Last week Jerry Wennstrom (an artist of materials and spirit) I spoke to a diverse group linked by their appreciation of my host, Charlie Hess, and of his provocative, interesting and often lucrative advice. One partner in Charlie’s firm, Ken Hey, synthesized the evening well, and I quote from him here:
“Enough,” “choice” and “change” …Both speakers invoked some variation of the same questions: “What is enough?” or “What is necessary?” or “Is exchanging life and time for money always a good trade?”
Saying enough puts one in seeming opposition to pop culture’s mantra “too much is never enough,” a statement of industriousness that is part of what was once called the full growth economic system. Economic growth depends on producing more and more, which depends on individuals – labeled “consumers” after World War II – wanting more and more. As a result, institutions have gotten in the business of manufacturing the desire to spend, and spend consumers have done, and borrow and spend and borrow…Because of this larger cultural context, saying “enough” to the growth context takes on a counter-culture tonality (which brings to mind) Thoreau’s line: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
But living a life either in the consumer culture or in the “enough” counter culture is a matter of choice… For most of us, considering just such a choice often comes as the result of a crisis, as with Vicki and her cancer For others, it emerges from a nagging feeling that something is missing in life, a kind of spiritual response, as with Jerry when he destroyed all of his art work and lived without an income. Two unspoken questions floated in the air during the dinner’s open discussion: Is the current economic debacle the type of crisis that will prompt individuals to make such significant choices? “What happens to the economy when a huge proportion of people make that choice?”
Making the choice to say “enough” and force critical life choices leads to significant change, the third word most frequently heard at dinner. What we have noticed … is that individuals are, indeed, changing their behavior in response to the current financial situation, perhaps not as radically as our two speakers but just as definitively. One consumer who is undertaking significant changes in her financial behavior recently commented, “A lot of the way we’d been living was all an illusion, a fantasy.” Without being aware of it, she is now working to discover Thoreau’s idea of how much she can live without.