See the ‘ soul’ in things
We should all introduce some animism into our lives. Then maybe we’ll stop filling the planet up with waste.
THE movie Room is about a mother and son living in captivity where one room is their entire world. The little boy is attached to mundane items in the room, like a toothbrush and lamp and bed. They aren’t just necessary implements for a boy who lives only in this one room with his mother – they’re his best friends.
When reading the book and later watching the film, the emotional attachment the boy has to inanimate objects triggered a sense of nostalgia in me because I felt the same way, growing up. Though I definitely didn’t grow up isolated from the world in a single room, I had that, perhaps infantile, attachment to everyday items. The cheap plastic salt and pepper shakers my mother used, the old wooden coffee table with the chip missing in the corner, the big orange teddy bear that used to perch in my parents’ bedroom ... they had value to me that was more than just monetary.
So much so that years later when I visited my parents and saw them throwing out those old, crusty salt and pepper shakers, I saved them, much to my mother’s dismay.
“Why do you want those old things?” I remember her asking. The answer was that they were a little piece of my childhood, and you can’t just throw that away. But I didn’t tell her that, and she shrugged, wondering why I would want to save trash. I felt dumb. Wanting to save something that had no monetary value. They were plastic shakers that were probably worth about 30 cents. I felt like my child brain had invaded my adult self. It was stupid. But was it? Some Japanese believe in animism – the idea that inanimate objects can possess a spiritual essence. More, they believe that something can gain a soul through use. So that broom and dustpan you’ve owned for years – that were cheaply produced and bought with little thought from a corner shop – in animism, have gained souls.
Maybe this version of animism in Japan was created to explain the attachment we develop to our things ( and I’m not talking about the superficial attachment of loving our designer whatever because we paid a ton of money for it). Maybe this idea was created to help explain why people get attached to items in everyday life.
Or at least why we used to get attached. Because, as I grew older, this attachment to the implements of the everyday faded. Now I move through life, as most of us do, purchasing and using items I need, and when they break or are no longer of use, they are discarded without much thought, and definitely with little sentiment attached. This is what it means to be grown up. Or is it? That the Japanese believe that items can gain a soul through years of use tells us that this idea transcends the fanciful imaginations of childhood, that it is believed by adults too. Maybe in a disposable world, we’ve learned to put aside these feelings – and maybe that’s not the best thing.
The average person creates about 2kg of waste per day. That doesn’t sound too crazy, but when you consider there are over seven billion of us hanging around, that becomes an unfathomable 14 billion kilograms of waste. I was trying to come up with a comparison that could help you picture how much that is, but I couldn’t. Because nothing compares with that much waste.
And this number has increased four times since 1960, when the average person created about half a kilo of waste, so we’re just getting better at throwing things away.
Maybe animism and valuing inanimate objects would help us stop treating everything as disposable. Maybe it’s time to give things more value than their monetary value. Then maybe we can move away from a culture that is designed for creating waste, and we will realise there is value in preserving things and reducing waste.
I’m not pushing the idea that things can gain souls, I’m not sure about that idea, but I am sure the plastic bag we throw away after carrying four items from the convenience store does have more value than the fractions of a penny it cost to create. It has more value being used for something, somewhere, again than being discarded after a moment’s use and sitting in a landfill taking decades to degrade. Then the bag would have value in not existing in the first place because society sees the value in reusing the bags we have.
So maybe before you throw out your old dustpan to replace it with what is basically a newer version of the same product, entertain the idea that your trusty old dustpan has done a pretty decent job for you up to this point, and would love to continue in that capacity. Introduce some animism into your life. ’ Cause no one likes being fired, not even a dustpan.
Catch Jason Godfrey on on Life Inspired ( Astro B. yond Ch 728).