I was waiting at the pump the other day and like so many others around the country, I was complaining in my mind about how much money I had to spend just to go from one place to the other. Here in Oklahoma, of course, gas prices aren’t nearly as high as they are on the West Coast, but wherever you are in the world, gas will always cost too much – we can all agree on that.
So, there I was with a bad attitude about gasoline prices, and I started thinking about that for which I was spending all my money. I had a job this summer doing farm work, and I had saved some of that money, but I realized that the summer is just now giving way to school’s beginning and I’ve spent most all the money I made. On what? Well, mostly music, books, sound equipment, video games, clothes, coffee – I realized just how ridiculous it is how much money I spend on coffee. Aside from a few dollars here and there to charity and my church, my budget is dedicated to one person – and that’s me.
Yet, I look around and I know there are families in my community that are having a hard time financially, so back-to-school clothing and supplies are not easy to come by. I know there are homeless men and women in my state. I know by watching the news that there is a famine in West Africa. We all know that Rwanda is in the stages of rebuilding after civil war and the Darfur region is war-torn. Of course, Southeast Asia is still recovering from the disaster of the Tsunami. There are all kinds problems reaching from just down the street to across the world that stand in the way of people living with the basic necessities of life. Yet, I continue to be driven by counterfeit necessities and the lie that my felt needs must be gratified the instant I feel an itch.
This lie is the basis for capitalism, and self-interest is the foundation of our nation. I don’t mean to say that free enterprise is wrong – I truly believe it’s the most evenhanded way to conduct a market – but reality is the great corporate empires of America weren’t driven by altruism. In America, we’ll spend double on a chocolate bar simply because of its brand. We’ll spend triple on clothes from preppy chains just because of the name. We’ll go to bookstores, coffee shops and subscribe to journals so people will think we’re intellectual. Every year, we’ll spend billions on cosmetics, soaps, hairsprays and clothing in an effort to get people to like us and feel more secure. We buy expensive cars that we don’t need and go into debt to purchase outrageously expensive homes that we don’t really want.
We believe the lie because the marketing sells it to us. You can’t walk away from this omnipresent market and culture that is in everybody’s faces with impossible claims, sensational slogans and fear-driven product lines. They instill fears of insecurity, encouraging us to buy a tube of toothpaste that is guaranteed to transform our teeth into the likeness of a celebrity. Corporations make claims that a specific brand of body spray is sure to get you laid by the end of the night, if you just buy it. Cable news channels claim to give you the straight story with no spin, but the only true slogan would be a promise of ratings to advertisers. Political parties claim to look out for us, but they don’t.
It’s all the same, tired cycle of vain hype. It’s the lie that if we simply indulge ourselves, we will find fulfillment. Yet, the truth is, satisfaction is found outside of ourselves, and if we believe the lies of selfishness, we will eventually find ourselves in a pit of self-addiction, surrounded by cheap sensationalism.
There are people in need and hurting. I have to constantly remind myself of this as I walk into the bookstore or a super-center store, to ignore the hype and realize there’s a bigger world outside of my felt-needs.