Revisiting Ownership

My life these days revolves around a few simple but important mathematical equations, the simplest and most important being this:  brisk walk with Younger Girleen + strong strong coffee (squared) = blog entry.  Clearly one or the other has been missing the past few weeks but we’re back on track this morning.  

Actually, the more honest reduction of the above equation might be this:  brisk walk with Younger Girleen + strong strong coffee (squared) = impractical flights of fancy, since on a 30 minute walk I was able to not only consider blog life but also imagine an alternate universe where I am the owner of a wonderfully quirky and hip coffee shop (all this being caused by walking past a vacant storefront) that not only serves the city’s best coffee but also displays all my peeps’ best art and crafts (to be knowledgeable enough to run it I will apprentice at my fav coffee shop, where I go to get my Large Special Friend; I’ll hire artists as baristas through Craig’s List) AND not only that, but in the same 15 minutes I can consider just how wonderfully purchase of the sixties-era aluminum tin-can Scotty Sportsman trailer listing on three tires  that I just walked past will change our lives.  
Not even heroin can get you to such places.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of my overly-caffinated morning, I’ll get back to matters at hand:
A couple of entries back, I made stab at parsing out a particular phrase, that phrase being one sent to me by email recently:  are you willing to own this effort?

At the time, I was interested in examining the way making such a request serves to distance the requestor from the requestee.  A little more thought led me to this:  asking if someone will “own” an “effort” rather than asking “could you help” ALSO makes it awfully easy for the requestee (ie, in this case, me) to say “hhh?  who, me?” and shirk any responsibility as well.  
It’s sorta like Spanish grammer, in that rather than saying “I dropped the vase,” you say “The vase dropped itself”.  Efforts may be owned or not owned, but none of it has a damn thing to do with me.  
Ownership.   There’s a video circulating these days  that makes it awfully clear just how unsustainable our consumer culture has become. The video’s primarily discussing actual material stuff, but it includes a quote made soon after WWII by retailing analyst Victor Lebow that is now seared on my brain:  

Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.  We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate. 

Any one who has a kid is pretty aware of the ways in which the language of the marketplace has come to pervade our children’s educational experience.  
Or maybe we aren’t consciously aware of that.  But maybe they’re all links in an insidious chain:  the fundraising auctions, the requests to “own” efforts, communications committees, corporate sponsorship, PR… all of these address us as consumers:  any time and money we might give an institution is cloaked in a consumeristic experience; rather than helping out, by owning an effort, volunteering becomes something I can choose (or not) to possess.  

The saddest thing is that this is a chain we’ve thoughtlessly wrapped around ourselves. And our children, those little beings we would lay down our lives to protect.    

1 Comment

  1. Man oh man. That quote is a doozy. Glad you captured it in print.

    I’m loving the cafe/craft shop idea. Next walk you can start coming up with names for it.

    When I read your blog I wished you lived in Austin.

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