The myth of more
My children came in to me Easter morning, “Mummy, where are our Easter eggs, the giant ones?” I did it, not forgetting but deliberately choosing not to participate. Portugal hasn’t yet had the plastic-free revolution that transformed Easter packaging in the UK. Instead, plumes of plastic fill the shelves, pretty and bright, enticing and for me, sickening. I kept waiting, biding my time, putting off the inevitable until, whoops, there were no eggs in the shop and I’d run out of time…
They handled the disappointment with a few foil wrapped eggs and a bunny. We drew two maps of the house, divided some other foil wrapped eggs and each hid them for the other, marking x’s as they went along. A couple of days ago we went really old school and blew real eggs, then painted them. Blowing the eggs was a great activity according to them both. Snotty, gooey egg juice magically released into a big bowl, ready for a cheese omelette, the shells dried and painted, haphazardly as only children can.
It takes a bit of getting used to, absorbing the mother’s guilt for being different than convention. I’m getting used to it slowly, but I still feel the pangs. They cannot help but want things, stuff, items and bits. All around is the constant pressure of having this and that, wanting something extra, something more.
We spent the weekend with our friends and their children. At one point they start playing their tablet, one of those music games where you hit the notes in time. Supposedly each taking a turn, my two having never played get only a few points compared to the full songs of their friends. The turns aren’t even and the friend doesn’t have the patience to explain how to play or perhaps let them try again. They are children so maybe that’s normal. It’s certainly not an absorbing activity for everyone involved, my two watch mostly from the sidelines.
I watch them and wonder whether I’m doing this right, or whether my instinct away from tech to early is detrimental or correct. My oldest (seven years) wants a tablet, she’s been asking for a couple of months and this play makes her want one again. She also wants a puppy, a kitten, her ears pierced and more. I feel like I’m constantly saying no, but when I see the hardship faced by so many other children around the world I know they are so bloody lucky. Children in far flung places don’t have access to a world of everything yet they play and learn, smile and laugh just like mine.
My attitude extends to food too. I make them tea, mostly they enjoy it. Sometimes I whip up a vegetable soup with what’s in the fridge, cheap and simple. It starts well but can quickly fail, less-than-half eaten bowls returned to me. I send them back to finish it all, sounding like my Mum and threatening to not do this and that without everything finished. I roll out the old lines, there are starving children in the world who have no choice. They come back with empty bowls. Blimey, I feel so mean. Really I know it isn’t.
I read an article about Netflix. It’s growth has slowed. Apparently that’s bad and has affected the price of their shares. It only expects to grow by another 2.5m subscribers as opposed to the 4m in the quarter compared to the previous year. The latest reports now state it has lost subscribers for the first time ever and its share value has plummeted. Terrible!
I read this stuff and really don’t get it. We are living a myth of perpetual growth and headlines such as this play it to a tee. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has to grow or it’s terrible, companies must sell more and more to keep growing or it’s terrible, we must buy more and more or the economy, terrible. What a load of total crap.
It’s now ten years since the first World Happiness Report was published. The idea first coming from the country of Bhutan, which transformed their conventional thinking from progress measured in economic terms to one that was human-focussed. Whilst the development has encouraged policy-makers globally to include in their objectives wellbeing and therefore happiness, the reality is this focus still plays second-fiddle to the long established measure of GDP .
Are we really just Homo economicus? Surely our collective talent is more than just the creation of shareholder value? The people I know are vibrant, not for their bank balances, but for their humour and good will, their kindness and concerns, their intelligence and thoughtfulness. I’m sure there are more parents than just me and a handful of others who teach their children to be kind and caring, rather than pursue the exhaustive desire for ever more.
We were told once that the cost/benefit ratio of taking action on preventing and mitigating climate change far outweighed the cost of leaving it until later. But we’ve left it and the costs are mounting. On Earth Day the UK Government announced how happy it was that BP was doubling down on investment in North Sea Oil. Hey, at least the shareholders have got their value right?
I feel like I’m living in some kind of Twilight Zone. Perpetual growth, rather than being seen as a cancerous force of destruction, continues to be revered by those with and in power. Yet our planetary resources are finite, the ones we are using and continuing to exploit, dangerous to our existence. Fossil fuels should be kept in the ground, our economies made circular and the value of social and environmental goals raised up. We have to understand the difference between growth and value, not the economic definitions of investment, but what is rooted in the reality of the world.
I’ve started reading The Precipice, by Toby Ord. I thought it was going to be hard work, depressing even, but actually it feels like it’s a clarification of many thoughts I’ve had over the last few years. Not perhaps to the depth of his research, but certainly when he talks about the maturity of humanity needed to deliver a better future. We clearly have many more risks than climate change, yet the opportunities needed to reduce carbon emissions and stop environmental degradation are well within our capacity to deliver.
We now need action — loud voices, politicians who value the future rather than the lobbyists, trees planted, communities taking control of their patches, building, creating and innovating. In this complex world it can feel overwhelming to think about the great changes needed, so take it right back to your neighbourhood and start there. It might not be glamourous, but will be effective. There are always projects and movements around, building environmental awareness or growing altruism locally.
Resist the myth of more. Companies and organisations that build social and environmental capital, are investing in more than just growth, and their communities, customers and partners will recognise this. Maturity now will encompass seeking value beyond growth, building collaborations that deliver new systems, understand that trial and error will bring its own learning. All this is important. As is being our own lobbyists, writing and voting for politicians that see and seek a future. More of everything is not what is needed, better of everything is.