Friday, March 31, 2006

Boiling a Frog

As I mentioned recently, I've been reading Organizing for the Spirit by Sunny Schlenger. It doesn't relate to organizing as much as it relates to quality of life in general. One example in particular caught my attention. I had heard it before, but needed to hear it again:

It's so easy to become habituated to the pace of our lives. We get used to the ever-increasing speed of things and think this is the way life has to be. But you may recall the story of the frog and the boiling water. If you put a frog into a pan of boiling water, it will, of course, jump out. The frog is not an idiot, and the water is too darn hot for it to stay in there. But if you put a frog into a pan of cool water and turn up the heat gradually, the frog will boil to death, because he gets used to the water becoming gradually hotter and isn't aware that he's getting cooked until it's too late.

Ms. Schlenger continues: "There's a lesson here. Not until we get out of our pan for a minute do we realize what it's been costing us just to stay in that place." She is referring in part to getting out of one's routine and stepping back for breaks and new perspective, but, as usual, I interpret her words through my personal filter - my experience and my situation. To me, that statement and story speaks of acquisition and our ever-expanding lifestyles.

Folks our age were taught that to "make it" in the world required work, yes - but the evidence of having "made it" was things - clothes, cars, houses, private schools for your kids (then prestigious universities), a great career where you are constantly moving up, and the latest technology like cool cell phones and wide-screen TVs. We start out in this mindset. After all, our parents wanted us to live better off than they did. So we get a bigger house with more bathrooms, more expensive cars and clothes. It really adds up, and it does so gradually. Unlike the lottery winners who go to town with lavish spending the day after their check comes, an upwardly mobile lifestyle sneaks up on us. And like the frog, we don't even realize it until it's almost too late. We wake up one day, look around, and exclaim, "Where did all this STUFF come from?!" From years of buying and accumulating. From spending money we did have, and some we didn't have (ah, credit cards!).

Some of our generation's acquisitions would be almost laughable if we took time to think about it. Expensive clothes that are out of fashion in a year or two. Technology that's outdated in, say, a week or two! The latest in small appliances and gadgets that cost more to repair than to throw away.

In my case, I can add clothes patterns I never sewed, and cross-stitch patterns I never started. I can even count the little things, like shampoo bottles that I quit using before they were empty. I'm sure you have your own list. We are certainly an acquisition society as well as a wasteful society.

What I'm saying is that it's easy to get complacent about acquisition. Some things, like the aforementioned schools, may end up as an investment and pay off one day. Other things are clearly just spending mistakes because we were caught up in the moment. And suddenly, we wonder why the cold water has turned so hot that we have no energy to jump out.

I guess we really end up in those Mastercard ads. We take a good look at our lifestyle and all our "things" that cost money. Then we realize how much money we spent on those things. "New dress: $100. New car: $18,000. Dinner out for 5: $60." But thank goodness it doesn't end there. "Wonderful children and precious grandchildren, devoted spouse, loving sister, selfless elderly mother in good health, legacy of a remarkable father: Priceless."

When we learn it's the priceless things that are the most important, we have arrived.


Tif said...

You are too good to be on a blog. You need to be syndicated!

Sarah said...

That was a great post, thank you.
Oh, and I agree with Joy!