Sunday, September 30, 2007

Childhood's End

When I was growing up I walked to school every day. I rode my bike down the street, swung on swings, and ran around outside chasing my friends. My favorite toy was Lego. I preferred the bricks over the kits because with the bricks you could make anything, but a wagon wheel part could never be anything else. If I was growing up today, everyone would feel sorry for me because I didn't have any cool toys, and my parents would be frowned at for not guarding me from predators and playground accidents.

The truth is that kids don't need expensive toys to have fun. We saw this over and over while we were travelling. Groups of kids simply make their own fun as long as they have somebody to play with. Kids in Guatemala have just as much fun with a rock, a stick, and a cup, as kids in North America do with a baseball and a leather glove.

The only time the rock and stick aren't fun anymore is when the kid next door has a baseball and a leather glove. That is where the trouble lies in our society, and it is something we are teaching at a younger and younger age.

We've somehow convinced ourselves that we need fancy toys to make us happy. Unfortunately any satisfaction we get from buying a fancy toy is typically short-lived; there is always something a little better. On top of that, the very quest for material things takes us away from the things that really make us happy. We work so much overtime to pay for a big house and flatscreen TV that we are never enjoy them.

Do any of these things really make us happy? If you believe all the advertising you see, the answer is a resounding YES. Just look at how happy the people in the ads look. The purpose of a lot of advertising is to convince us that we don't have enough, and it does the job very effectively.

Kids in Guatemala are lucky in a way. They haven't yet been exposed to relentless advertising to convince them that the kids with the expensive toys are having more fun then they are, so they all have fun together. All they need is friends to play with. And once my needs are taken care of that's also what makes me happiest. I like to play with my friends too. Not with a stick and ball maybe, but a pair of hiking boots and a climbing rope go a long way.

I saw a bumper sticker once that said: "How will you know when you have enough?" I only needed to look in my basement. I'm there man. See you in the mountains!