Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What Is Luxury?

The other day, my husband told me that he'd turned off the heat because the power bill had been higher than he'd prefer. To him, wandering around in a t-shirt and occasional sweatshirt, heat is a luxury. To me, in my turtleneck, sweatshirt, jacket, leggings, pants and lap blanket, it is not.

Okay, before you reach for the mouse, let me assure you this is not a rant against my husband. I was planning to rant to him personally, but I was in the middle of something that gave me time to think. What I came up with was this stray thought.

Bear with me. I don't normally give assignments, but I think this will be an interesting one.

Take a pen and paper, or computer notepad, and jot down the things you can't live without. And I'm not talking emotional, be materialistic please.

(Pause while you all do your assignment....)

Okay, pencils down :).

Now, how many of those lists contain three items? What? None?

The only thing you need is food, air and water. Anything else is a luxury.

Now those writers reading this will say: a pencil and paper must be on the list.

The readers: a light and a book.

The game players: a Game Boy or game board (depending on generation ;))

But stop for a moment. Do we really need anything but food, air, shelter and water? Need?

Assume you are on a desert island with a decent size group of people. The grace of God, or the local television producer, has provided basic food staples and potable water while air is self-evident--the basic necessities.

The writers want to write but don't have paper; the readers want to read but don't have books; the game players want to game but have no boards or game machines.

The writers can tell their stories to a captive audience; the readers can have tales told to them in the author's own voice and intonation; the game players can play word games and build scenarios with their imaginations (/me slaps the hand of the game player who reaches for a stick and rock to form a map).

Sure, would our lives be different stripped down to the bare essentials? Absolutely. If you look at the list produced by your significant other or your children, will many of the elements be different? Of course. But none of that changes the common thread that crosses all of us and brings us together. Though different, even in the direst circumstances, those differences would aid and support each other...if we only gave them the chance.

So, going back to the main question: what is luxury? Practically everything. Though I've never been in the depths of poverty, I can imagine human food seems a luxury when what's available is dog food or even rats. When you need a blanket to get warm, would you shy away because of filth, or because you had to share? If forced to tell your stories rather than write them, would you stay silent?

I guess this is a reflection piece, asking all of us to take a moment and count our blessings while at the same time to recognize our luxuries. If money gets tight, as it has for so many of us, there's a lot of space between where we are now (a grouping based purely on the fact that you're reading a blog on a computer ;)) and food, air and water.


Valerie Comer said...

Well, I can tell you live in California. :) I have one thing of necessity to add to your list, and that is shelter. Without shelter from the elements, many of us could not survive the winter here in the north, so I'd say it needs to be on your list. Heated shelter might be more accurate, as simply being out of the wind and direct glare of snow, rain and sun might still not be enough. Otherwise, I agree. We think we need many things that we really don't.

Margaret said...

LOL. You're the second to catch me on that. Which considering that the thought started with heat.... But really, I was trying to simplify. On a desert island you don't really need heated shelter...most of the time.

Anonymous said...

In one sense, you are, of course, correct. But consider that young lady in Florida in a coma surrounded by loving people who want to maintain/end the coma. Food, air, water (and yes, shelter) she has. Is that enough? We are so much more than our material needs. On your island, the writers would end up telling the same stories over and over, until their audiences vanished, because they have no new experiences to stimulate them. The competitive game players would progress from slapping hands to mayhem. A civilized existence is much more than material needs. I refer you to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Margaret said...

It's very true that the postulated island society would not necessarily manage as a permanent state, though in the Philippines and other island nations people have thrived without much more than those starting points at the beginning. But, I was not in any way advocating a return to that state, though I suppose the thought could be read that way. It was more that we don't often think about how much of our lives are luxuries. How much of what we depend on for daily "survival" is really necessary to survive? Now, I don't think survival is a worthwhile aim by itself, but we may all have times when that's all we can strive for. Everything above that level should be appreciated and recognized.

And obviously, human needs go well beyond material ones, but that would require a lot more space than a single blog post. I deliberately limited the exercise to material needs for my purposes. Running an emotional, social or other exercise following the same thread of thought would make for interesting data points as well. Feel free to ask yourselves the same question but with a broader scope, just to identify what you truly value.

deirdrebeth said...

It is very true that everyone who is reading this blog is living in the lap of luxery compared to a large percentage of the world's population. I try to remember that when I'm worried about money, and how I'm going to pay x, y, or z bill...There are literally dozens of things I do every day of my life that if I didn't, I would have significantly more money. Would I voluntarily give any of them up - not a chance, but when it comes down to being able to feed, clothe, or shelter myself...I'm pretty sure I can scrape together the cash.

fuul said...

Shelter is actually quite high on the list of priorities. If you are ever in a bind, just remember the Rule of 3's:

You can survive:
- 3 minutes without air
- 3 hours without shelter (from a blizzard, etc.)
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food

So the first two are the emergency needs... once they are secured, you can go find the others. Then of course you have the:

- 3 months without sex
- 3 years without conversation
- 30 years without republicans
- 300 years without democrats

Linda said...

I agree and disagree with you. On a purely philosophical basis, I agree with you. But I disagree on a practical basis.

If we were on that desrt island, you're right about what's a luxury and what isn't. But here, in 21st century California, there are other things that are not luxuries because without them, you've got your belongings (if you have any) in a shopping cart and you're eating what you can scrounge from dumpsters and drinking whatever water you can coax from restaurants and cafes. The main not luxury item being some way to regularly acquire enough money to provide the basic necessities for yourself and your family. Or, if you're out of work and have used all of your savings and resources, someone to take care of you until you've found self-supporting resources again. And I'd add one more item to the not luxuries list, if you're not on the desert island--clothing. Our culture frowns on general nudity to the point that you'd be arrested for walking around naked. :)

Margaret said...

Hence why I wax philosophical in this blog. And yet, I think there is value in it because sometimes looking at a simplified version makes the complexities in our lives more comprehendable.

Reality is never so simple. It's like when you start to consider cost of living. What income would mean you're either on or one step away from the street in California puts you in the top 10% in the midwestern states. What it cost me annually in daycare for my two boys when they were younger would buy a six bedroom Victorian in some states...and that's not even considering outside of the US.

And thanks so much for that loverly image. EWW. I am SO not a nudist colony type :D.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I could think of for my list was chocolate. Ack!

Margaret said...

LOL. In an odd way, your priorities are obviously on straight ;).