Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Five Things You Can't Live Without?

Yesterday I was reading a blog and saw that the writer had an entry about the five things she couldn't live without. At first it seemed like a fun thing to think about, but I was quickly struck by how shallow those five things seemed, and how much the answer to that question depends on where you are and what your circumstances are at that very moment. It made me think how her list, which contained items like a curling iron, face wash, a down pillow, coffee, and design magazines, really reflects the heart of American culture. All five of her things are material, and in the big picture that is the rest of the world, they don't matter. I know I shouldn't judge, because I'm as guilty of gross consumerism as anyone else in this country, but it sort of made me sad that of all the things in the world, these were the five she chose. Then I started thinking about what my five things would be, and would they be the same?

The truth is, if we limit this list to things I routinely buy/own and don't ABSOLUTELY need for survival (i.e. food/water/shelter) then I'm not sure I can come up with five things that I truly would never be able to live without. So far on my list I have books. That's it. I couldn't fathom a life without words and knowledge, so books would be on the list, but I don't really have anything else. This makes me wonder why someone else thinks that they really NEED a curling iron and couldn't live without it. Is their life truly summed up and determined by the presence of that curling iron? It makes me sad to think it might be.

My true list of five things, however, would have nothing to do with material goods, for the most part. If it's a given that I have the basics to survive, then my list would include many intangible things that people don't think about, but they need to truly live the life they are given, not merely survive it. So, in no particular order, my list is:
  1. Love
  2. Passion
  3. The Great Perhaps, the possibility of adventure.
  4. Beauty in the world
  5. Knowledge
Those are the things I think of when I think about what I would never be able to live without. It's not about what money can buy, or what I think I need. In reality, our perception of "need" as a society is so grossly distorted that it's no wonder there are people in the world who see us as greedy and selfish. In so many ways, we are. We put value in what we own, what we can purchase, not what really matters. I'd imagine that if we asked this question of someone in Japan right now, in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, their list would look very different than the woman who needs her curling iron and coffee. It makes me think that maybe we, as a whole society, need to stop and consider what is truly valuable and start actually valuing it.


Jason said...

It's an amusing question. "Five things you can not live without". I mean, to literally answer the question the answers would have to be:

and then a 5th one that probably could be debatable such as a healthy body, protection from the elements, etc.

So, really, the question isn't what you "couldn't live without" because other than the things necessary to sustain life, you can (and many people do) live without just about anything.

As you point out, it's tells a lot about what someone says are the items that they "could not" live without. Perhaps recognizing that there really isn't much you couldn't "live without" is helpful in appreciating all the nice conveniences that we all have and that we're lucky to have them.

Rebecca said...

It's actually kind of funny--I recall this question being posed on one of the many online dating sites I've tried (oy)--I think eHarmony. Like a smartass, I answered the question in 3 categories: the literal (things like food and water), the existential (like friendship, education), and the things I COULD live without, but wholeheartedly appreciate in a shallow way (more fun and random answers to spark a conversation, like windshield washer fluid, running shoes, etc.).

If this person said things like a curling iron, I would bet that the purpose of the post was to be of the more fun, conversation-starting sort like the third type. This person probably meant to say "5 conveniences that I greatly appreciate." And maybe I'm a bit of an asshole by dissecting it this way and being critical (like you) of how a phrase like "can't live without" is used ever-so-freely. But if we can't be careful about the words we use and say what we mean, effective communication breaks down and then what's left for us?

I guess we'd still have curling irons. And perhaps food and water... :P

Sarah @ BecomingSarah.com said...

I only have one thing: family. And the obvious like food and water. I think the rest all sort of figures itself out.

I'm glad you wrote this because it's made me reflect on how easily we all get swept away by material things when we should focus on the people we love and the life we're leading.