Have you ever stopped to consider how much you consume? I’m not talking about the fast food upsize. I’m not talking about our portion sizes and diets. I’m talking about what we acquire, absorb and receive. Every time we buy the latest smartphone, go to the movies, watch TV, listen to the radio, and yes, even order take-out or dine in, we are comsuming. We’re using and feasting on what someone else created versus creating our own new and unique content both for ourselves and for others. So what? What if I feel like going to the movies, or going to a restaurant, or even paying to have my front yard landscaped? Is that so wrong? Absolutely not. We all need some level of consumption in our lives. We can’t possibly create every single thing we have personal need for in this life right? Of course not. That’s simply impractical. If I felt like having a double scoop of capuccino ice-cream right now I simply won’t have the patience to make it myself then enjoy. Add to that I wouldn’t even know how to begin making it. Besides, the very considerate folks at Haagen Dazs already took the trouble to craft this fine flavour and make it available for my enjoyment precisely when I feel for it (at a price of course).
But there is another side to the consumption story. It’s the creation story. Inside every one of us, and I mean every one bar none, there is a desire to feel a sense of fulfillment from the product of our very own hands and minds. Outside of our struggle for survival, humans need to feel accomplished. And in every human’s mind “accomplishment” means something different. Unfortunately too often we live and suppress this desire. It usually gets covered under mounds of distractions that entice us in the forms of entertainment and acquisition. We live solely to be entertained by the latest movies on the big screen, the next episode of the television drama that left us in suspense last week with an un-revealed and unexpected twist in the plot we just can’t afford to miss. We keep our ears to the ground to make sure we don’t miss the release of the latest smartphone never mind its been less than six months since we bought what was then the latest version. We strive to acquire the best cars and the biggest houses thinking that these will tell people we’re worth something and that we’re accomplished. Yet still deep down inside we don’t feel as fulfilled as we thought the acquisitions would make us feel. The TV ads filled with happy people and giggling children all enthused by the pure joy of owning this new piece of technology were wrong. Why was the joy so short-lived? Did the new laptop really make me happy? Am I a better human because my new phone requires my to rely less on my own brain and instead trust its microprocessor? When did the happiness train set sail (yes, I know) and leave me behind?
We used to be creatures of craft and skill. We used to take pride in smithing the best utensils out of raw iron, baking the tastiest breads, even raising the best chickens. Mothers and homemakers were multi-talented highly skilled ninjas of the home. They could transform a handful of raw materials into a healthy tasty meal in minutes. If we go back far enough into history we’d see them in pictures transforming raw wool and cotton into fine threads, weaving them into fabrics and creating finished masterpieces we’d wear with pride. Our neighbours and those in our communities would know us for the skills we had. If your shoe broke, someone could fix it. If your appliance broke, someone could fix it. If you wanted fresh milk, you’d milk the cow or even the goat (not my personal preference though). These days, if it’s not available off a shelf it doesn’t exist.
I remember sitting through a Marketing class once. The discussion went off topic and the lecturer mentioned that he liked buying fresh oranges in the market and squeezing them to make his own orange juice. The reaction from the class left me puzzled. An uproar of laughter from my classmates left both the lecturer and myself lost for words. Some students were kind enough to advise the lecturer that orange juice was available in the supermarket in a box off the shelf. At risk of being the subject of a similar outburst I confessed that I too was one of those. A strange out-of-time human being who believed that squeezing fresh oranges to make my own juice was better than buying it boxed and off a shelf.
Jokes aside, where am I going with this? It is essentially my belief that if we reduced (not eliminate as it’s simply impossible to do so) our levels of consumption and increase our will and abilities to create, we’d be doing both ourselves and our communities a lot more good. Sometimes we fail to remember that the actors and actresses we spend so much time looking at on a screen are simply doing a job. The job is, as it is called, an act. He/She was in fact very well paid to do that. We don’t have to pen a symphony to be deemed creative. We need not paint a Mona Lisa. Creating simply is anything we produce with our own hands or even our own minds.
So here’s my advice, first to myself and then to you. Get up, take off the tube, (TV, Youtube, online movie-streaming etc.), go create something. Use your hands, use your eyes, use your mind, pen on paper, light on sensor, ingredients in a pot. Be it however small, create something. Bake a cake, create a picture, write a poem, tweet a thought you’ve pondered. Share your creation and feel the sense of fulfillment that comes so naturally from seeing others enjoy and appreciate the fruits of your labour. You won’t regret it, I promise.