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 Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES -

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).

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