Sunday, February 23, 2014

Want, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!

I’m mourning the demise of my 5 year old laptop. We created so many memories together – from drafting my dissertation, to skyping, to applying for jobs, to movie watching and music listening – it was there for me, and now I have to let it go. I tried to resuscitate, but to no avail, so I have made peace with the reality that it’s time to move on, and move on I shall. Some people would say five years is a long time to use the same laptop, and with modern ones and tablets released every second, they’d have replaced theirs sooner. Well, not I.

I am an ardent believer of the saying –'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it'. My laptop provided everything I wanted and needed - the 13" screen was perfect, the size of the hard drive suited my lifestyle, the picture and sound quality were satisfactory; not to mention it was light-weight and very portable. I couldn't see any reason to purchase a new laptop or tablet, so I used it for 5 years until it gave up the ghost.

It’s the same routine I followed with my Nokia phone of 4 years. Despite the fact it wasn't a smart phone, I didn't feel the need to upgrade to one, even though most of my friends used them and prodded me to buy one. I only bought a smartphone after my Nokia developed a mind of its own for the convenience of browsing and reading news in real time, and not because I wanted to fit in. Yes, fitting in and its close cousin popularly known as keeping up with the Joneses, are the problem with the world today.

2008 saw the world economy dragged into the abyss of a recession as a result of sub-prime mortgage. Of course, solely blaming bankers for the financial mess would be jaundiced and disingenuous, especially when the other side was equally culpable since they knew they couldn't afford to buy homes, but were convinced they could become homeowners by banks that knew they couldn't afford to buy them. Had potential homeowners been truthful with themselves about the state of their finances, and staved off applying for sub-prime mortgages in order to keep up with the Joneses, they would have saved themselves the heartache of receiving foreclosure notices.

Similarly, if bankers were honest with potential homeowners, whom they knew were unqualified to apply for a mortgage, instead of devising and sustaining a stratagem with profit as its sole aim, the world would have been saved from the financial nightmare it still reels from.

We've become an avaricious society that is never satisfied. Consumption has become our god, and “more is less” our mantra. We have a burning desire to impress our neighbors and friends with what we can’t afford. We've become like drug addicts seeking highs from owning the latest "It" thing – "You have to have it", the salesperson says to you with a winsome smile. But the truth is you don’t have to have it. If it’s not a need but a want, you can exist as a complete human being without it.

Unfortunately, most people invariably cave in to the salesperson's speech and/or the deceptive voices in their heads. The 'have to have it' syndrome has driven several government officials to loot their nation’s coffers, thereby depriving citizens of much needed public goods and amenities.
“We preoccupy ourselves with what we had — or what we want to have — at the expense of what we have.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana
It’s saddening and disconcerting to watch people go beyond their means to buy the house of their dreams, or plan the wedding of their dreams with the result that they end up with massive debt in their hands. What's wrong with a living in an apartment, or owning a two-bedroom house as opposed to a mansion? What’s wrong with inviting ten friends to your wedding with no reception afterwards, if that’s what you can afford?

My parents didn't have anyone at their white wedding, save for two witnesses and a priest, and there was no reception afterwards. What’s more, they've been married for 37 years, so the idea of spending truckloads of money, that one can barely afford, for a day that neither demonstrates the love the couple has for each other, nor has any impact on how long the marriage will last, is completely preposterous and risible. These days, weddings have become less about the celebration of the couple’s unity, and more about the ostentatious displaying of wealth. Don’t get me wrong, if you do have the money, by all means splurge; however, what's troubling is the irrational need to impress people when one doesn't need to and can’t afford to.

As a society, we have managed to convince ourselves that our self-worth and happiness are contingent on what we possess, but this false thinking has driven so many people into insurmountable debt and suicide. We've misplaced our sense of priority and lost our values. How can anyone justify standing in line for days on end just so they’re the first to own the latest iPhone, when in a week or two, everyone else will be holding one? What use is it to steal, run into debt, or overcharge one's credit card just so one can tote a Chanel bag or own a castle?

For what it’s worth, the world would be a much happier place if we answered the following questions honestly: Who am I without my possessions? Do they define me as a person? Do my possessions have control over me, or I over them? Can I afford to acquire these items, and if so, are they a need or a want? Is there any downside to passing over these items? Am I making this purchase for myself, or for the neighbors?

PS: People who rarely suffer buyer’s remorse, or seldom return purchased items usually shop within their budget and buy what they need. As a result, their buyer’s high and satisfaction lasts much longer because they’re uninterested in chasing after the next trend, or with keeping up with the Joneses.