Choosing the old & the relational in our disposable culture

We live in a disposable culture.

Not only are things disposable, but people are disposable.

Anne Hathaway is only 32 years old and an Oscar-winner, and yet she’s already being passed up for movie roles which are being given to younger actresses, according to her comments in this article.

What does this reveal to us about who we are? What we value? What we devalue?

Hathaway’s experience highlights a brutal gender bias in our culture. Not only don’t we allow women to gain weight, but we don’t allow women to grow older. What we are most interested in from women is their sexual attractiveness. There are plenty of beautiful women like Hathaway, who are passed over by Hollywood because they no longer fit what our culture has determined to be sexually attractive.

But it’s not just women who are disposable. Any professional athlete is incredibly disposable, and we dispose of them continuously. Even those who are household names and have been at the peak of their sport are ditched once their stats dip below what is deemed acceptable. And even if it doesn’t happen immediately, the calls for their disposal are quick and ugly.

When I edited a business magazine, I refused to use the term “human capital” that had become a stock phrase among journalists. It made it too easy for executives to reduce “headcount” (another term I refused to use) without the pain of thinking about real people. The language we’ve been using has made the firing of vast swaths of people acceptable.

What do we learn about ourselves by these throw-away actions?

We are a culture that values money over relationships.

Yes, there are business owners who agonize over layoffs and even take pay cuts themselves in order to retain employees longer than is financially feasible. But the truth of the matter is that when real people are treated like human capital, they’ve been reduced to coins to be spent.

Too much in our culture is reduced to money. An old baseball card is no longer a kids’ love of the game and of a certain player he follows, but is an asset that can be sold online to an investor. In fact, some athletes have taken to charging for their signatures on cards and balls, knowing that those they sign for will probably turn those signatures into profit. And why shouldn’t the athlete profit from your profit off of him or her?

We’ve replaced love with money.

At the same time, we’ve bought into the belief that newer is better. New means improved and old means irrelevant.

We replace old styles with new clothes. We replace old technology with faster computers, bigger phones, crisper TVs. And so on. I do it all the time. I’m a sucker for novelty.

Instead of valuing and retaining the tried and true, we are continually looking for the ground-breaking and innovative (the word “innovative” just being a fancy way of saying “new”), believing that the old is stale and the new is fresh.

And sometimes, we’re right. Sometimes, the newer is the better. But too often, it’s a bluff. The new iPhone operating system offers some bells and whistles but ends up buggy and sucks your battery dry. The resolution on your new TV is too crisp, making everything on it seem fake.

In our continual need to upgrade, we put yet another thing or person in the bin — the thing or person that was the hot new commodity not so long ago.

In our disposable era, we need to recapture the value of old things and not just because we’re sentimental about them, not as knickknacks. As those who don’t want to be tossed aside ourselves, we need to become people who value the elderly and wide among us. As those who can’t afford to put yet another gizmo in a landfill, we need to become people who use things until they are worn out. As those who don’t want to be suckered by fads and frauds, we need to become people who retain the values of past generations.

On this earth, there is no such thing as permanence. Change is unavoidable. New things replace old things and some replacements are urgently needed. But too often our urgency is misplaced and in our haste we make waste.

So, settle in to an old rocking chair. Read an old book. Call up an old friend. Tell an old joke. And value every bit of this good old earth, choosing love over money every time.