We are possessed by the things we possess. When I like an object, I always give it to someone. It isn’t generosity–it’s only because I want others to be enslaved by objects, not me. -Jean-Paul Sartre
I don’t think Jean Paul really wants bad things for other people. At least, I don’t read this passage that way. It’s like the line “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” in “Do They Know It’s Christmas”–it’s not saying that we should be thankful that other people are starving, but that we’re not. In this case, it’s important that we know whether or not we’re enslaved by our material possessions because if we are, it’s time to give them to someone who doesn’t mind allowing material objects to define who they are, who doesn’t see any problem with the idea of letting their happiness or level of contentedness depend on how many or what type of things they own.
Unfortunately, many people live their lives this way. It’s unfortunate because the “happiness” that comes from material things is more like a sense of satisfaction that affects the ego only, and not our deeper selves. If I buy a new large-screen TV, it doesn’t say a thing about what I am as a person; it says only that I have enough money (or credit) to buy such a television. And when the new TV leads us to buy a new home theater system, and then new movies, and then a new living room set, then we start to see how we can be ruled by things.
If you’ve lost a particular material object and the loss is making you miserable, then that object had a hold on you. Sure, it might have reminded you of something or someone special, but you still have those memories whether you have the thing or not. It might have made you feel special in some way, but you’re special whether you have the object or not.
In theory, we’re free from our objects on the day we can give them all up with no problem–when we know that a fire that destroys our home and everything in it while we’re at work really won’t matter, because all the fire destroyed were things, and our lives aren’t defined by the things we own–we’re no slaves to our objects.
Questions to ponder:
1. Are there any objects that you simply can’t do without?
Why not? Is it absolutely true that you’d be lost without that thing?
2. What kinds of things tend to get the strongest hold over you?
Why do you let them do so?
3. How would you feel if all of your possessions were destroyed in a fire?
Would that change who you are as a person?
For further thought:
Remember, what you possess in the world will be found on the day of your death to belong to someone else, but what you are will be yours forever.-
Henry van Dyke