On Material and Personal Belongings

by / 0 Comments / 1024 View / July 2, 2014

Society makes us suffer unnecessarily. Think about it: our status is determined by what we own. Even though Siddhartha, Jesus, and Mohammed tried to teach us that personal wealth was not that important, that the meek will inherit the earth, that we must attempt to pay a tax for the needy, and that the origin of suffering is desire, we constantly forget these teachings.

Now, humanity spent about 190,000 years as a hunting and gathering society. Family units were the main travelling groups, uprooting oneself was the norm, and the idea of belongings or settling down was foreign. But with the rise of cities and the fall of nomadic lifestyles, people started to embrace the concept of ownership. And with it, came the rise of administrative systems, kings, priests, the patriarchy, and violence merely to gain land.

Is the correct path a socialist or communist approach, where everything belongs to everyone? My optimistic self would like to believe so, but as a realist and pragmatist, I know it’s impossible. First, because humans are not created equal in every situation, some might require more belongings because of age, medical conditions, or harsher living environments. Second, because we have seen “socialist” and “communist” nations in which the ruling party abuses its power and, rather than following its ideology, hypocritically uses its position to its advantage, the idea that humans do not need to worry about personal belongings and “stuff” seems to be a utopian fantasy reserved only for dreamers.

Now, our desire for our belongings and “stuff” is not entirely negative. Just as the mind creates biases and preconceived notions to help us make sense of the world, we too feel the need to own something to help us identify who we are and what we mean in the grand scheme of things. Having a teddy bear that was given to us when we were two years old can help to remind us of our softer side, or of a family member no longer with us. Looking at a beautiful ring on our hand recalls memories of the courtship, or of our sweaty palms as the proposal left our heads and entered the ear of our beloved. These belongings shape and define who we are.

Many of these permanent belongings change and shift constantly, so why care about them so much? Personally, as a TCK, or a “Third Culture Kid,” which is someone who has spent a significant part of their development years outside of their parents’ culture, I’ve never felt an affinity to a plot of land anywhere on the world. As an avid LEGO aficionado who enjoys building things and then taking them apart, I acknowledge the impermanence of things; many of my closest possessions to which I have deep, personal connections are in a plastic box back at home. As an APS Type One patient, (APS stands for Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndrome, a disorder that causes mild immune deficiency) I consider the metaphysical implications of belongings in relation to my body. My body carries 19 years worth of scars and bruises, none of the cells in my body were present ten years ago, and none of the cells I currently possess will be with me in ten years time. Thus, I will quite literally never be the same person I believe I am today.

Our most important belongings – our own bodies, thoughts and ideas – constantly change and are impermanent. This concept is simple but difficult to accept; we could lose a family member, a government in power, or the ability to move our limbs all in one second. We take these things for granted, the things we think we own, even though they could leave at any moment.

I am not saying we should take a path of asceticism and forsake all that we own, be it physical or emotional. It seems to be part of our nature to want to have things we can call ours, so letting go of all belongings would likely be impossible. The key is to be aware of how easy it is for things to disappear and to be ready for that to happen.

Seven years ago, when our computer had to be fixed, all my files were lost. My first musical compositions and my first creative writing pieces were gone forever. This happened again two more times. Slowly, I had to learn to let go. Then, two years ago, I lost a small pillow my grandmother had sown for me when I was a newborn, and felt a deep sense of loss. But then she made me a new one. Sure, the first one had  meaning behind it, but it was easy to make a new pillow, which soon became a replacement for the old one. While it could never be the original, at some point the original would have disappeared forever. It is harrowing to know that someday my parents will be gone, or that I might be in a loving relationship that could come to an end for a myriad of reasons, or that even though I can count on support from friends and family now to keep me healthy with medicines and medical treatments, this support could be gone in an instant. How do we keep on living, always remembering this?

It is okay to worry and to be afraid of loss. Emotions cannot be controlled, and it is perfectly reasonable to cry over the loss of our belongings. It is part of what makes us human. However, we have to be aware that when this happens, the pain of the loss will eventually lessen. Being armed with this knowledge will keep us from suffering too greatly from the loss.

No one is saying it is easy. But I think if we remember that loss is an inevitable part of life, our society obsessed with “stuff” will be less daunting.

References

“APS Type 1.” APS Type 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2014. <http://www.apstype1.org>.

“Hunter-Gatherer.” Atlas of World History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2014. <http://www.timemaps.com/hunter-gatherer>.

“Origins of Civilization.” Atlas of World History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2014. <http://www.timemaps.com/origins-of-civilization>.

“TCKID: What Is a Third Culture Kid? (TCKs).” TCKID: What Is a Third Culture Kid? (TCKs). N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2014. <http://tckid.com/what-is-a-tck.html>.