The Lego Syndrome

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

This is the second in a three-part series. Read the first entry here.

Daryl Geffken

Today I’m continuing a “three-piece” (pun intended) series on how playing with Legos has helped me deconstruct materialism (pun also intended).

I love playing with Legos. I could construct sets for hours—and have.  It is a unique joy for me to construct things, to see how they can be sturdy and aesthetic at the same time.  Now here’s the deal, I get all jazzed when I get a new set, and I love sitting down and putting them together and getting all the pieces together and whatnot.  And then, as soon as I’m done, it seems like I just look at the model for about two minutes, and almost instantaneously want a new set. I’m not satisfied with what has been created. Once the anticipation of having something accomplished is complete I’m anxious to move on to something else.  It doesn’t fully satisfy.

The analogy is fairly clear, many of the things in life we want are incredibly appealing and we anticipate that they will fulfill our desires and help make us more complete.  It is often only after achieving or acquiring these things that we realize it was just smoke and mirrors and the desire still remains, it has simply switched focus to something new we don’t possess. If our value rests in this endless pursuit, well, we’re doomed.

I have said before I believe each person in the history of the world longs for three things — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant.  We have this desire in us. And we seek to have it fulfilled in all sorts of ways.  Over the years I’ve collected lots of stuff; more education, more toys (Apple products and technological sundries seem to be the option du jour), more popularity (have you read my blog, lately?) and, well, you get the point.  To continually fulfill our desire for significance, we acquire.

And then we trash.  A lot.  Only 1 percent of all materials used in the production, distribution and consumption of our market economy is still in use after six months; 99 percent is trashed. If the world’s population were to live as the average American does, it would require three planets to sustain such a lifestyle (facts taken from Leonard, 2005).

In her poignant documentary film, “The Story of Stuff,” Annie Leonard (2005) claimed, “We have become a nation of consumers. Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers. The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume.”

Through concepts such as planned obsolescence (making things that break down quickly so we must buy more) and perceived obsolescence (convincing us that the model we have is outdated and depreciates our value, so we must buy more), we have been trained to want more, convinced to think we need more.

You are complicit in this; as am I.  The responsibility is ours.  This is a highly complex issue, but I would like to encourage you to do a few things.  Limit your consumption. Start incrementally, start a consumption log, and after a month determine what you can cut out of your life.  Second, watch “Story of Stuff” (it’s only 20 minutes long and you can watch it right here), so you can be more fully informed. Look for what critics say about it.  Third, spend some time in reflection determining what brings real value to your life.  Fourth, spread the word (maybe even write in the comments below ideas for limiting this system). This may feel like a lot, but I believe it is well worth it.

If you’re going to spend anything in the next week, spend the time to delve deeper into this.

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6 responses to “The Lego Syndrome

  1. Daryl, I’m going to watch this documentary tonight. Thank you!

  2. I think there is a healthy middle ground where it is possible to have a good relationship with physical things. Let’s not forget that our ingenuity in manipulating the physical world has brought us an incredible number of good things — writing (not possible without pen and slate!), medicine, travel, powerful communication tools (can you imagine an Arab Spring before the internet?). Personally, we can enjoy the things that we make — I believe — without becoming consumed by them because we can be mindful that true happiness may not come from these things, but they sure can be cherished, and we can develop powerful memories and emotional attachments. And what is a life beyond its collected memories, emotions, and the things we leave behind?

  3. I might add that many of the problems with waste are not really problems related to stuff, so much as it is the willpower to tackle these problems with engineering and practicality — probably at the cost of higher tax rates and waste disposal costs for Big Corporations. 🙂

  4. Sam, thanks for your input. I agree there is an opportunity for healthy enjoyment of people, experiences and things around us. What I was attempting to communicate concurs with what you aptly wrote, “true happiness may not come from these things…” Yes, cherishing items that have contributed to a certain emotional experience can enrich our quality of life.

    The examples of which you wrote are excellent enhancements to society… there are many more that have been produced at its–and the world’s–expense.

    I think we are in agreement that the loci of the problem of materialism is not the material, it is the attitude that has driven so many people to believe that our acquisition of items arbitrarily-laden with value will satisfy our need for love, appreciation and significance. I believe that you’re right in assessing that moving away from this will involve a greater cost to us. That won’t be easy on me, at least. I believe it’s got to happen, however.
    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Love God, love others.

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