Monday Musings....The Simplicity of a Stick

He couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. Walking by himself on the sidewalk, he sauntered towards a very busy intersection, cradling a broken branch in his arms. His winter coat and freshly shorn brush cut, made him look like a juvenile version of John Wayne, minus the cowboy hat, as he lifted his pretend rifle to his shoulder, checked his sight, and aimed at imaginary prey.

So many thoughts ran through my mind in that 20 second encounter, as I sat in my car waiting for the light to turn green. The first, and most obvious thought, was why was this little guy outside, seemingly wandering around by himself? There were no parents, siblings, or friends around that I could see. But there were town homes surrounding him, so it’s very likely that he wasn’t too far from home. Maybe someone responsible for him was watching out the window or was farther down the street trying to catch up? I cannot say.

But what intrigued me was his natural instinct to use a piece of worn wood as a weapon. He was strategic. Surveying his battlefield, he took several ‘shots’, aiming at the passing cars, the townhouses, and other make-believe targets. I’d say he spent a half dozen shells in the time I observed him.

Now, you may think that I’m going to speak out against gun violence, or even posit the presumption that this child has been exposed at too young an age to first person shooter video games. But I have no idea what this child’s home-life is and that would be making a huge leap in assessing the cause of this child’s creativity.

Rather, I was thinking about how something as simple as a stick can help a child pass the time, outdoors, in a way that doesn’t involve technology or the latest $100 popular plastic plaything.

As we’re heading into the Christmas season, one thing that’s on everybody’s mind is shopping. What do we buy? Every year we are convinced that we need more stuff – more clothes, more toys, more gadgets, more… anything to give us pleasure. Our inboxes have been filling up with Black Friday deals for weeks it seems. And today, of course is Cyber Monday, which has kind of lost it’s meaning, since all anyone does these days is shop online.

Our phones are perpetually pushing advertisements into our faces for the last thing we’ve googled, hoping we’ll be lured into purchasing some item we (or someone on our list) doesn’t really need. Commercialism checks its sight, and takes aim at us, the imaginary preyed upon customer.

What do we really need? I’ll tell you, it’s not stuff. Stuff can’t bring the please that sitting around the dinner table with friends or family can.

And certainly, with this restrictive world we’ve been living in for the last 9 months, people are prone to ponder that more stuff is the solution to ensure that their Christmas is merry and bright. They deserve it, after all, as a reward for being confined in their cages, like a treat you would give a good dog for remaining in his crate.

But let’s take a lesson from Matin Seligman’s study on learned helplessness. In his famous study demonstrating the impact of chronic stress, he showed that dogs, when placed in a crate from which they could not escape, eventually just lay down and took the periodic electric shocks that initially made them jump and search for an exit. Realizing their situation was hopeless, they gave up. It showed quite effectively, what long-term uncontrolled stress can do. When the dogs were finally given a way to escape, they still didn’t leave. They learned to be helpless. And even when they were physically brought out to safety, only 30% of the dogs recovered. The majority had developed a defeated dog identity.

This so relates to our world today. How many defeated dogs do you know, who merely subsist? They’re going through the motions of life, hoping that some ornate object will restore their optimism, but it rarely does. And as they see their bank accounts deplete, and credit card balances balloon, that momentary merriment will certainly melt away. Many people have become trapped in the cage of complacency and consumerism.

You have to realize, that It’s this passing pursuit of pleasure in the midst of our weary-worn world right now that businesses are sharp shooting or ensnaring you with. But you don’t need more stuff to soothe our soul; a simple stick will do. Less can be more!

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