Monday, October 1, 2007

Ending is Better than Mending: The Disposable Society

As predictor of an age that is – and was – yet to come Aldous Huxley probably never guessed the extent to which his words would play out, albeit a few decades down the road. One of the mantras of A Brave New World, “ending is better than mending,” lends itself to what we are now becoming: a disposable society (A funny conversation; a more serious one). We throw away things simply because they are designed to be thrown away.

Case in point: Sanjana related to me a story that she heard at a session on the environment at this year’s ISNA convention:

A scholar from Mauritania came to a community in the US. He was given a styrofoam cup for his drink along with other guests at an event. What completely boggled his mind was the idea that he was required to throw away his cup after using it only once. He kept his cup for about a month before he finally disposed of it. (paraphrased from Sanjana…please correct if wrong :))

More recently, I pulled on a pair of socks before I headed out and noticed a small hole in one of them. I actually debated if it was worth darning this sock or just easier to get a new pair. The entire concept of darning a sock doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Perhaps it is because sometimes ending is better than mending due to the quality of the goods that we purchase, and the required time and effort it would take. It’s just easier, more consumer-oriented to simply buy another pair. Plus, who actually has that skill anymore? Who knows how to sew?

The quality of the goods is also tied to where they come from. I remember while growing up, my mum would sew numerous outfits for my sisters and me. They were late night projects that entailed numerous trips to the fabric stores, measurement sessions, and a few tears because “That’s not how I wanted it!” Each outfit was made with love, an understanding of who was going to wear it, and the hope that it would last a long time. These pieces were difficult to part with for my mum, and for us. There was also the understanding that when my sisters grew out of their clothes, they would be handed down to me, perhaps even to my children.

As my sisters and I grew older, the concept of hand-me-downs became hand-me-arounds. When my sister became pregnant, she’d give away some of her clothes till she could fit into them again (however, she didn’t always get them back :)). As friends became pregnant or grew out of clothes the circle grew larger and what may have been something sitting in one person’s closet became a new outfit to another.

As with any child from a large family, or with many siblings of the same gender, the concept of hand-me-downs is a natural – and sometimes reluctant – acceptance of one’s birth order. However, it is also a symbol of one’s status; the more off-the-rack items you have the higher your status. For us it wasn’t about status, but about love. No store-bought piece -- no matter what the brand -- can be measured against these handmade/homemade pieces that were in some cases works of art, always inspired by love. I have seen my nieces wear some of the same beautiful dresses that I wore as a child.

Our society’s values have altered such that we need to buy and we simply function through impulse shopping. The Prophet warned us against excess in anything, and consumerism is based on the premise of excess.

As I watch my mum struggle to sew simply out of the love for the feeling it brings her, I think of how we treat the world around us. My mum has arthritis now, and cannot sew as easily as she once did; her body is slowly going past the age of when it can heal itself of even simple bruises and aches.

A characteristic of all living things is their ability to heal themselves. One day soon our earth will go beyond the stage where it, too, can heal itself. We must become cognizant of this fact. Our lifestyles must reflect the concept that “mending is better than ending” and look for ways to renew and reuse items. We are quickly altering the earth’s ability to heal itself; therefore, let us not bruise it beyond repair. Hopefully, Huxley had it wrong. I leave you with these…

When the earth is shaken with her (utmost) convulsion;
And (when) the earth yields up her burdens.
And man says (distressed), What is the matter with her?
On That day she will relate her chronicles.
Because your Lord will have inspired her.
On That day mankind will issue forth in groups sorted out to be shown their deeds.
Whosoever has done even an atom's weight of good shalll see it,
And whosoever has done even an atom's weight of evil shall see it.

Surah Zilzaal (The Quaking), verses 1 to 8

The Beloved of Allah, said, “The earth is your Mother, so take care of your Mother.

NOTE: In the previous post, Mohamad highlights some examples of how to change our lifestyles minimally to elicit major impact.


Sanjana said...

omaira, you're really good at this blog thing! you should quit looking for a job and just become a professional blogger ;)

on the subj of hand-me downs, my mom would sew for us too, when we were children. those dresses ended up being worn by at least 3-4 girls before they were retired to the scrap bin.

the downside of having your mom make your clothes is that you can never wear off the rack clothing anymore...everything has to be altered to fit just right.

Laurie said...

You write very well.