Thursday, 17 June 2010

Replacing Vacation

When you take a trip, what are you leaving behind? Vacationers spend thousands of dollars a year to visit the world’s most beautiful places, justifying their travels by the need for a well-deserved break from the daily nine-to-five and the monotony of suburbia. But why is it enough to have only two weeks of worry-free relaxation a year? Why do we accept an unsatisfying job or a home with little beauty?

Other than social pressures to succeed and the obvious need to pay for food and shelter, I see no other answer to these questions than the fact that jobs provide income, income provides possessions, and possessions promise happiness. Unfortunately, to the dismay of many Westerners, the possessions are lying. As I am sure you can attest, the thrill and satisfaction of a purchase hardly ever lasts; instead, it is quickly replaced by the desire for another possession, the next new thing. And we won’t be happy until we have it.

The myth that possessions will make us happy propels us to be unrelenting consumers. What’s so unfortunate is that this myth not only misleads us on our pursuit of happiness, but it destroys what can truly bring us joy.The beauty of nature is desecrated by the freeways we take to our city job, the billboards advertising our products, and the parking lots of our favorite malls. Back home, family conversation is replaced by television. Our addiction to consumption fuels resource wars, deforestation, and pollution on a massive scale, in turn poisoning life and warming the globe. These consequences, and the many others not listed, are justified as externalities of capitalism and “progress”.

If we broke our habit of consumption, buying only what we needed, we would need less income each year and so we could begin to take the steps that many Cultural Creatives are taking in America and across the world. Radical ideas such as a husband and wife each working only part time so that they could spend more time with each other and their kids, or accepting a lower paycheck for a new job you are happy to wake up to every morning. That kind of life needs no break.

It is time for us to replace vacation with a home, lifestyle, and community that we will never want to leave. Instead of eating out (which accounts for nearly half of the pitiful 12% of income Americans spend on food), invite your friends to cook and dine in your home. Resurrect the family dinner table and share your stories of the day. Purchase local food from the farmer’s market and savor every bite. By doing so, you are supporting your community’s farmers rather than multinational corporations who are quickly forcing the great majority of American farmers into financial ruin. Buying local fresh food is one key component of being an inhabitant, instead of just a resident, of your hometown. As David Orr writes in his book Ecological Literacy, “A resident is a temporary occupant, putting down few roots and investing little, knowing little and perhaps caring little for the immediate locale beyond its ability to gratify.” Inhabitants however, exhibit “an intimate, organic, and mutually nurturing relationship with a place. Good inhabitance is an art requiring detailed knowledge of a place, the capacity for observation, and a sense of care and rootedness.” To be an inhabitant is to know your neighbors and wish them happiness. It is ensuring the safety of its members in the face of crisis. It is to know the land well enough to teach about it, and it is the yearning that the natural beauty of your hometown will not only survive, but flourish, for your children. That is the heart of sustainability. When we act with these hopes in mind, the apparent sacrifices of sustainability will be realized as exchanges for the pieces of a better life.

[Please take some time to read and realize the Syracuse Cultural Workers’ tips to build community.]

How to Build Community

Turn off your TV – Leave your house
Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking
Greet people – Sit on your stoop
Plant flowers
Use your library – Play together
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Garden together
Support neighborhood schools
Fix it even if you didn’t break it
Have pot lucks – Honor elders
Pick up litter – Read stories aloud
Dance in the street
Talk to the mail carrier
Listen to the birds – Put up a swing
Help carry something heavy
Barter for your goods
Start a tradition – Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades – Sing together
Share your skills
Take back the night
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles
Know that no one is silent though many are not heard
Work to change this


  1. Here here!
    I've sort of grown up doing all this stuff anyway, but I sure get tired living with house mates who are so visibly caught up in the consumerism thing but don't try to change it :S

    Recently on BBC 2 there was a lovely 3 part documentary called 'how to live a simple life' you might be able to find it on bbc iplayer. Ofcourse it went into all this kind of stuff, but did it in a very gentle/personal manner which I think made it more inspiring for all sorts of ppl, who would normally consider this subject to be 'self righteous' or 'just for hippies'. It was very good anyway, and had a positive outlook on the future too, I hope alot of people saw it and became inspired. The presenter was actually a vicar, inspired by a saint who gave up all material goods, but duing the documentary he actually met up with/talked to alot of Buddhists/practising monks. :)

  2. Noble are important in our culture:

    - The are, for most of us, the only time when (usually) work does not intrude.

    - For most of us, the relations between capital and labor are a zero sum game. In a world where capitalism reigns, profit will always be maximized at the expense of labor if capital has its way. The only stratagem out of this is for labor to seek to maximize its return on its investment. Absent a situation like Germany (and they're trying to dismantle that situation over there) labor has no other choice.

    -Vacations are usually the only time we can see friends and family.

    Yes, certainly, build up community! But it is no more or less "natural" for us to "live in a place we would never want to leave" than it would be if we were nomadic. The ecological footprint is probably smaller in the latter case if we reverted to pre-agricultural lifestyles, but paradoxically the planet cannot support the entire human race subsisting this way.

  3. Why can't we just take a vacation and enjoy it?

    Sometimes, we need to step back and take a vcacation from Buddhism with a capital B. I'm thinking this is one of those moments.