Why does it seem that everything good for you these days keeps getting smaller? Cars are becoming more compact with inventions like the Smart car and electric roadsters that can barely hold four grocery bags from Trader Joe’s. Why are vehicles that can only capably hold one driver with a small wallet- smarter? Engines are no longer robust, it’s all about quiet and barely there. Even strollers are sleeker, skinnier and lack girth. Eight Tracks were traded in for Record players, which in turn have been traded in for CD players and CD players are two years away from extinction; replaced by MP3 files that don’t even have physical properties that a seeing eye dog can find. Heavy books bound with slices of paper are now teeny files downloaded on Kindles and I-pads. Big Macs are turning into small yogurt parfaits and size eight is no longer in vogue anymore. Cellulite is getting zapped, baggy skin is getting chopped, and dog breeders are creating hybrids the size of rabbits that fit in your purse.
Back in the eighties, when I was a kid, when unnecessary extra clothing like sparkly gloves and leg warmers were worn, sticky big teased hair was flaunted, and the two for one deal was first introduced, it seemed that everything good for you was getting bigger, not smaller. We were an all consuming society, relegated to “bigger is better” ideals as depicted by the famous Wendy’s commercial where an old lady with a large nose stared at a tiny burger in a gargantuan bun and yelled “Where’s the beef?”
Now it’s about smaller phones that hook on to our ears. Even the name indicates its size. Blue Tooth. Any phone the size of a cavity is questionable. Yet we have continued to slim down, reduce, decrease and economize.
I am all about less being more. But there is one thing we have also managed to cut down on, which has caused a psychological catastrophe. We have managed to cut down on what we are grateful for. We have stopped asking what brings meaning and joy in our lives. We have stopped wondering how to fill this big world we have made so much room for with gratitude and a sense of purpose.
WE have drunk the Kool-Aid yet have failed to internalize the punch.
Last week our community was hit by a series of teenage suicides that struck through our homes like a lightning rod. Within ten days three different isolated and unrelated incidents tore through our community begging us all to ask the question, “How could this have happened?” Where did we all go wrong? For when an event like this hits a community, we are all responsible to ask ourselves what we can do to better engage in having this never happen again.
We are all part of a collective consciousness affecting one another, inspiring each other, and deeply connected. When events like this tear through our unassuming neighborhoods, it is up to us as a collective group to re-evaluate our principles and derive some adjustment and metamorphosis in our thinking. In this turn of economic upheaval, it seems our children are paying the biggest price for our lack of contentment and inability to translate our own challenges into a higher purpose.
I am privileged to teach teens every week and in my last class I gave them several short minutes to quickly write down a list of ten things they were grateful for. Across the board the students managed to scrape no more than three grateful items on the page. I then asked them to write down ten events or experiences that brings meaning in to their lives. Again, the majority of the group scrambled, and floundered their way through the exercise.
It became clear that these were conversations my students have not had the chance to confront. How many times do we ask our kids what they are grateful for? How many times do we tell our own children what WE are grateful for? We are living every day as minimalists, we are not confronting the big questions or taking time to stop and relish in connection, life enthusiasm, or deep rooted meaning that fills our lives.
When asked what happens when we don’t have this narrative down in moments that despair and life challenge takes over, the students agreed that it is possible for despondency, sadness, and one student stopped the class, looked deeply into my eyes and said, even suicide is possible.
Maybe we are not exercising enough connection anymore. Maybe we are isolating in front of our skinny televisions and fading our troubles in front of our slick tiny Apple screens. I am just as guilty of not connecting on a deeper level with my own children in times of distress. If it weren’t for Friday nights or Saturdays, our week would never have a chance to experience elevation. Every Friday night we carve out that time to express to each other what we are grateful for. We light candles and set the mood for a delicious dinner, with the table set with our best china and we go around the dining room EVERY Friday and ask, “What was your highlight this week?” This conversation almost always leads to sharing our gratitude and experiences that lead to higher purpose in our lives.
Maybe it is time we have these conversations with our children, with each other, with our selves more often. Maybe it is time we start filling our homes up with connection that is not just plugged into an electronic device. We owe it to our children to shut down the noise and identify with one another on a deeper level. We owe it to them to replace time with stuff. Maybe that can be the blessing in having less stuff because of the economic turn; we finally have nothing to bribe our children with except for our time and our conversations. We have become true minimalists after all.
Maybe it is time to reexamine what is really important and fill our hearts and minds up with the real meat of the matter. It’s time we start asking ourselves- “Where’s the beef?”