Monday, February 26, 2007

There are hidden costs to nearly everything, so when a human being is put to test, trying to make decisions about spending hard earned resources, it is extremely difficult to come to a clear understanding of the price we pay. We compare various features of the products involved, relative to price, and then decide.

What if we throw other variables into the equation? Like its origins. Was it made in a sweatshop where child labor is exploited and people work under conditions of near slavery? Are there environmental consequences of the ways its raw materials were extracted from the earth, or are there serious dangers from the by-products of its manufacture? What about the disposal costs of the object after its usefulness is depleted? What about the transportation costs and the effects on the environment? What about wasteful packaging and its disposal costs? And what do we mean by disposal? Are we just talking about the costs of hauling it away, or are we talking about the long term costs of the degradation of the environment from landfills or incineration?

Then there are other costs that are even more difficult to evaluate. These can be called the "human opportunity costs." If we buy something rather than make it ourselves, we choose not to invest in the creative opportunity and growth opportunity that we, ourselves would derive from it. If we choose to buy an object from a big box store, rather than having someone we know in our own community make it for us, we make less of an investment in the people of our community and more in the big box store and what it represents. If, in total, we choose not to invest in the creative potential of our own people, but place our investment outside our own communities, can it be any surprise when we have crime, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, meth addiction, gated communities, increasing police surveillance, failure in schools, increasing costs of incarceration...

I realize that these are complex issues with no easy answer... at least not one that won't come one pair of hands at a time.

I wanted to talk today about the mental health issues related to the use of the hands. It is another thing that fits into the category of "human opportunity costs." If we buy instead of make, we are missing the opportunity to discover and take pleasure in our creative potential. Depression is one of the serious consequences of that choice. If we fail to offer others in our community the challenge of making their lives and livings through the use of their hands, we have failed to encourage the members of our community to discover and take pleasure in their creative potential. Again, depression, mental illness, and substance abuse among our neighbors are the logical consequences of our choice.

Not happy thoughts, but we can change things, one pair of hands at a time. Let's start with our own.

The photo above is of a dining chair made for my cousin Mary Lou and her husband Michael. The set of 6 chairs, table and sideboard were made in 1996.

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