Children speak the truth. They speak the truth that sometimes is a slap around the face for an adult to hear. Today my eight year old spoke her truth.
It all started because of poetry. She had to find a poem that she liked for homework. Delightedly, I pulled out book upon book from the case. Oscar Wilde, Tolkien, traditional ones, fairy tale books, Shakespeare, Whitman, Frost. Any and all magical writers I thought she would be thrilled to learn from. But no, she wanted to look online for a poem and then write it out on the computer. In theory I have no problem with online research, but really, when it comes to poetry, a book is best. So I said so. Which she didn’t like.
Cue tears and sadness. Cue wallowing in the depths of despair that only a child being refused something can sink into. Head on the table, with open tomes scattered all about, a wailing emitting from her, as if I’d truly broken her heart, she was distraught.
As if her bibliophobic response wasn’t bad enough (in a house with a great many books in it it didn’t go down well), as we walked to school she dropped the ultimate truth-bomb:
“I’m so sad that I want you to make sure you have bought a special surprise for me when I get home. Because I want you to buy me something that will make me feel better. I feel really unhappy everyday and only a thing that you buy for me will make me feel better”.
Consumerism. In a nutshell. From an eight year old.
It didn’t help that I suggested she go and be outside when she is feeling down. That if she feels bored or that things are a bit samey she need only go and explore the world. Only last week she had a terrible dream where a tree had spoken to her that it was being hurt. The dream so unnerved her that immediately I said to go outside and to tell the trees in the garden all about it. She did this, coming back inside twenty minutes later, feeling much relieved. She knows that the trees are always there, she knows that if she is feeling down that to make a den, to dig a hole in the lawn (which forever annoys my long-suffering husband), or to collect the windfalls, will guarantee to make her feel alright again.
Yet, what I think she was touching upon is something deeper. Something that we need to question. It is of course a natural and thoroughly normal response for a child to want to be distracted by a new thing. We all know that we get a rush of happy-hormones, endorphins, when we buy or receive a new thing, and this is no different for a child. They thrill when receiving a new thing. The high is real and it probably can be a very helpful sticking plaster over a specific, negative thing that a child has experienced. But it does not last long, this feeling of newness and euphoria. The question is: why do adults act like eight year olds? When should we have dropped this behaviour, in favour of the woods and the mud in the garden, telling our bad dreams to the trees? Ten? Eighteen? Twenty? At what stage does an adult turn and say, I bought this thing and it did not relieve the wanting. When, if ever, do we reach this point of rejection of the myth, if we have been allowed, no encouraged, to keep feeding it? The myth that buying things will make us better, and if we buy all the time, then we can string all these little flashes of endorphins together so there is never a drop in this feeling of wanting for something. So we will be forever happy and satiated.
Seventeen years ago the newness of a mobile phone was incredible. I bought my first one in 2000. The fact that there was no mobile coverage in Cumbria didn’t daunt me, I simply walked it up Blencathra until I had a signal and then rang my mum, just to tell her that I was up a mountain, ringing her. What a giggle! What an amazing advancement of technology for me to be able to do that! The endorphins rushed and rushed for a very long time. Then I bought another one, then another, this time with a grainy, ridiculous camera on it. Even though the photos it took were indistinguishable blurs it was still an incredible rush. Which ebbed each time I ‘upgraded’.
The history of my consumption of phones in the twenty-first century is the history we all know, and probably share. I succumbed to technological advancement which took me further and further from the true need for one, which was just to communicate with a real person, about the shopping or a rendezvous. Now I have a phone so I can share my pictures far and wide, read worthy and deeply important articles, listen to music, giggle at friends’ antics, do a runic spread or tentatively learn Welsh from an app. My consumerism has changed. It now is no longer about the casing of the phone itself, I no longer have any wish to buy or change the thing itself, it is the content that I crave. It is the power of the things behind the screen that I have been conditioned into desiring. It is the music, the words, the people, the magic. These things are what I crave.
And if I am frank, that is exactly what my daughter wanted too. A two-step desire: to be on her laptop, to touch the buttons and connect to something bigger than her, yet does not exist without her; and to also access the poetry of the greatest, online. Her assumption was right: to have something will make her feel better. Yet paradoxically, this is a Great Myth. Although it is true in the immediate realm, the irony is that it keeps us from being truly happy and crucially, it keeps us from being free from the wanting! And the silly thing is, WE KNOW THIS!!! Yet why is it so pervasive? In my opinion, this myth, no, lets call it an untruth, is so great, so big that we think we cannot get off from its back, because what we have been led to believe is if we do get off, beyond it is the swamp of crusty, antisocial disenfranchisement, no ladder to climb, no self-worth, no standing, no place. A good untruth not only keeps you connected to it, it also repels you from any alternative. Yet it really is untrue. And beyond it, below it, around it, is solid ground. Ground that is beautiful, growing, rich in all we would ever need. Ground from which we can turn and look at the desperate souls piggybacking on Consumerism’s back, clinging on, wearing their good clothes in their fully connected homes, their eyes screwed shut.
The eight year old consumer within, even though it has been allowed to continue in our psyche, has to be gently and lovingly put aside. Children are our saviours as they are within us all, the best and the worst of what we grew from. Yours will cling on if the is no grown up to tell them to leave. Yours will try to keep you in the playground, wanting friends, things, grades, to be picked first, to be first in the dinner queue, showing off trinkets collected, tears demanding to be stopped. Yet sooner or later, the grown up has to look deeply at all the assumptions they are making, those they think are keeping them safe, secure, enriched, valued, then throw them away. Then, and only then, will that adult be standing on the real, solid ground that has always been surrounding that Myth. Finding that it isn’t populated by the disenfranchised or forgotten, the antisocial or unloved, but that here are wise souls, open hearts, bold thinkers and lovers of the Earth. These are the people with whom to grow up, into the bright, shining human we were always born to be.