how I love to see a new Swistle post in my RSS feed and today's did not disappoint. Very good rant, my dear. I agree with everything. I am no where near the 99% on the fashion, hairstyle, makeup, fitness, feet, and cleanliness spectra.

Where I AM is in the same spot as Ginny: "I'm in that uncomfortable spot where I don't care enough about strangers' opinions to dress up for them, but do care enough to feel naggingly self-conscious." Exactly. I know that I'm not fashionable, made-up or perfectly coifed and I have no desire to spend the time, effort and money to be that way...but at the same time I feel uncomfortable that I'm not.

Clarabella said...

I just shared this all over the internet because I love it. Also "constant slow smolder" is the new name of my cover band. Also, also, "Buddha Jr." is amazing. My goal is to call someone this at least once a day.

Gina said...

Yes! (and also @Marie Green - double yes on the safety aspect!)

I call this the "boob job" syndrome (particularly appropriate given that I live in Los Angeles). Meaning boob jobs have made perky, 34 DD breasts the "standard" when it is so far from what is normal and necessary as to be ridiculous. Here in LA in our socio-economic group everyone has a gardener, almost everyone I know has a "cleaning lady", new cars are the norm. (We don't have any of those things) Can't we all just agree that we've all got kids/busy lives and that means mess and dirt and that our houses and yards and cars don't need to be spotless. And on top of that no one *needs* a 3000 sq ft house and I am not suffering because I have three kids in a 2 bedroom house - that used to be normal! And sometimes my grey hairs are going to show through. Sigh.

My oldest recently started at an expensive private school (we get financial aid to go there) and I thought that I might feel uncomfortably out of place with him going there but the thing is we are SO out of place it doesn't bother me. It's kind of fun not to feel like we have to keep up - because we can't. Seriously, his kindergarten teacher drives a Mercedes and they encourage donations up to $50K for the annual fund. HA HA HA.HA.

Erica said...

Sigh. Yes. If it helps, I'm pretty sure I've never owned an item of clothing that was "this season." Even new ones. And I only have one handbag and it's brown and I call it a purse.

I am going to the dentist next week, but only because I can't chew on my left side.

Cayt said...

Oh my goodness yes! I'm a student and young (nearly 23) and so I think it's easier for me, (and also I'm a FEMINIST and so I can pull that out when people judge my shoes or my unplucked eyebrows or my failure to wear makeup because clearly I am busy Smashing the Patriarchy to get my hair coloured every six weeks) but I recently read an article by Sady Doyle saying that when we don't take part in social rituals like keeping in the 99% on these things or talking about how we really shouldn't eat that cheeseburger we can think that we're just being sensible healthy people doing what's right for us but to other people it can look like we think we're better than them because we disregard their silly social standards, hahaha what sheeple they are. That said, it is a choice and we have to do what works for us (yes, I know, buddha jr right here, too).

Bibliomama said...

I'm just so in love with the way your mind works. I want to take your mind out to dinner and snuggle with it and buy it fuzzy slippers.

Gigi said...

I absolutely loved this post - seriously.

TinaNZ said...

There are famous gurus, people who make a healthy living writing self-help books and entire schools of philosophy that don't express this concept half as well as you just did. And of course hordes of marketing companies working very hard to convince us of the opposite. Next time I start to stress about not doing something well enough, or often enough, or expensively enough, I'll stop myself and think - where is this on the Swistle spectrum?

Beth said...

Brilliant. I think you should submit this somewhere to be published.

May I also nominate this post to go in your reference section?

I third the thing about child safety and supervision. I would let my kids play unsupervised more often if I wasn't so worried that the neighbours would be horrified and view me as neglectful.

shin ae said...

Hoo boy. Yes. And, I haven't read the other comments, so I don't know if this has already been stated, but I feel like it's getting worse and worse. My first piece of evidence is the childhood birthday party--totally worse in every way. My second piece of evidence is the handbag--also worse (did people once carry bags that cost less than $250??!). My third piece of evidence is the house--my perfectly adequate in days past 900 sq. ft. house is considered ridiculously tiny by today's standards.

That's enough evidences, because you said a bunch of the things that bug me--the hair (the coloring and shining and smoothening), the face (it is so PERFECT), the yard (How DO you? And aren't you BORED?!), the food (I can't EVEN TALK ABOUT IT).

And you know, I'm pretty much how I was, well, always. But everybody else looks so very sleek and perfect and like they spent a fortune. It makes me feel like a terrible hillbilly, but I'm just the way I always was, and I wasn't a hillbilly then.

So yeah. YES. And I can't figure out a diplomatic and neutral way to say that the discussion about our economy doesn't feel complete without acknowledging the fact that our standards and expectations are extremely high these days.

shin ae said...

Oh oh OH! And the *&%^$* iThings! Because I don't have one, and don't want one, and many people just look at me sadly. Okay, done.

Susie said...

Dear Swistle,
Everything is going to be OK.
*Drawing of a cat in a tutu* *Drawing of stars and hearts*
Love, Snoozie

(Paraphrased/plagiarized from a wonderful lady.)

Swistle said...

Susie- NO IT WON'T, IT WILL NEVER BE FINE, EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO... ...Wait. Did you say in a tutu?

Alexicographer said...

Will you marry me?

Yes. This. I remember when tooth whitening became widely available thinking, "Oh darn." Or words to that effect. Maybe with a -mn rather than a -rn. I haven't complied with that, or much else. I do tell people (truthfully!) that I stay intentionally out of fashion because it is so much easier: you do have to be a little careful, because things can "come back" (vintage!). But mostly, you can wear the same stuff year after year after year and be confident you are not in style. It's freeing.

I did feel guilty about how furry my legs were (very!) and how scruffy my clothes were (ditto!) on one of several recent trips when my DH and I leapt into the car to drive 5 hours to be with his mother and family while she died (which she did, of cancer, about a month ago). Because you know, what really matters in those sorts of situations is keeping up appearances. Not (and yet I really did feel guilty. Maybe because it was the easiest emotion available next to, you know, grief).

artemisia said...

You spelled this out perfectly.

Here is where I really screw myself over and send myself into a spiral: How about if all this self consciousness about standards, etc., is really all a construct to keep us occupied and distracted, thus oblivious to how much control MONEY and the very, VERY few ultra-wealthy people have over us?

GAAAAAHHHHHHYHHHH,.

Swistle said...

Artemisia- I think a more likely construct is PROFIT. I learned in marketing class that the way to get people to spend money is to make them discontent with what they have: people who are content don't spend. If they don't have enough food, they're discontent and they buy more; if their couch is uncomfortable, they're discontent and they buy another; if they don't have a toaster, they're discontent and they buy one.

The problem is, of course, that at some point people have all they need, and then they even have all they "need" (the toaster, the couch), and then all they buy is maintenance stuff (groceries, replacement-but-not-additional clothes, etc.), and that category of product has a very low profit margin.

To get more money, then, discontentment has to be continually refreshed---and the more discontentment, the greater the cash flow. Look how much people spend on their hair if they get it cut and color-touched-up every 6 weeks, and if they keep having to buy special conditioners to repair the damage they do with the professional-grade tools they felt they needed after being instructed they were discontent with their regular ones. Look how much more people spend if you tell them their eyebrows and lady areas need similar care. Look how much more on top of that they spend if you tell them unpedicured feet are nauseating. Look how much more they spend if you convince them they need SPECIAL food and SPECIAL clothes. And what if you could also get them to buy self-help books and donate to religions and pay for psychiatric care, because when they find they don't feel content after they buy the things they were promised would make them feel content, you tell them that means there's something wrong with THEM?

Pools of potential cash are EVERYWHERE. And so EVERYWHERE, there are people actively using all the available human ingenuity to drain those pools. And the primary draining tool they use is discontent: they tell us we are in need of SO MANY THINGS in order to meet THE BARE MINIMUM---and that frantic, stressed, can't-keep-up feeling keeps us as alert to (1) noticing that spending so much money isn't really helping us catch up, and (2) asking ourselves if any of these claims about what we need are, you know, TRUE.

And so to get out of the construct as I suspect it is, we'd work on generating contentment. We'd actively work on deflecting messages that we needed things, that we were discontent with what we had, that spending more money would make us content. We'd "cherchez le cash" in discontented feelings we noticed: i.e., wonder each time we felt we "needed" to do something, "Where's does the money go, if I listen to this?"

If it's instead a construct like what you're describing---well, I suspect we'd need someone to come and yank us out, offer us the red/blue pills and then send a robot to remove our plugs. I doubt it would be something we could get ourselves out of.

Anonymous said...

So many excellent points! I will never keep up with other people's standards, but sometimes I feel I should I try. So my teeth are not straightened, my eyebrows are not perfectly trim, or my car detailed. More often I tell myself - is it really more important to groom and upgrade everything to death or to really relish my life? I like having things look nice, yes, but how much of your life energy is it worth to keep up with these escalating so-called standards?

I am already hitting that stage with the children's birthday parties and am secretly appalled by gift bags. More plastic crap or sugar to deal with. Or the adult version is: more "plastic" crap or superior attitudes to deal with. I like my little house and my life. It feels comfortably lived in, if a little cluttered. I cultivate contentment and a joyful life. My daughter does go to a cool Montessori school, but that means less of other things. I confess I bought her a bunch of new clothes that "matched" this Fall, but they are not top of the line, and most of her shoes are used. Meanwhile, I avoid reading magazines spreading discontentment. La-la-la-latest fashions-I can't hear you! :)

-Marie

The Crummy Chronicles said...

I have never read your blog before and actualy know nothing about you (yet) but was linked to this from Jess at Wrangling Chaos.

Thank you thank you for typing this out and putting it so clearly. I do think about this a lot and feel so ashamed at how spoiled I am. Sometimes I just freeze when I am doing something like mopping and thinking how I hate it and then I realize that I have a FLOOR to mop which is so much more than most of the world. I saw poverty first hand in the Dominican. They didn't have tiles. So sometimes to snap myself back into a more right perspective I just say "one tile" to myself and it's a reminder.

I am a dental hygienist and I work for a dental clinic that serves the community that has low income and no insurance. Many of our patients are grateful that they can get quality care for 95% less than general dental offices. But we do get the ones that are upset that we can't do crowns or professional whitening and they feel like they NEED those things so strongly.

The term need is just bogus in our society. I have honestly never lacked anything I have ever needed for survival yet I find myself using that term often. I am a work in progress definitely- God's not done with me yet. It does sadden my heart that in a way I will never be able to fully comprehend how spoiled I am or that I can never be as grateful as I should for my blessings- because growing up in this society will keep me from that. It's impossible to know how blessed I am without living without all of these things.

Anywho- long comment. Great post. Thank you for truly seeing the big picture and stating it in a way people can understand.

sarah said...

I work with kids from all ses groups, and HAVE to remind myself where they fall on this spectrum when working with them & their parwnts. We consider maslow's hierarchy of needs (basic survival at the bottom, self-actualization at the top). It helps. Also i have to rwmjnd myself that we are aiming for ____ as opposed to___. Like "healthy food" as opposed to "no food." Not "healthy food" as opposed to "even HEALTHIER food." I get all first world angsty about this.