Why do we think what we think?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, about the strange alchemy of nature versus nurture that combines to make us approach the world as we do, to take in certain messages and not others, and to take meaning from certain things and not others.
Why, for example, did I want to leave Tucson, Ariz., and go to Chicago for college? Why is it that my son is interested in sticking a little closer to home? Why do I choose to shop at Marshall’s while friends of mine hit small pricey boutiques? Why, suddenly, are tons of people wearing heavy white tennis shoes? Why do I call those kind of shoes ‘tennis shoes’ instead of ‘sneakers’ or something else?
My neighbor rolled her eyes recently as her sweet toddler pulled on her shirt.
“Why, Mommy? Why?” she asked.
The mom mouthed to me, “Why, everything is why!” and threw up her hands.
I laughed. I know it’s annoying, but I love it. When does that stop? Why do we stop asking why?
I was reading an old report card of mine recently where the teacher chastised me for “asking questions without thinking things through…” That, I realized, is often how it can happen. Our mother’s eye rolls, and our teacher’s annoyance. It gets tiring to field so many questions, to think out loud what some of the answers might be, to sort through things, and really think about them.
But what happens when we stop asking why?
Well, anything can happen. Slowly but surely, things around us change. People make decisions that affect us and if we don’t ask why, well, I dare say we often find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be.
It happens all the time. I think back to the days I wrote about food marketing, and all the packaging innovation I wrote about. Single-serve sizes, and new resealable, portable plastic this or that. The hope was that consumers would be entranced by something new, and convenient. Aided by millions of dollars in marketing, suddenly the innovation was everywhere. It was adopted as the new norm. And on they went, to find the next new thing.
Now, of course, we’re questioning packaging of all kinds. We are thinking about where all this garbage goes, and wondering how we got to this place, where our world is filled with plastic.
Artists are often the questioners. When I was in Jamaica, walking along a beach strewn with glass and plastic bottles, I laughed and said to our guide, “There was this movie I saw once, called ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy.’” He nodded, Damon. “Yes,” he said, “I saw it.”
It was a South African movie, that came out in 1980, when I was 10. In it, a Coke bottle drops out of the sky and disrupts a village in Botswana, and a Bushman travels away with it to drop it at the end of the world. His encounters offer up a hilarious view on modern civilization and its many mysterious developments. But, did we listen to Jamie Uys, the movie’s writer and director? Did things change as a result?
A friend of mine, a painter named Joelle Provost, is making waves these days with her art, pieces that are a sendup of the environmental ills we’ve created with the way we live. But, like with ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy,’ people are going to have to internalize her message, and be willing to be inconvenienced if they want change. It is not enough just to watch a movie, or view the art about modernizations that may have a negative impact on us, we ourselves have to decide to ask ‘why.’
I’m amazed at myself, at the changes I adopt without much question. Technology is the most glaring. I find myself awash in Apple products, and angry about it, and I try to trace my steps to how I got here. It all seemed so innocent to invest in that phone, and then the computer and, suddenly, I’m over a barrel.
But I don’t blame Apple. I blame myself. I took the bait. I bit. It is, after all, up to me to decide. I live in a free country, and no one, certainly, forced me to believe in the ubiquity of these things. There are those who’ve resisted, who’ve continued along the way to ask ‘why’ and come up with answers that led them to ‘why not.’
Even though I know better, I am pulled and swayed by the marketing of things, by the ease and convenience promised to me, by the bells and whistles. It is a complex relationship between us and our own minds, and sometimes, I dare say a LOT of the time, it is important to stop and think about what you think, and WHY! Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware.