Transactional or Transformative? (What is the Big Deal?)

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open? Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking? The entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.” – Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī

“To take on debt means to seek one’s future life in the present and hope to live today in the way we could afford 20 years from now.” – German sociologist Jens Becknert (1)

Somewhere along the line of the history (devolution?) of our species, we chose to become preoccupied with ‘money’, obsessively so. From very early on in life, we watched the adults in our world immersed in earnings, the stock market, gold, property and other frenzied investments; most relationships were then based on class and station in life, and almost all acrimonious ones could be traced back to some monetary issues. Soon, subconsciously we emulated this pattern of behaviour, and our life’s mission turned into how much wealth we could accumulate or spend. In that frenzy, many of us soon fell into debts and other associated trappings.

Many among us have the distinction of belonging both to a time when frugality was respected to another time, when even having a ‘mountain of things’ is never quite enough. It is also hard to recall what these ‘things’ are, once the initial high is over: ‘consumerism’ defining us all the way.

This excessiveness has got to be an illusion! And how many times have we experienced it? Do we ever question who profits from it all?

It’s no surprise then that most people enter into casual associations to serious relationships with the unabashed single-pointed motive: ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s it; that’s the ulterior reason for almost everything we invest in: ‘How do I benefit?’

We’re forever trying to grasp something that’s not there; never was.

Advertisements and hoardings abound determined to seduce us into acquiring stuff and ‘dreams’ that we don’t really need. Increasingly, these luring get so creative and sophisticated that you will never realize you’re actually being fleeced. The carefully crafted narrative often ensnares you emotionally and/or psychologically, and before you know how to react, you’re sold!

Take this advertisement, for instance, that I’ve seen with dismay a couple of times at an Indian airport:

‘Your sacred space* is where you can find yourself again and again’ – Joseph Campbell

This one is selling hoarding ‘space’, and I’m presuming that sacred space is an ‘airport’. Now I doubt Campbell meant that kind of ‘space’; of course, he didn’t! It’s such a shame that the message that Campbell was trying to get across can be so twisted out of proportion. The advertiser has all the right to quote anyone they want, but this to me is very disturbing as it takes away something precious and reduces it to such absurdity.

There’s no denying we all need to find employment, earn money, even ‘save’ given the condition of the ‘modern’ world we inhabit, but do we need to put on our transactional hat every time we meet another being? Can we not simply spend time with them without having to constantly think: ‘What can I get out of this guy?’ Or, ‘What do they want from me?’ ‘Can I trust them?’ ‘Can they be my lover or sponsor?’

There is surely a healthier way to bond with another human or being. Be available for one another in a creative and spiritual way. This synergy can be extended to animals, nature, the universe.

Perhaps, it’s time to stop exploiting nature, animals, the earth – the ways of our hegemonic extractive industries – and admire the natural beauty and be at peace.

Henry Miller wrote in 1945: “the dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.”

There are too many among us who continue postponing happiness because they cannot ‘afford’ it. As if it’s a commodity always posited in the future; never attainable and can only be accessed with currency. Yet money most certainly cannot buy everything; no matter how much the pundits try to convince you. What’s really worth possessing as you soon realize cannot be bought or sold in the bazaar.

The only way to get super rich is to discover the treasure you’ve always been carrying inside you; it just needs a bit of digging to locate.

Let’s take the example of the ‘American Dream’ which always throws up this image of a huge convertible, a massive house in a tree-lined American suburb, and vacationing at exotic Hawaii or Venice. This is another case of a dream gone totally askew.

James Truslow Adams in The Epic of America (1931) defined the tenets of ‘American Dream’ (which he coined) as: “it is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”

As the 2008 and current economic bust and joblessness and several other economic debacles across countries demonstrate, this Dream can be wiped down at a moment’s notice because it’s not solid enough. And in keeping in line with the Malthusian theory, only a handful of people continue to profit from this debacle, and we let them. These dreams for billions of people depend on external factors and the vagaries of the unscrupulous. But it’s never too late to reclaim the dreams.  

We often express our emotions via shopping and gifting, the latter being a part of our culture. But apart from this kind of exchange, we can also invest in meaningful conversations which help heal and bring about transformation.

1 Jens Becknert on “fictional expectations” in Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics; Harvard University Press. 2016

Gayatri Majumdar

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