Culturalism

The Culture of Neglect

This past week I got to read through A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, the delightful tome of a Japanese spiritualist. What struck me most about his Buddhist philosophy was the emphasis on dignity and value for all things, including the inanimate objects cluttering life. This latter approach is one less visible in Abrahamic traditions, perhaps because they tend to focus on the afterlife as opposed to the material world. Regardless, it got me thinking about how we go about living, and the relationships between individuals and their possessions.

At some point as children, we all probably mistreated a toy. Perhaps broke the arms of an action figure, or melted something down just to see it ooze. Were we all little Sids in training, or did the behavior merely reflect a lack of instilled admiration for the value of those plastic objects?  Maybe too much is made of the concept, but Shoukei Matsumoto’s book makes that and more. He evangelizes the importance of honoring everything which has served us in life, from the moment it escapes the box to the time of being laid to rest.

Beyond plastic, the viewpoint expands to other questions. How many times do people throw away food that is uneaten, or allow clothes to become rags out of sheer neglect? How often do we see working appliances or furniture chucked out on a curb because they have some blemish, or are simply not as glistening as before? They may have served long and well in some capacity, but just when usefulness seems to fade, it is like they never existed.

I thought the same about the house I am currently living in. After weeks of effort and money, the place is coming together nicely, and yet it didn’t have to be that way. Even some minor cleaning and painting—relatively cheap and time sensitive—would have mitigated the issues now slowly being dispersed. Whenever I take a ride into town, I see countless siblings remanded to the same fate: forlorn, unkempt, overgrown by ivy, and my heart weeps for them. Unremarkable structures of wood, brick, and stone, yet as I pass they seem to cry out in solemn tones: will someone please love me?

 Yet the answer is silent. Every last one of them is a casualty of consumerist melancholy, much like the items we discard because a replacement is so easy to attain. So that new candidate can enjoy the spotlight for a few months, until the same fate caterwauls destiny where many junkyards have wandered.

Here I pause and try to imagine, what if we did more with less? Suppose those food scraps all went into gardens, those fabrics turned to quilts, and those plastic soldiers received a proper funeral.

Might we have souls of peace?

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