The world is a harsh place. We live, and die, in essence, alone. Bad people to do bad things that sometimes make people upset, and sometimes costs lives. Blood, murder, theft, betrayal. Millions around the world suffer in silence. Hospitals are filled with the dying who stare up at a white ceiling and think their own thoughts. Economic necessity spurs many into miserable situations. Others die of starvation, of disease. Animals shriek their pain across their tiny space and eternity inside abattoirs.
Everyone is too busy taking care of or suffering themselves to care about the pain of others. Rich men and women go on holidays dressed in clothes worth a year’s salary in some other country while their less privileged counterparts on the other side of the world slave beneath the sun or prostitute themselves just to be able to put food on the table. No-one is in charge of your happiness except yourself. No-one is going to make you work, make you write, exercise, or do anything to improve yourself, except yourself; no-one can die for you, live for you, see the world the way you do, understand you, but you; and at the end of the day, all you have is yourself—and so does everyone else.
It’s a hard thing to wake up to in the morning. How you eat, when someone, most likely a child, all skin and bones, is starving to death somewhere? How does one live, knowing how others live? And, more importantly, how does one help? I want to help. I think most people do. Any ordinary person in a first-world country, faced with someone dying of starvation right before them, would, I would hope, do everything in their power to give them some food. Well, one way to help, as they like to tell us, is to give monetary donations to non-profit organizations. What they often neglect to inform you is how exactly your money is spent. Oftentimes much of it gets funneled into the salaries of those operation these “non-profit” organizations, or the money is distributed unevenly, incorrectly—I once read a report on how the wrong type of grain was once sent which could not be made into the traditional bread the people usually ate, so millions of dollars went to waste—or doesn’t end up in the pockets of people who really need it, but instead to government officials, or those in positions of power, to top up their already bulging coffers.
Short of traveling to Africa myself with a plane crammed with food, even if I could and did donate money, how could I be sure my contribution, in this corrupt world, was truly helping? Donations aren’t given just for the recipients to feel good and noble about themselves, but to actually help, yet what with greediness and bureaucracy creating a veritable obstacle course along the path to Doing Good, trying to “help” is not as simple as handing over the contents of your wallet and patting yourself on the back anymore.
Consumerism in wealthy countries sickens me, not only because it is environmentally-damaging and wasteful, but because it highlights the discrepancy between people in different nations. How can someone plonk a few million on a car and some designer handbags while somewhere, others live in mud-huts, and trawl through rubbish for hours on end to make a living? In fact, how dare any of us take, use or consume more than we need when other people have nothing? We don’t need all these clothes, these cars, all these swimming pools, houses. There are shops which sell high-end stationary, make-up, lingerie and ice-cream and have profit-margins in the billions each year, items which, in my opinion, are entirely unnecessary; while others can barely afford their basic necessities, get clean water, nourishing food. What’s more important, lipstick, or having enough to eat?
It’s wrong. It’s so wrong, so senseless, that I can only splutter and shake my head. I hate it. It’s so disgusting. Of all the shams modern society presents, this is the worst: that, as advertising likes to tell us, it’s good to consume, good to treat ourselves, to take, and take, and never give. We cannot, however, change what other people purchase and consume, what companies they support. All we can do is make alterations in our own lives.
As someone of limited means already, the following are both necessary and enjoyable for me to implement. However if you are reasonably well-off—and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s what you do with your money that counts—there are some things you can do. Don’t see it as deprivation, but conservation. Every little you do not consume has a ripple effect, somewhere further down the line: a bottle cap might choke a tortoise swimming ponderously on its way on a nice day through the blue crystalline waters of the Pacific Ocean; synthetic shampoo you flush down the drain ends up in the body of fishes who then get sick; a piece of plastic you throw away ends up in a landfill, along with trillions of other pieces of plastic thrown away by people just like you.
First off, limit your consumption of all goods and services as much as possible. Not only will this mean you’re doing your bit to help the world, you also save money to boot. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving. Cook your own food at home instead of buying ready-made products. Don’t buy more clothes than you need—who cares if you circulate the same five outfits each week? Use natural products to brush your teeth and wash your hair; turn off the light when you’re not in the room; don’t buy cosmetics, electronics, toys; reduce the number of times you shower per week; wear clothes for a day or two before washing them rather than changing every single day, it won’t kill you; take less holidays, spend more time exploring where you live already, go on a picnic in a park.
As long as there are people who desire certain products, then there will always be people who will exploit other people to create those products. Wherever there is demand there is supply, and therefore more often than not suffering. You and I can’t change the world. We’re just a handful of people, and most people will not listen, will go on living the way they are used accustomed to. All we can do is change how we live our own lives, and the best way to do that, I have found, is to follow one, simple rule: Don’t Consume. Or at least consume as little as possible. Freed of material trappings—all physical pleasures are temporary, remember—you can then focus your energy and attentions on your passions and the people in your life, where true happiness lies.