Too often we are falling into a lifelong routine. It seems that we are pressured to follow a path to go through school, get through college, get a well paying job, work, have children, work some more, and then retired. What if we don’t follow this path? What if we dream of something a bit different?
We’re only human (and humans that have been on this planet for a relatively short period of time, at that…) There’s no way any one of us could know everything there is to know out there.
I know it can be overwhelming to think about how much there is in this universe that remains still unknown to the human race—and I’ve got to wonder if that doesn’t excite you at all.
If you feel some sense of wonder about what humanity might still discover, you should also feel that way about the knowledge you personally have yet to master. No matter who you are, there is still so much more you can explore, learn about, and test out—and one of the best ways to do that is through reading.
Sadly, there seems to be a downward trend in reading across the American population. A Gallup poll from 1978 found that 48% of Americans had read 11 or more books in the past year, and 13% reported reading more than 50 books. A similar poll by Pew in 2014 found that only 28% of Americans had read 11 books. What’s more troubling is that nearly a quarter of Americans reported that they hadn’t read a single book over the course of the year—whether in print, or on their kindle, or even as an audio-book. (The Atlantic).
Why the *!#% does it seem like we’ve all but given up on the pursuit of knowledge?
One obvious reason might be all the quick reading we do online day-in and day-out, which could satisfy our thirst for intellectual stimulation without the need to open up a heavy book. However, I think there might be a deeper root cause of this declining interest in reading.
To decide NOT to read in your free time, either out of self-inquiry or sheer curiosity, and to be content with that decision is possibly one of the most arrogant things you can do. It’s the equivalent of saying “I know about everything out there that’s important; I’ve gathered all the relevant facts; I’ve come to the right conclusions on all the lingering debates; and nothing anyone else might have to offer could be of any value to my life.”
I know people who openly admit they don’t like reading books. They say they’re boring, even as I watch them play Angry Birds for an hour straight IN FRONT OF A TELEVISION THAT IS ON. I also know people who say they don’t have time to read, even while displaying the same sorts of behaviors. Few people of my age would truly have no time to read for pleasure, unless they worked two jobs to pay their way through school and were also heavily involved in extracurriculars. Instead, it’s a matter of deciding not to make time for this act of inquiry.
This stems from a place of complacency—that feeling that everything is fine, I’ve done enough, and all I want to do is relax. Relaxation in your downtime is important, for sure, but why are we routinely prioritizing “Netflix and chill” over “Curl up with a book and chill?” It seems to be a dysfunctional relationship with time—and an unhealthy distinction between work and play—that will follow us throughout the rest of our lives if we don’t take the time to seriously investigate our aversion to reading endeavors.
We like snippits of reading. We like Reddit, and predigested news, from loud commentators or in flashy mash-up videos on our news feed. It seems like we like whatever’s “easy,” to pair nicely with all the hard work we have to do for classes. Is this healthy? What about when we enter the workplace? If we become too habituated to the work-until-work-is-over-then-veg-out routine, we may continue this reluctance to read into adulthood.
Why is that a big deal????
It’s a big deal because, even though we might like to think so, we aren’t always right. Because there’s a lot more to learn. Because we can do better at empathy, and the starting point for building this vital skill is genuinely listening to what other people find important enough to say. Because there are so many problems we collectively face as a species that might have a better chance at being solved if our thoughts were in conversation with each other a little more often . . if we gave the perspectives of others the time of day. . . if we took time out of our day to pour over them, consider them, evaluate them, and build upon them. We could be so much more, both alone and together, if we were more willing to welcome challenging ideas–challenging, perhaps, but no more threatening than simples words on a page.
Let’s start facing them more often.
by Rosie Lynch
Check out these two short videos
Where does all this stuff we buy actually come from? There are a staggering number of nonrenewable materials and toxic chemical processes that are involved in nearly every single consumer product on the market today. And for all of these things that go into making our stuff, so very little of it is properly disposed of for reuse. Our planet is running out of resources, but the price of consumer goods continues to drop. This is because companies are externalizing costs* so that everyone pays for it, but not just monetarily. The price of most products today, from food to oil, do not reflect their true costs because someone other than the purchaser is paying in some other way for the goods being produced (1). The goods that are being made are created at the expense of the environment, of those in third world countries who are paid next to nothing, and at the expense of the health of every single organism, including humans, who inhabit this planet.
The current system of consumption our global society has invested in is far from a sustainable one. It is digging us deeper into a hole from which we may not be able to escape.The demand for a variety of cheap products continues to go up as our supply of resources decreases, both of which at exponential rates linked to population, industrialization, and consumption (2). This downwards spiral is depleting the Earth and replacing it with garbage.
When a consumer is ready to buy a new computer, the old one is not sent to be stripped down so that the valuable metals they contain might be reused in the next one. Instead, the old one is chucked in the dump and a new one is purchased. Our linear system of extraction, production, distribution, use and disposal results in tons of perfectly reusable resources such as gold, copper and mercury being thrown into a landfill and sealed up for future generations to deal with.
Computers and phones both are made with many processes and components containing mercury. The average computer contains as much as 0.7 grams of mercury (3), which is vastly higher than the EPA’s minimum “safe” dose of .1 microgram (4). Investigations are finding that many unexpected products, including children’s toys, contain far more mercury and other potentially toxic compounds that could could have potentially devastating and lasting neurological impacts.
The very things we wear are made of synthetics material that can leach toxins into your skin, the air, and the ground. A common detergent used by many brand name textile manufacturers has been proven to affect sexual maturation and reproductive abilities of both the individuals in the factory working with them, and in the consumers who wash them, releasing the chemicals into the water in which all of their clothes are (5). This is a great example of an externalized cost: the shirt you buy at the mall is sold for less money than its total cost because now included in the cost is the price of healthcare for everyone exposed to the toxins, and the loss of productive workers since people are getting sick and having fewer, less healthy children due to the product design decisions made by the producer. The lesson to learn from this is to look into what may be hiding in the products you buy before you contribute to the system that put them there in the first place.
I hope that all of this scares you because it certainly scares us. The good news is that there is a simple way that each of us can contribute to the solution to ensure that humanity can coexist with our planet for generations to come. In order to stop this destructive, linear system of consumption, we must become more conscious of the products we purchase and of the companies who we patronize. By not buying into the current system, we put pressure on corporations to change their selfish ways, and can encourage smaller, environmentally concerned companies to make greater progress in sustainable goods. Next time you’re looking to buy a new computer because yours is not running the latest software, or a new pair of shoes since the old ones are out of style, consider what went into those products and how it affects the entire world just to make a new one. The only way to conserve the limited natural resources we have left is to buy fewer products, and make the most of the ones you do.
Article by Justin Smith
Some additional resources include:
An ethics index of many well known producers of consumer goods
More information about externalized costs
Information about electronics waste
Discussion about the relationship between world human population and environmental decline
More information about mercury
Article about NPE’s and other toxins found in clothing:
A great book that argues to remake the way we make things:
Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.
Learn about the origins, benefits, and practice of Meditation and Mindfulness with a lecture by Rosie Lynch. This lecture was originally presented to members of Sigma Alpha Lambda, JMU’s Co-ed Honors Fraternity for Service, Achievement, and Leadership. Rosie provides an a brief overview of the roots of meditation in Eastern religious traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism and summarizes how mindfulness has become an increasingly popular research interest in the fields of science and medicine with attention to some of its profound health and wellness benefits. She also leads the audience through 3 mindfulness exercises: a short silent meditation, a longer guided meditation, and a simple mindful eating activity. Skip to 10:40 to try out a guided meditation!