November 9, 2007

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Unleashing the grip of greed

“I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It’s my bar of chocolate. Give it to me—now!”

Veruca Salt’s declaration of greed in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would make an apt anthem today for many Americans, aiming for acquisition and prodded by retailers, who seem to have fully and irretrievably wedged the commercial Christmas season into November. Now we craft wish lists before we even pause to consider that antiquated notion of giving thanks.

Well-oiled ad campaigns are designed to make our material lives feel incomplete, sorely lacking accessories, utterly mute of bells and whistles. We come to see the holes in our wardrobe, the gaps in our home entertainment center, the technology lags in our home office equipment.

We are keenly aware of what we wish we had.

And though the gimmes are nothing new, what has changed is the sheer volume of products on the market along with the complexity of high-tech toys. Millions of Americans decided they wanted an iPhone before they understood how it functioned. It was a flashy badge for the early adapter before it became a useful tool.

We have become less discerning consumers, coveting gadgets without considering their practical benefits to our lives. We are seized by iWant, a modern brand of avarice that allows no space to separate person from product. Novelty morphs into necessity at first sight.

iWant may seem like a seasonal blip, but it is a serious spiritual malady. It compels us to dismiss the blessed lowly and chase the rich and famous, trying to forge the kind of “fabulous life” documented on VH1.

Pope John Paul II admonished materialism with fervor and frequency. He preached about its dangerous grip during his first papal visit to the United States. He addressed the subject again in his 1986 encyclical, “On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World.”

“In principle and in fact,” the pope wrote, “materialism radically excludes the presence and action of God, who is spirit, in the world and above all man.”

A year later, he told young people gathered in New Orleans, “The modern technological world can offer us many pleasures, many comforts of life. But what the world can never offer is lasting joy and peace.”

Two decades later, his message is more relevant than ever. We can honor our late pontiff by heeding his warning.

Here’s an exercise to get you started: Instead of pining away for the things you wish you had this November, be grateful for the things you don’t have. If any of these scenarios have eluded your home or heart, consider yourself blessed: a bad habit, a loud neighbor, a family grudge, an expensive or dangerous addiction, a hostile enemy, a criminal record, an intolerable boss, an insatiable ego.

If you don’t attract the paparazzi, be glad. If you don’t have a reason to go on “The Jerry Springer Show”—or the desire to—count yourself fortunate. If you don’t star in your own reality TV show, let out a sigh of relief. If you don’t possess the kind of fortune that calls for a prenuptial agreement, know that you’re better off.

We are urged to “have it all.” Seldom do we hear about the freedom that comes from having none of it. What advertisers portray as a void in your life might just be an abundance of blessings.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at †

Local site Links: