Friday, September 10, 2004

What Do We Really Want?

Cynthia has been doing some thinking about the differences between the urban neighbourhoods she grew up in and the suburban ones she raised her kids in. She dismisses her own "good-old-days" nostalgia and points to the obvious problems with isolating people in the 'burbs:
"Why and when did things change? And who said that the pursuit of happiness should include spending your whole day away from your children, getting up an hour and a half earlier in the morning so you have time to drop the kids off at daycare and penciling in 'dates' with your spouse...and children for that matter? Why does it seem we are embracing this lifestyle even moreso, even though we see the negative results right under our noses?"
Rob's comment to the post also sums it up nicely: "It seems so strange that we have come to believe that a 'normal" life is a life where we are separated from all that we need the most - our partner, our kids, our place and in the end our true selves." ...to which Cyn responded that it seems like it's time to get back to basics. I agree, but I think it's more complicated than that. My response:

The "basics" seem to run counter to many of our motivators and goals these days. I think at in the past (maybe in the '50s and '60s), the American Dream included the desire for leisure and spending time with your loved ones...but in those days, one normal income was enough for a family to buy the house with the picket fence, and the new car and whatever else.

We still tend to think we're entitled to the same things, but most families need two good incomes to achieve those same goals. For whatever reason, it's very difficult for people to sacrifice the nice house/nice car/nice neighbourhood in order to spend more time doing what they want to do: leisure, socializing, hanging out with their families, etc. Maybe we all say that we want those things, but they're actually lower priority than working more to get better stuff? They must be, or we'd be doing it differently.

Doing it differently for most families starts with freeing up more time to spend with each other, meaning working less (often going to a single income), which probably means reducing costs and standard of living -- perhaps renting, or sharing accommodation, or buying in out-of-the-way places without the usual conveniences, fixing up the old car for years, forgoing vacations and fancy toys -- and most of us aren't willing to do it. We've tried to do some of these things very intentionally, and it works pretty well...BUT it is hard when your peers all seem to be "getting ahead" in all of the traditional measures of success. It's hard to purge the very bourgeois desires for nice stuff, beautiful homes and recreational properties.

4 comments:

Cyn said...

I agree, it is hard to make that shift in priority. Not that it isn't possible, but that it is a challenge for sure.
As complicated as embracing some the 'basics' seems to be, I think part of the difficulty comes from fear. Fear of losing your 'spot on the ladder' (career, social). If the basics include things like raising our children, creating a safe and loving environment, contributing to society, personal growth and what have you, then I'd have to agree with you...that "the "basics" seem to run counter to many of our motivators and goals these days."
It does indeed appear that these 'basics' are NOT the priority. We act as if those things are not what we want, but we talk a different talk. Ask anyone what their priorities are and they'll say things like, family, friends, happiness...But they won't say things like, 'keeping up with the Joneses' or weekends at the cottage. Kind of sounds shallow, but as long as we are centered on 'things' and not people and ideas, we not only risk sounding shallow, I think, in essence, we become shallow.

Jeremy said...

So true. I absolutely agree...and you've said it so well.

That dichotomy between what we say we want and what our lifestyles show really interests me...I think that's really why I started this lifestylism thing in the first place.

And I keep reminding myself that this discussion is all so very middle-class. Most of the people in the world don't have the luxury of even attempting to find these kinds of balances.

Frances said...

I'm in a pretty good situation. I only work part-time, which gives me the balance of "staying home" with the kids, as well as "getting out" and having a "life". But do you know what my problem is? I'm never satisfied. I paint a room--then I move on to the next room. There's always the "what's next?" My oldest is only five years old and I can see this trait in him as well. Will I ever be satisfied? I doubt it. Is it human nature or just plain greed? I don't know.

Jeremy said...

Frankie, I'm seeing more and more people trying to find those types of balances. One of the main problems (aside from never being satisfied with the status quo, as you've aptly pointed out) is that so often part-time jobs tend to be low-paying, unsatisfying work. But for those lucky souls who can find decent part-time work, keep their cost of living down and spend time with their kids...it seems perfect. It gives you a break from the constant kid focus, engages your mind on a different level, and generates some income. But if the work is boring or undervalued, or you can't really afford to work part-time...the balance could really suck.