Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Means to Enjoy

A friend was telling me about a study done with teenagers in which they were asked, “If you could have anything you want, what would it be?” Most of them answered, possibly predictably, “money.” A handful answered, “Having more time with family and friends.” Then they were asked, “What do you most enjoy doing?” Most answered, “Spending time with friends and family.” A handful answered, “Shopping.”

So, a small number of these teenagers demonstrated some consistency: what they wanted more of was also what they most enjoyed: spending time with friends and family, or more money to go shopping. But most of them showed a common, but profound, inconsistency. What they most want doesn’t correlate to what they most enjoy. I think many of us would have the same answers as those surveyed. And, to be sure, it may not be as inconsistent as it appears: with more money we could spend more time with friends and family; with universal health insurance we wouldn’t have to hold down two jobs or take work we don’t like just to afford benefits, and so on. Time isn’t money, but there is a relationship between time and money that we cannot overlook.

However, it is still worth pondering whether what we most want is what we most enjoy, and whether the money we want (or the things that it buys) really will make us happy.

What I most want varies a little bit. Some days I do want more money, mostly when I am feeling insecure about how I will support myself when I retire. Mostly, though, I want more time. What I most enjoy also varies: some days, work, some days, reading, some days, friends. But rarely stuff. I can’t imagine saying, “my car” or “my new outfit.” I might say, “my garden” which costs money to maintain, or “my cats” who are quite high maintenance in both the time and money department.

Having a healthy commons gives everyone more time to do what they enjoy. Well maintained, accessible parks; libraries open every day and some evenings; free concerts, festivals and theater; free wireless in cafes and terminals; along with affordable and efficient public transportation enabling everyone to bring their friends and family to all these things, are just some examples of what a healthy commons provides for everyone, and the quality and quantity of these things are far more than all but the most wealthy person could have for themselves. What we have to want is what is best for all of us, and that begins with the question of how can we have what we most enjoy?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Would we have Violence without Fear?

I commented on how violence is a form of enclosure, but is fear even more enclosing? A couple of years ago, my partner, Stephanie, and I were robbed by a couple of men while we were walking down the street. I was pushed to the ground and had some scratches and Stephanie lost her purse and all its contents. They ran off. We didn’t even see their faces, and the whole thing lasted about 15 seconds. In the world of crime, we were lucky, and more inconvenienced than anything else. But for weeks after, every time a large man was walking quickly anywhere near me, I felt scared. I tried to talk myself out of being afraid by using phrases like, “Don’t be ridiculous” or “Get a grip on yourself.” That didn’t help. I played the robbery over and over in my mind, with me incapacitating the robber with ever increasing violent images. Finally a friend gave both of us a refresher course in self-defense. My fear and my fantasies went away, and I was once again able to walk down the street, aware of and enjoying my surroundings.

As a commons activist, I resist enclosure as much as I can, and I find I can do a lot to resist being enclosed by fear, and I like to think that this serves to also resist the enclosure of violence. For starters, I forgive myself when I feel afraid. It was not helpful to yell at myself for being afraid, and it just made me frustrated.

Also, I notice that when I watch violent TV shows I feel more both more violent and more scared, and I allow violent images into my head more easily. There is no conclusive evidence that adults watching TV violence are either more violent or more frightened, so I don’t think everyone has to give up “Law and Order” or “CSI Miami.” But I do.

When I see an altercation in the street, I walk toward the people involved or make a point of staring at them. I want them to know they are being witnessed. This includes watching police arrest someone. I keep my eye on children that seem unattended by an adult and in general, I am a little bit of a busybody.

I also research just what kinds of violence are most common in the places I am living or visiting. Most places are way safer than we realize, and most violence is between people who know each other.

Reducing violence in our communities would reduce our fears. But reducing our fears will also reduce violence.