Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Joneses

The term "keeping up with the Joneses" is certainly not new, but have you ever thought about the "other Joneses"?

We think of the Joneses as people who are better off than ourselves. They have cooler cars, a bigger pool (or a pool anyway!), they take fabulous trips and wear the trendiest clothes. Their houses l0ok ready for magazine photo shoots. All the time. And they're always on the move, shopping, improving things at their house, planning for their next world-wide adventure.

Often though, in our jealous peeks over the fence, we don't see the whole picture. We don't see the stress that the Joneses marriage suffers when another fight about money erupts. We don't see how neglected their kids feel when Mom and Dad shove toys at them to make up for the overtime they work to buy all that expensive crap.

But what about the other Joneses? These Joneses have much less than us, but for some reason we never think to compare ourselves to them. In the book "How Much is Enough?" by Arthur Simon, I found a passage that really sank in this morning.

"Which Joneses are we trying to keep up with? Almost always the Joneses who are ahead of us. Perhaps we should stay behind those Joneses and compare ourselves with the Joneses who lack food, clothing, and medical care."

Simon goes on to explain our desire for things that others have. This is a natural in children, the author explains, and seems to follow most of us right into adulthood.

"A child does not expect an ice cream bar for lunch. But if a sibling gets one, then having an ice cream bar suddenly seems not just desirable but a dire necessity. A child does not instinctively long for a particular brand or style of sneakers, but if "everyone" in his class starts wearing them and commenting on those who don't, lack of those sneakers will make him feel deprived and inferior. Kids want what other kids have. In this respect, they are strikingly like adults."

Hmmm, kids want what other kids have. This is true for us "big kids", too. Throw in a multi-million (billion?) dollar marketing industry showing us what "everyone" else has, little suggestions that we need to "treat" ourselves to something special, and it's easy to see how not only keeping up with, but surpassing the Joneses becomes our goal in life.

But life is so much more than things. I remember when I was small breaking some jars that my mother told me not to touch. I stood their crying, feeling terrible that I disobeyed and that they'd broken. She wiped up my tears and held me. "They're only things," she said. "They can be replaced."

That is a message we should all learn. All these possessions are just things that can be replaced. Relationships, helping, loving, caring, teaching, learning, compassion--those mean more than any physical object, and they can never be broken or taken away.


Jon and Heather said...

Just came across your blog today and wanted to say I really enjoyed this post. Very thought-provoking. One thing I immediately thought of was how important empathy is when thinking about "the other Joneses". We need to not only see the situation of others "behind" ourselves (the ones we are "ahead of"), but we need to recognize what that feels like.

As a society, I think we're simply losing that ability to empathize with others. And I don't mean "sympathize" or "pity"- I mean realizing what life is like for people who don't have the latest gadgets and gizmos, the biggest houses, or even enough money to put meat on the table 3 times a week.

So there are 2 ways we can learn from this- Having empathy could mean realizing that we can get by without all of that unnecessary stuff, just like other families do every day. And of course, it could mean sharing in what we do have with others.

I think I'll be checking out that book you quoted from my local library!

ChicChick said...

I completely agree. It's not about feeling pity for those who have less than us, it's about recognizing that, hey, maybe I don't NEED quite so much.

Thanks for the comment and nice to meet you!