Our Society’s Toughest Commandment (#10)

lots-of-things-to-covetOne of the main characteristics of our North American society is its focus on money and entertainment. Everywhere we look there are opportunities and offers of services, goods to buy, and recreation. Advertising blitzes us continuously, mostly portraying smiling, beautiful people sharing a good time and taking possession of something they really want. And if smiling, beautiful people can't sell us something then the marketing machine uses fear to convince us that we are missing out on something important or we're at risk. Either way, we have a society encouraged to want things, and to never be satisfied.

In advertising parlance, it's called "manufacturing desire" — making people want the next cool or interesting or "better" thing.  If someone else has it then we want it.

We have a society encouraged to covet. For those of you wondering where that fits into the traditional Christian play book, that is commandment #10. It's the last commandment on the list, perhaps because 3,000 years ago moral standards were different or there was less opportunity to break this commandment. But there it is, on the list.

In the old days people used the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses". It was seen as a negative thing — a prideful, wasteful thing — to be competing with your neighbor, trying to have the better barbeque or the better car, when you already had something plenty good enough.

Nowadays, keeping up with the Joneses is our assumed way of life, with even kids feeling the pressure to own the "right" jeans or shoes or cell phone.  And for adults, the very personal and destructive coveting of someone else's life partner, aka adultery, continues to be on the rise. If someone else has it then it's okay that we want it, and why shouldn't we get it if we can? (Answer? #10)

Coveting things is entrenched in our way of life. Our manufacturing and entertainment systems depend on it. Even our governments depend on people wanting more, and use people's dissatisfaction against them — running lotteries, betting tracks and casinos to help pull in tax dollars.

So you won't hear the word "covet" spoken these days, even though it's what people are doing. Step by step, marketing pressures have convinced us that it's okay to covet. It's just "good business". And a bit of fun.

Not only does the word "covet" sound old-fashioned, it sounds anti-social to suggest that's what we're being encouraged to do.

The negative side effects of our constant coveting are many and diverse. By focusing mostly on acquiring things we have to work longer and harder to make more money. When we rest we don't pause and enjoy nature — we watch TV and get further promptings to buy things. We accumulate stuff and no longer think about repairing things — we throw stuff away and get a new one. We get something new and soon learn about a newer, better version. We are overworked and unsatisfied with what we already have (which is usually a lot). Our work environments and even our friendships can be challenged by our constant desire for more.

Fortunately, we live in an era where the flash of the new is being questioned by those wanting better use of our global resources and by those who think that a better life may have elements of a simpler life.

The solutions to coveting are to:

– Show restraint (by saying "No, thanks" or "I really don't need that.")
– Recognize how advertising tries to manipulate you ("See that ad? They're showing cool people loving that new phone.")
– Clarify your personal goals ("What do I really want in life?")
– Enjoy and explore the things you already have and the relationships in your life.
– Be happy for others (without wanting what they have), and
– Live within your means (because less stuff means fewer bills and more time to relax and pursue your passions).

In an era of "retro", I encourage you to step back from the spinning wheel of much-ness, and to rediscover the common sense of commandment #10, and the freedom, focus and personal satisfaction that it brings.


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