Friday, January 04, 2013

Do We Live "With" Others, Not Merely "Among" Them?

Charity Vogel raises this important question in her December 2012 article in St. Anthony Messenger: Grace in a Coffee Pot

We have become such a consumer-focused world, where everyone's individual tastes can be met. Vogel focuses on single-serve coffee packs, but the same is true of a lot of things. For example, there are 7 people in my family and we have six different brands of toothpaste that we buy. There are also several foods that we buy because it is one person's favorite and his or her special "treat."

I tell my children to "share" their toys - maintaining that they are actually communal property, but the refrain I hear from every last one of them most of the time is "That's mine!" (With mine pronounced in this long drawn-out way that makes it sound more like "Mayan.") Clearly, sharing is a difficult concept. We keep working on it.

Yes, the individual has taken precedence in this world. We want what we want when we want it the way we want it. We are becoming less and less willing to share what we have and sacrifice for the good of the whole, even among a unit as small as a family.

Vogel writes:

Look around your home or workplace, and it’s not hard to see other examples of this phenomenon in action. Find a house in this day and age in a new development that does not include double sinks in the master bathroom and it’s something of a novelty.

And yet what is this trend toward his-and-hers sinks but the most basic of household statements about the need for our own stuff, even after marriage, homebuilding, and the arrival of children?
Bathrooms in homes built in the World War II era—I know this because I used to live in one—had communal toothbrush holders bolted to the matching ceramic tile walls, ready for use. Today, many families can’t even spit into the same basin.

And yet coexisting is different from existing next to someone else, which is what the double-sink vanity asks us to do. In the past we never had to spell that concept out. Now we do.

How much of a surprise would it be, then, if people who make their own single-brew cups of coffee each morning, after brushing their teeth at their own private sinks, before reading newspapers on their own private iPads, lose something of the ability to live with others, not merely among them? That might not be the worry that keeps everybody awake at night, but it has given me pause. 

I think Vogel has given us something worth thinking about.

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