Actively wanting less

After reading Garlin’s fantastic post on the Black Middle Class, I was inspired to think of ways that we can maintain an engaged and active middle class. This idea is not original, but I think the answer comes from actively wanting less.

Generally speaking, the middle class trajectory is to move into nicer neighborhoods with bigger homes, better cars, better schools, better positions, and better food, etc. With this trajectory, for those who are politically conscious, comes the idea that, “I simply can’t afford to be engaged right now but once I get settled, I am all yours.” Of course, more often than not this plan falls to pieces as our justice warrior glides into retirement, giving their best years of their life for what?

Some of you are probably screaming, “Their best years are for their family!” And my response is that yes, family is vitally important but too often used as a scapegoat. You can spend time with your family volunteering at a shelter, going to a rally, or even helping to clean up the city. I need to comeback to this issue because I just typed this paragraph like Speedy Gonzales.

Coming back though, I think when you really evaluate yourself, you pretty much know if you are setting yourself up to be on the typical middle class trajectory. Isn’t that part of the reason you feel so desperate to go to graduate school right after undergrad? If not, I am pleased, but you are unfortunately in the minority.

Regardless, the middle class trajectory has a very strong impact on your willingness and ability to be hungry and fight for positive change. So what if we could re-imagine the typical middle class path to make it more palatable to your desires to change your community?

I think it means different things for different people but let’s start from the perspective that you are going to make more and more money as you get older. Do you find that the more money you make, you still find yourself broke? This is a sign of the upgrade culture that takes away your hunger.

A prime example of this is cell phones. Imagine that you have a decent cell phone that gets the job done and you are 7 months into your 2-year contract. All of a sudden you get a new job paying you $10,000 more than what you made before. What do you do? You find some inane reason that you need a new phone, then go online and buy a new jazzed up phone when you could have received a new free phone at the end of your contract. You say, “Brandon, it’s my money, leave me alone.” OK, but let me be clear, I am not putting down nice phones; I am putting down the idea of doing things because you can and not because you need to.

I hate when people feel the need to do across the board upgrades when they make more money. It is silly. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffet has lived in the same house for I think thirty some odd years. The lesson is simple, why upgrade when you don’t have to? Your house and you/or your child’s education are critical areas that need your attention and investment. So maybe instead of wanting the nicest car, we actively wanted the most reliable and not mind if the model year is less than 2002. Maybe instead of buying your eighth ‘freak um’ dress, you bought some Black activism books from Amazon.com.

By now, some of you are saying, “I can have my books and my dresses!” (figuratively speaking) I hope you can but the larger point to be made is, “Where is your heart?”

Being stylish and being conscious are not mutually exclusive but you can’t buy hunger, even though it is more satisfying than most anything you could buy. Actively wanting less of the world allows gives you the clarity to better understand your life’s purpose, which will undoubtedly somehow help others.

I was a little over the place with this one, but I hope you are still with me,

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

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4 responses to “Actively wanting less”

  1. K. Warfield says :

    I struggle with the upgrade culture. Keeping up with the Joneses has taken on a whole new meaning with the rapid advents in technology and the ever-growing price tag that comes with being “well received” by one’s adoring public. It doesn’t help that I am currently on track to be a member of an ‘elite’ profession where we are trained to stay AHEAD of the curve financially and make others salivate at our lavish homes, cars, meals and young secretarial-type mistresses.

    I digress.

    Maintaining one’s hunger as they move up the socio-economic ladder is hard in almost every aspect. The funny thing is that it’s the same no matter how one “comes up” in terms of riches. Basketball players lose their ‘hunger’ once they sign their first big deal, and leave us wondering “what every happened to doing it for the love of the game?” Hit the lotto and you’re ready to quit work and live on a boat for 11 months out of the year. Get a raise at work and all of a sudden a one hour lunch just isn’t long enough anymore.

    I vowed when I got into this that I would try not to become “that guy”. I wanted to maintain my lifestyle (okay, MAYBE with a few upgrades here and there…but nothing I wouldn’t be willing to share with family and friends in need so that they could be on par with their own needs as well) even though my bank account was swelling. It’s hard, but it takes baby steps. For example (sticking with phones), if I want to make a frivilous purchase of an upgraded phone, I buy it on eBay and save no less than $75. Want a new DVD? Buy it used. Subtle things like that can help you 1) save that hard earned money, but more importantly 2) change how you value things. That can translate into buying that mid-range used car that – while it’s no new Maseratti – accomplishes the goal of getting you to where you need to be in order to keep that job that’s giving you the money that makes you want to move up to a level that even you can’t keep up with. Because you’re not scrimping and scratching to keep up appearances materially, you have the energy and resources to focus your committments elsewhere. You worry less about how you are seen and become more concerned with who sees you and where (hopefully, out doing something positive).

    I will definitely take what you’ve got here and try to put it into action in my own life. Actively wanting less puts us in a position to actively give more, and to maintain that hunger that got us to where we always wanted to be…the same hunger that we can use to pull up other people behind us.

  2. Brandon Q. says :

    Kyle, thanks for the comment brother

    You are fortunate to have a whole committee of folks that will prevent you from being “that guy.” I guess for me, I am less concerned with people trying to keep up with the Joneses so to speak rather than I am with the people keeping up with the Joneses pretending to be hungry.

    In essence, I am tired of the supposed zero sum game of taking care of business and taking care of the community. It is a false dichotomy that justifies and encourages selfishness to unhealthy levels.

    Again, I am not anti-nice things but I am against them when they are allowed to steal the hunger needed for change. The movement never stopped, it just varies in intensity and we are collectively hibernating right now. Every movement take sacrifice and I feel that actively wanting less is one of the better ways to lead a life of sacrifice so that when the movement needs you, your ability to act won’t be impeded by all your “stuff.”

    You feel me?

    Stay up fam,

    Brandon Q.

  3. Anonymous says :

    Oh most definitely. I got caught up on the ‘nice stuff’ tangent because it was on my mind. The movement needs committment…it needs selflessness. If your head is clouded with the need to “get more” as opposed to “do better”, then you’re three steps behind for when it’s time to get moving.

    I’m right with you.

  4. MW says :

    Regarding this compulsion to amass material wealth, I wish more people incorporated this wiser midset into their lives. We must hope that we do not eventually succumb to the common ailment known as materialism. It reminds me of a quote I had on my wall growing up…

    “The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more.” Kin Hubbard

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