I believe in simplicity. I, like most Americans, have a room filled with things that I wouldn’t miss if they disappeared. My childhood differed from most in that I was taught the importance of simplicity, growing up on the teachings of a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He shows the possibility of being happy without acquiring material objects. He says that “more desire brings more suffering” and that “all hardships in daily life arise from greed and desire.” Every Sunday my family would hunker down and read a few chapters out of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Path White Clouds before going out to work in our garden. With our aim for simplicity we did our best to avoid the typical consumer society of the United States, growing most of our food. My parents not only taught me that unnecessary possessions led to unhappiness but that our object based society causes hardships on others. My mom would carefully look at tags when shopping to ensure they didn’t read “made in China,” and we always went to second hand stores to buy clothes. I took our choices for granted and was only mildly annoyed that I rarely had a say in where we went.
The chaos of entering middle school, then high school, gave my family less time to think about where we were getting everything, and my sister and I pressured our parents to lead slightly more ‘normal lives.’ From time to time you could even find us guiltily running through Wal-mart, getting some last minute house-hold things. Yet it wasn’t until recently that I have begun to think, on my own, about the moral implications of materialism. Though the United States has increased in overall quality of life, not all people get to share these privileges, much the same world wide. Underpaid, unfair, manual jobs are still prevalent in the U.S., as well as over seas.
Without the demand for ‘stuff’ there wouldn’t be a huge need for cheap labor internationally, or the suffering that Thich Nhat Hanh says is caused by our “searching for possessions” that leave us never feeling “fulfilled” and cause “impure actions to ever increase.” It is difficult having the understanding that belongings bring me little happiness on their own, while living in a world reliant on ‘things’ to make people happy. Having to avoid the consumerist trap is something I, and I’m sure many others, struggle with, while I try to stop spending at corporations that exploit others, as my mother tried to do. What can I, one buyer out of billions, really contribute to the betterment of the world? Despite my small ability to make a change as one person, I want to try. Try to avoid getting swept up in the accumulations of things that just bring me disappointment, and try to raise Americans consumers awareness consumers impact on the rest of the world.