We spend too much. And it’s not just about $$$$.
My latest column in the Greenville News.
Houston, We Have a Different Kind of Spending Problem
My fellow Americans. We have a spending problem. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and pondering all the ways we spend too much. I’m not talking about government spending. I’m talking about the many tragic ways we spend our very lives.
We spend our time glued to screens of every size. At home it’s the television or computer. And even while the television is on, we’re fixed intently on the tiny screens in our hands. Groups of people, families and friends, not talking or enjoying one another, but spending their time in ‘anti-fellowship.’
We are a nation of screen watchers. We could use that time differently, watching the beauty of the natural and man-made world all around. We could spend our precious, fleeting hours looking at the fascinating variety of humans we pass, perhaps even speaking to them. We could look up from our mutual screens and look into one another’s eyes. But we detach, surf and scroll.
We spend our interest not only on devices, but on whatever they show us. We spend our precious time and our amazing brains being manipulated and entertained into a veritable cultural anesthesia. We spend (and suspend) our judgement as we absorb and embrace the opinions of people who have no greater claim to truth or authority than any of us. Often less.
We wastefully spend our creativity, our capacity. We all have so much inside us. Every single human is a treasure trove of abilities waiting to be discovered and used; a sponge ready to absorb ever more knowledge, ever more skill. Whether in service to others or in the creation of art, in the enjoyment of a hobby or simply by learning! (Those devices we carry can show us practically the sum of the world’s knowledge!)
Instead of seeking out the joys of connection, creation, doing, moving, learning, stretching our incredible muscles, we sit and stare as others share their creativity, activity and knowledge (for a price) with us. We do this ensconced in our chairs or beds. And our souls (and bodies) cry out, ‘I wish I could do something!’ We spend year after year barren, producing nothing, growing weaker.
We spend precious energy in arguments and rage over things that we may not ever be able to change. Along the way we spend our friendships (and family connections) as we assess others on social media, wondering if we can continue to be associated with them.
We spend our relationships imagining ‘what if’ instead of working on ‘what is.’ This is why we divorce, this is why we are faithless and why marriages struggle. Instead of spending our time thrilled that anyone in this whole world found us worthy of their time, their attention, their passion, we get angry and shut down. We then spend weeks or decades in maimed relationships that could be rich and joyful. But that would require that we take time away from our screens, where all the covetousness and lust we could ever desire is a click away.
We spend our bodies and brains on booze and drugs. They repay us bitterly as we spend our days detached, or frantic, sad or manic; often unconscious. Certainly, they cause us to spend the money and strength our loved ones deserve in endless pursuit of our addictions. Sometimes substances end us forever.
Our children suffer from our wastrel ways. We spend their childhoods trying to make them into things they are not. We neglect them so that they lash out in fury, wishing to be loved. Or (almost as bad) we press them frantically on academics or athletics as if nothing mattered more than success. We spend the time we could lavishly enjoy the fleeting years they have with us; and succeed in purchasing anxiety and exhaustion for them and for us.
And we trade away, so cheaply, the long and essential traditions of our ancestors, our cultures, our spiritual heritage in exchange for what is cheap and new, untried and born of manipulation, ignorance and emotion. We give away respect for the wisdom, art and long earned experiences of the past in exchange for a tawdry present.
We should spend more wisely. Certainly we should use our money more effectively. But more so, we should spend our seconds, days, minutes, hours, years, lifetimes on loving and living and learning well. And on knowing ourselves and the riches that lie in our own hearts.
Spend well. Or purchase regret.