Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Waste not, want not - really?

We live in a disposable society. Most of us recognize the strains that disposability are placing on our environment, but we sure hate to give up on our own convenience in order to be good stewards of our shared "nest". I remember visiting Cuba for the first time over a decade ago and being impressed by the resourcefulness of people in re-using and recycling just about everything. It seemed to me that nothing was wasted. Everything could be redeemed and refashioned and re-engineered. My husband, a commercial fisherman, who is always "rigging something up" was in his element.

An old adage reminds us that necessity is the mother of invention and I remember thinking how true that is in contexts where there's never enough. Rigging something up means using things and parts of things in ways that are non-traditional, or at least non-commercial. It's making do with something that may not be shiny and new, but which does the job. It's a useful art form for people who are creative or on a budget.

Another old adage is waste not, want not. Did you ever wonder who comes up with these pithy sayings? What purpose do they serve? Whose thinking are they meant to shape and condition? How might they distort our understanding of the realities of other people?

Wouldn't it be nice if it was universally true that those who are frugal and avoid waste and wastefulness, could be assured that they would want for nothing - or at least nothing basic, like food, water, sanitation, health care, education... It's ironic, don't you think, that this old adage can roll off our tongues even though we live in a society that has built whole industries - a huge economy, in fact - out of waste? And yet - for us - we want not whether we waste not or not. And, sadly, many people who know no other way than to waste not seem to be condemned to a prison of perpetual want.

Jesus said that he came to set the captives free. Hm. I wonder if he might have been anticipating THIS kind of captivity?

So - the writing of this posting was just interrupted by a fire alarm in the residence building where I'm staying. I'm on the top floor of a 5 story building. The alarm sounded and this is how my thinking went: it's probably a false alarm but just in case, maybe I should get outside. I am, after all on the top floor and even though I don't smell smoke or see any evidence that there really is a fire, it might be stupid to wait and take a chance. Take my key - find the stairs (I meant to figure out where the closest stairs are, but hadn't done it yet) - done the stairs and outside with the 4 other people already there. Thinking on the way down the stairs that I should have brought my car keys and laptop, just in case - rejected the thought of going back for them. Outside - looking at the building and seeing no evidence of a fire. Someone arrived to say we could go back in - they were just testing the alarms (yup - they work!). On the way back upstairs, reflected that if it really WAS a fire, the truth is that all that I'd really NEED to salvage would be my car keys and my laptop. Hm. I have filled this tiny (or so it seems) residence room with the comforts of home and yet, when it comes down to it, it's pretty much all disposable... and frankly, replaceable. If I lost everything in that room, I could be up and running in no time. A few quick shopping sprees and I'm good to go. I could probably even upgrade - that is, get newer models, more stylish clothes... My insurance would likely even pick up the tab. Waste not, want not?

Somehow I can't help but think that it's an adage from an era when frugality and thrift and humility and gratitude were more valued and it gave people something to aspire to. Now, it's like looking at an old photo. But I'm not suggesting that we go back. Nope - not an option. We need to go forward, but with eyes open. The new adage is this: live simply so that others may simply live.

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