Materialism and consumerism through the eyes of “The Little Prince”

A few days ago, I published in this blog a speech delivered earlier this year by Jose Mujica, President of Uruguay (click here to visit that post). In that speech, he mentioned very inspiring thoughts regarding the responsibility of mankind to look after its own happiness, the importance of looking after environmental policies and sustainable economic practices, and the urgency to counter a culture of consumerism.

One of the key ideas (and quotes) of his speech was that “ancient thinkers -Epicurus, Seneca, the Aymara people- defined that ‘a poor person is not he who has few goods, a real poor person is he who needs infinitely a lot’, and wants and needs more and more and more”. This idea, of course, is consistent with philosophies that maintain that happiness does not come from the amount of possessions or wealth we may own, but real happiness comes from within ourselves.

Apropos of these ideas, I would like to cite an excerpt of one of my favourite books: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The fourth planet belonged to a businessman. This man was so much occupied that he did not even raise his head at the little prin

“Good morning,” the little prince said to him. “Your cigarette has gone out.”

Business Man“Three and two make five. Five and seven make twelve. Twelve and three make fifteen. Good morning. FIfteen and seven make twenty-two. Twenty-two and six make twenty-eight. I haven’t time to light it again. Twenty-six and five make thirty-one. Phew! Then that makes five-hundred-and-one million, six-hundred-twenty-two-thousand, seven-hundred-thirty-one.”

“Five hundred million what?” asked the little prince.

“Eh? Are you still there? Five-hundred-and-one million–I can’t stop . . . I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence. I don’t amuse myself with balderdash. Two and five make seven . . .”

“Five-hundred-and-one million what?” repeated the little prince, who never in his life had let go of a question once he had asked it.

The businessman raised his head.

“During the fifty-four years that I have inhabited this planet, I have been disturbed only three times. The first time was twenty-two years ago, when some giddy goose fell from goodness knows where. He made the most frightful noise that resounded all over the place, and I made four mistakes in my addition. The second time, eleven years ago, I was disturbed by an attack of rheumatism. I don’t get enough exercise. I have no time for loafing. The third time–well, this is it! I was saying, then, five-hundred-and-one millions–“

“Millions of what?”

The businessman suddenly realized that there was no hope of being left in peace until he answered this question.

“Millions of those little objects,” he said, “which one sometimes sees in the sky.”

“Flies?”

“Oh, no. Little glittering objects.”

“Bees?”

“Oh, no. Little golden objects that set lazy men to idle dreaming. As for me, I am concerned with matters of consequence. There is no time for idle dreaming in my life.”

“Ah! You mean the stars?”

“Yes, that’s it. The stars.”

“And what do you do with five-hundred millions of stars?”

“Five-hundred-and-one million, six-hundred-twenty-two thousand, seven-hundred-thirty-one. I am concerned with matters of consequence: I am accurate.”

“And what do you do with these stars?”

“What do I do with them?”

“Yes.”

“Nothing. I own them.”

“You own the stars?”

“Yes.”

“But I have already seen a king who–“

“Kings do not own, they reign over. It is a very different matter.”

“And what good does it do you to own the stars?”

“It does me the good of making me rich.”

“And what good does it do you to be rich?”

“It makes it possible for me to buy more stars, if any are discovered.”

“This man,” the little prince said to himself, “reasons a little like my poor tippler . . .”

Nevertheless, he still had some more questions.

“How is it possible for one to own the stars?”

“To whom do they belong?” the businessman retorted, peevishly.

“I don’t know. To nobody.”

“Then they belong to me, because I was the first person to think of it.”

“Is that all that is necessary?”

“Certainly. When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you get an idea before any one else, you take out a patent on it: it is yours. So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them.”

“Yes, that is true,” said the little prince. “And what do you do with them?”

“I administer them,” replied the businessman. “I count them and recount them. It is difficult. But I am a man who is naturally interested in matters of consequence.”

The little prince was still not satisfied.

“If I owned a silk scarf,” he said, “I could put it around my neck and take it away with me. If I owned a flower, I could pluck that flower and take it away with me. But you cannot pluck the stars from heaven . . .”

“No. But I can put them in the bank.”

“Whatever does that mean?”

“That means that I write the number of my stars on a little paper. And then I put this paper in a drawer and lock it with a key.”

“And that is all?”

“That is enough,” said the businessman.

“It is entertaining,” thought the little prince. “It is rather poetic. But it is of no great consequence.”

On matters of consequence, the little prince had ideas which were very different from those of the grown-ups.

“I myself own a flower,” he continued his conversation with the businessman, “which I water every day. I own three volcanoes, which I clean out every week (for I also clean out the one that is extinct; one never knows). It is of some use to my volcanoes, and it is of some use to my flower, that I own them. But you are of no use to the stars . . .”

The businessman opened his mouth, but he found nothing to say in answer. And the little prince went away.

 

Regina Brett: The 45 lessons life taught me

Back in May 28, 2012, a local Cleveland newspaper named “The Plain Dealer” posted a column by Regina Brett. The article was named “The 45 lessons life has taught me and 5 to grow on“. Her column, which I transcribe textually below (and which is available via the link provided) is full of wisdom and inspiration for us to enjoy a more meaningful life, and to empower ourselves to take control over aspects of our own persona. It is worth sharing and remembering these simple suggestions.

regina-brett-plain-dealer-columnist.jpg

Regina Brett’s 45 life lessons and 5 to grow on


By Regina Brett, The Plain Dealer

 

To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me.

It is the most-requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolls over to 50 this week, so here’s an update:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.

2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.

3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

5. Pay off your credit cards every month.

6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.

7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.

8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.

9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.

10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.

11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.

12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.

13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.

15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.

16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.

18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.

19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.

20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.

21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.

22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.

23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.

24. The most important sex organ is the brain.

25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.

26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”

27. Always choose life.

28. Forgive everyone everything.

29. What other people think of you is none of your business.

30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.

31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.

32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.

33. Believe in miracles.

34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.

35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.

36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.

37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.

38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion.

39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.

40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.

41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.

42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.

43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.

44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.

45. The best is yet to come.

46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.

48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

49. Yield.

50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Photo: Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

Lessons on cars, traffic lights, and views on life

Years ago (so many, that I can’t even tell how many anymore) I somewhere heard a wise advise that would change the way I look at decision making forever. It versed more or less like this:

“You cannot wait until all traffic lights of the avenue are in green to start your car”

Indeed, when we drive a car through an avenue, do we ever wait until the next light is in green to get going? Chances are we don’t; we start our cars as soon as the nearest green light is on, regardless of what light colour is shown in the traffic light a couple of blocks down the road.

Likewise, when travelling through life’s paths, we encounter several situations where conditions don’t seem perfect or even largely favourable for us to carry on with our goals – and sadly, sometimes these adverse conditions prevent us from pursuing further what we believe in. If we notice a potential threat or adverse situation that may arise down the road while pursuing a goal, sometimes we stand back and refrain from moving forward with our idea because the panorama is not ‘cleared’ for us.

Here is a reality check: More often than not, when overtaking a challenge, the circumstances that will condition our success will not be all wholeheartedly favourable to us. Moreover, there will be adversities from the very beginning -plenty of lights still in red on the avenue- that will necessarily make us stop, reconsider our route, and make decisions that will allow us to continue the drive forward. But these stops are not a bad thing. All the opposite, these stops will give us learning experiences to keep maturing on our way, so that when we are closer to reaching our goal, we are better equipped to embrace it and use it to further continue our growth.

“You cannot wait until all traffic lights of the avenue are in green to start your car”. Remember those words whenever the thought of potential adverse circumstances is preventing you from going ahead. Give yourself a chance. Who’ll know? Maybe by the time you reach the next light, it will already be on green.

The Dalai Lama: What is most surprising about humanity?

Dalai Lama

“The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered: ‘Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”