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Wed, Sept. 18

Piacenza: The eye of the needle

There’s no doubt that our society, along with the rest of the developed world, admires wealth. Along with giving social status, wealth is seen as a huge boon to personal freedom: having money means being able to do what you please.

Paradoxically, when wealth is lavished only on “me and mine,” it can also create a prison of sorts. As the old Hindu saying goes, “You have cows, you have care of cows.” Possessions crowd into our garages and closets, requiring cleaning, maintenance and repair. They also crowd our thoughts and feelings, sometimes with worry about the responsibility they entail, sometimes with desires to acquire the newest and latest or more of “whatever.”

Certainly, these concerns pale in comparison to the ways many in our own community are entrapped by poverty. But they aren’t unrelated. The free will of the homeless poor is impinged upon by lack of the basics: food, shelter, clothing, medical care. They too have little space to entertain thoughts other than how to find these things or get by without them. And over-acquisitiveness by one segment of the population means fewer resources available to those who need them.

I’ve recently run across statistics that describes the enormous disparity between the haves and have nots in the U.S. It only reinforced my suspicion that great wealth and great poverty are intertwined. Could I be missing out on something that could not only increase my own happiness but also contribute to a more equitable economy? I’m beginning to think the answer is simple. Literally! I can make the conscious choice to live a more simple life: pare down the “things” that have accumulated around me, spend and consume less, reuse or recycle rather than toss and replace.

The environmental argument for a leaner lifestyle is compelling – the amount of waste generated by our consumer societies is spilling out of landfills and into the oceans. Natural spaces are dwindling under the pressure of increased mining and development. Competition for water needed for manufacturing as well as home use is fierce.

If I chose not to acquire and consume more than I need, wouldn’t I also be acknowledging that the earth’s resources are finite? Acting on the knowledge that the more I take, the less there will ultimately be available for people not born with my advantages? Making a few “sacrifices” might be more or less insignificant in the overall picture but could be meaningful in combination with the efforts of others. The very process of streamlining would keep the less privileged in my awareness, increasing my sense of gratitude for what I do have. And I strongly suspect that one of the biggest benefits of reducing material concerns would be a new feeling of lightness, a bigger mental space for creative thinking, planning responsible action and prayer.

I don’t need to invoke religion to agree with the biblical declaration that it’s harder for a rich man to enter heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. In my opinion, it points to a reality of human nature. Being over-identified with possessions blocks the way to deeper and more meaningful self-knowledge and experience.

Material attachments are just that: things that keep me tied. I think it’s a worthwhile experiment to try an alternative approach. Perhaps the ultimate freedom is the realization that I’m not my possessions, that without the burden of “things”, I’m free to thread the needle of ego and find a higher purpose and sense of worth.

Alexandra Piacenza is a Past President of Prescott Area Leadership and member of the Board of Boys to Men. She and her husband have lived in Prescott for eleven years. Comments are welcome at apiacenza@cableone.net.

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