Just over a week ago I watched a fantastic documentary called The Divide based on the book The Spirit Level.The theme of both is how inequality affects us all, both rich and poor, and the film was particularly moving as it followed the lives of different people who were living hand-to-mouth and those who would be considered comfortably off.
I’m not going to give too much away as I urge you to go and see the documentary yourself but what I found particularly interesting is how those who had money weren’t honestly that much happier than those without money.
Yes, they had nicer homes and cars and more things but they had their own unhappiness to contend with and it centred around the constant pursuit of stuff and the status that stuff bestows on its owner.
Some people wanted to live in gated communities and when they achieved their dream found themselves lonely and looked down on by their wealthier neighbours and the people that wanted better cars and branded clothes found themselves working like maniacs and tired out.
Ironically the haves and the have-nots both wanted the same thing: to spend time with the people they loved. Those on low incomes could spend time with their families because they were working so hard to make ends meet which is a travesty in itself.
However, the wealthier people were more intriguing because they had exactly the same problem; they spent so much time at work they didn’t see their families. They were working stupid hours because they had to pay for the trappings of their status – the high mortgage for the big house, the payments for the flash car, the constant stream of activities they partook in that marked them out as having ‘made it’. Whatever ‘it’ means.
It was an uncomfortable experience watching those on low incomes struggle but it was equally uncomfortable watching those with plenty of money race to make more.
Not only did the wealthy not appreciate how wealthy they were they didn’t appreciate that they could have the life they wanted – ie. spend more time with their families – if they just dropped the pursuit of stuff, if they stopped caring about what people thought about their home or car, and also stopped judging their worth based on their possessions.
It’s hard sometimes to see a way out of our consumer culture and even harder to take steps to break free from it. Watching this film made me realise just how oblivious I was in the past (and even sometimes now) to how much we are controlled by consumerism.
I know the film wasn’t making a point on consumerism explicitly but it was a clear reminder of just how much possession can control and dominate our lives.
If you have seen the film, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts.