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The culture of consumerism

Updated May 03, 2013
— File Photo
— File Photo

OUR lives today are totally different from the lives of our elders a few decades ago. Their lives were mostly connected to and dependent on nature.

Senior citizens often recall their past days of simplicity when society was not driven by materialism and selfishness. They were unaware of problems of today’s life like loadshedding, gas shortage, CNG crisis etc. They were free to move about at night without having to fear street crime and mafias. In short, they were more content with their lives.

With the dawn of modernisation and urbanisation the old living patterns have been broken. Modernisation has many positive elements, but it has some negative aspects also. These have spread across many societies with adverse and serious consequences on the social, health and economic aspects of life.

Among the negative aspects of modernisation is consumerism, which means buying beyond one’s needs. People buy things not keeping in view their genuine needs but on impulse, just to satiate their desires. Many well-off people flaunt their riches by indulging in consumerism. They frequently change their home furniture, appliances, jewellery and cars without taking into consideration the necessity of doing so.

They hang out in eateries and consume sumptuous meals on a regular basis. Food is a basic human necessity but devouring lavish food on a regular basis is an extravagance. Weddings can last for days with much fanfare. Slick TV commercials also bewitch many people by promoting a luxurious, ostentatious style of living.

As a corollary, people indulge in the rat race of accumulating more money, even through illegal means. Some also allow themselves to get caught in the vicious cycle of borrowing money on high rates of interest. All this makes life more perplexing.

No doubt money is a must for living a quality life, but it should not become an overarching force. An opulent lifestyle based on extensive consumerism bodes ill for any society. Therefore, serious efforts are required to simplify lifestyles.

Islam does not favour excessive materialism or extravagance. In this respect the Holy Quran describes various attributes for believers such as: “And those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes) (25:67).”

People are endowed with intellect therefore they are masters of their lives. They are free to lead life as they wish but Islam gives some value-laden directions to have contentment and happiness. Islam does not like those who amass wealth and indulge in ostentation. For example the Quran says “…But the mercy of your Lord is better than the (wealth) which they amass (43:32)”.

In the national context, it is on record that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, in his speech at Ziarat in 1948, lamented the spending habits of the subcontinent’s Muslims. He said: “We Musalmans in general and young men in particular do not know the value of money. A paisa saved today is two paisa tomorrow, four paisa after that and so on and so forth. Because of our addiction to living beyond means and borrowing money, we lost our sovereignty over this subcontinent.”

Consumerism also risks human health. It generates continuous mental agony and destroys peace of mind. It compels people to remain engaged in an unceasing struggle to make money. This artificial lifestyle leads towards a conflicting situation within families resulting in the loss of happiness, love and affinity.

Health and peace of mind should take precedence over the things money can buy. One must remember that hard-earned money can change people’s lives in a positive manner but ill-gotten money plays havoc with society. Unbridled pelf destroys the social fabric of society and damages the moral integrity of people. It makes people self-centred and callous to others’ needs, thereby increasing the gulf between the haves and have-nots.

We live in a world consumed with consumption but people are beginning to realise that pleasure through shopping is a losing proposition. There is more to life than the latest expensive gadgets, fancy clothes and luxury cars. Buying on impulse should be avoided.

It is a matter of reflection for everyone to see what constitutes our genuine needs and how to have a good grip on finances. Sometimes, people are affected by others’ lavish ways of living, which they try to imitate.

We are living in an era of economic crisis. This requires us to be more cautious on an individual level to control the cost of living.

A glamorous lifestyle may be a recipe for bankruptcy. The present world population has crossed seven billion people and is growing. Hence, one of the major problems the world is likely to face is the management of resources and controlling the over-consumption of resources.

Feeding the growing population would be a marathon task for future governments. Therefore, wasting food makes no sense economically, environmentally and ethically. Similarly, the aging population is also growing. People live longer but their working life is not increasing. They want financial security during their retirement years.

Ideally everyone should try to save as much as they can. This would benefit people in their retirement days.

The writer is an educationist.

amin.valiani@itrebp.org