Utne Response #3

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American culture is entrenched with the desire to purchase and own merchandise. Our society programs youth that an image can be purchased and tangible "things" will make you feel "good". Every year I ask my 16/17 year old students, "how many of you have part-time jobs, other than being students." Over half of the students in my class work after school and put in approx. 20-30 hours a week at local fast food places, discount stores, movie rentals, grocery stores, etc. Many students claimed that they had to work in order to pay for the "things" they want to own. I am disheartened at the fact that many of my students feel they need to "own" excessive amounts of merchandise today. Last week a student explained that his grades have dropped because of his late working hours. He is saving money to purchase a new $13,000 motorcycle. I tried to reason with him by explaining that he will experience "limited" driving time due to Duluth's weather. He stated that the bike was only for summer pleasure and that he couldn't afford the $3,000 annual insurance policy anyway. Yikes! Our desire to own stuff is plaguing us all economically, socially, and environmentally. The article entitled "The Stuff of Life" by Scott Russell struck a familiar cord with me. Especially due to the fact that I see this desire to "own" and purchase products from my students in the courses I teach each week. In fact, last week I was discussing our global economy with the students. In order to explain how global our world has become I started the unit with each student examining the tags on their shirts and shoes. A majority of the clothing came from Asian and Latin American countries. I asked the students to think about the fact that their clothing was considered more internationally knowledgeable than the average individual wearing the item. In essence our clothes have traveled more places than the average individual. I find this aspect disheartening because the American culture desires "stuff" at any cost, especially human cost. We demand low prices and our companies offer low and poor working conditions to meet these demands. Similarly, Mr. Russell's despair was equally evident, "We need to say 'Enough!' with relish and conviction. Like birds and bees and bacteria, we yearn to propagate our kind...we yearn merely for more offspring, shoes, meat, horsepower, loot....We imagine that the fullness we yearn for can be reckoned in dollars or yen or purchased in stores, there will be no end to our craving." I find it ironic that the human species has the power to love and reason but is so consumed by greed. Maybe we will continue consuming until our existence is threatened. According to Buddhist tradition, a human can not begin to heal until he/she realizes that all life is dukka (suffering) and we are banished to suffer until we realize our own greed and selfish acts can only be controlled individually. This message seems simple enough but the world is not full of Buddhists (hmmm...I wonder what that would be like). Regardless, this article brought up some good points....such as, simplicity may improve our lives rather than the constant drive for material "stuff."

-- Anonymous, February 15, 1999


Catherine, Thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree that our society is engrossed with purchasing new "stuff" at whatever the cost. I myself have in the past been "burned" because I charged those items I wanted but couldn't afford. Perhaps that is what will be our doom. We want to purchase new items so desperately that we will "beg, borrow, and steal" to get them, (not literally, I hope). It is also interesting that you have so many students working after school. I experience a few students working, but most of them are involved in after school activities within the school. My perspective on this issue in regards to adolescence is that too many parents these days give their kids everything that they want; therefore, the kids do not learn to work for anything. At least your students are working to earn it themselves. I know so many people who want to be "friends" with their children, and so they buy everything that they ask for. Those kids have no desire to work. Why should they? What kind of message does this send to our students with regard to their academics?

-- Anonymous, February 25, 1999

Hello Catherine: My name is John Hansen. I am an instructor in the Communication Department and the new discussion facilitator. Your comments are very well stated. I see the pressure in a variety of ways also in that I have students who work full time and go to school full time to maintain the life style they feel driven toward. It is hard to cope with an attitude that has become almost a "value". Can we as educators force the question by offering a dose of reality or do you think it is to late for that? Your thoughts? Please e-mail me. John Hansen

-- Anonymous, March 01, 1999

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