Last month, I spent ten days in Kenya, visiting my ancestral home. It was a life affirming and deeply renewing experience. During the trip, we visited my Aunt Mummie who is a farmer in Kisumu. She grows bananas, sweet potatoes, groundnuts, and has a coop of hens and roosters perched on her living room. Aunt Mummie co-exists with her farm in a relational way. She lives on the land with a reverence and understanding that she depends on it just as much as her land depends on her. She flows in between physical spaces without shifting the roles she embodies- as a farmer, a home-owner, and a neighbour.
Our culture of material
Aunt Mummie showed me a different way of being, where one could be in relationship to their environment without the need for and attention to material. It’s a stark contrast to my upbringing in London, where material is the foundation of our relationship to the environment around us. Material is not the issue but the ways in which our economic systems value material things at the expense of our well-being. I refer to this overvaluation as a culture of material.
How is this culture of material changing us?
– We are physically and mentally detached from the history, process and resources used to make material things
– Our supply chains are controlled by people who can give us access to these things not by those who produce them
– Our agency is defined by the ability to acquire more and more of these material things
– We are preoccupied with increasing the ease of receiving material goods – productivity, efficiency, effectiveness
– Our time is appreciated by the rate at which we can acquire these goods – ‘fast fashion, fast food, instant,express’
– We nurture a throwaway culture – the ease and readiness to discard goods and the relationships attached to it.
– We transform life processes into steps/routines that we can produce in the same way mass production functions. Think ’10 steps to transform your life, 5 steps to a new you’ literature. In short, our lives have become a product.
How are we responding to this culture of material?
In recent years, there has been several efforts to shift our culture of material by changing what is valued and measured by our economic systems. Some movements such as feminist economics, and the green economy movement propose incremental changes to the economic system by offering new indicators to measure the full cost of what it takes to produce goods and services in an economy.
Other movements, for example, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, propose a transformational approach by offering alternative ways to define an economy, such as creating indicators to capture well-being.
For now, I invite you to spend five minutes reflecting on this culture of material. How is it showing up in your life, your work, your leadership and your choices? What could be different for you if you valued other aspects of your well-being in the same way you value material?
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