Sunday, June 21, 2015

From Disposable Cups to Throwaway Relationships: Costs of Disposable Culture

Transforming a Disposable Culture
By Dr. Irfan Hyder

Disposable Relationships
The emerging lifestyle of today requires that we restrict ourselves to a small cocoon. We are sold that we should gain expertise in only one particular subject. Our occupations are specialised, limiting our view to a narrowly focused area, and our daily chores revolve around our jobs, which we dutifully report to every day of our lives until the time to leave this world comes. The chimera of “convenience” has made “consumerism” the purpose of our lives, where our only objective is to buy, consume and throw away. It is not important to know how something is produced, nor what feelings, culture and tradition is associated with it. The importance of things is devalued, as we focus only on the short-term utility and not the extensive process of its development and nurturing. We forget that in life, the value of a goal is not just in its final output, but also in the process – the effort, toil and struggle for that goal.


The yester-years tell a different, better story of wholesome, productive living. Come Eid time, womenfolk would sew their clothes and those of the male family members. The brand culture, rather, the “showoff culture”, had not yet invaded households. Eid and marriages were family occasions, not formal occasions. Marriage ceremonies were not the staged, managed events where people would buy dresses from boutiques, get ready in salons and wait in lavish halls for the caterers to serve the food. Rather, marriages were family get-togethers where everyone pitched in according to one’s expertise. Some prepared food; others would be knitting, sewing, or embroidering. Male members would supervise the repairs and other arrangements. Teaching and learning such skills used to happen in the course of family interactions under close supervision by the elders.

Consumerism: Costs vs. benefits
The brand culture and the “throwaway” lifestyle may have made our lives easier by offering us conveniences, but they have also robbed us from learning useful skills, and have taken us away from our Islamic traditions. Even those whom we would consider “right-minded” commit acts that wouldn’t be condoned by Islam: ignoring the strong directions regarding wasting of food, leaving food in the dishes; wasting water; not doing their own chores; throwing away but not mending or donating things; indulging in ostentatious displays and competing on the basis of worldly possessions; backbiting and ignoring blood relations, and adopting an apathetic demeanor towards others.

This commercial culture develops a mindset which eventually leads to the devaluation of important people and relationships in life. We become devoted to our devices, with our TVs, mobiles and iPads giving us the illusion of having social interactions and exploring the wider world. In reality, the only interaction that we’re engaging in is with the device or application. Consequently, our ability to meet people face-to-face, have intelligent conversations, and learn from others is suffering.

One increasingly visible manifestation is the tendency of the newly-weds to jettison their parents. They forget the strong admonition in Islam for those who get the opportunity of serving their parents in their old age and do not use this chance to prepare grounds for their own forgiveness. This mindset did not happen overnight; it developed slowly over the years. 

The story of the decline
For the sake of convenience and consumerism, we started getting rid of the things that could be preserved with care and effort. We began replacing them with single-use items that could be thrown away once they were used. For example, shoes and clothes are increasingly becoming quickly transitioned items, even single-use items! Had we been getting them hand-crafted or home-crafted with our love and affection, their quality would have been much better, they would have lasted longer and we would not have thought about throwing them away so recklessly. We do not know the labour that goes into the stitching of our clothes, nor do we consider that the process can be an expression of our love and creative talents; therefore it becomes easy for us to throw these things away. In doing this, we ignore the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) regarding simplicity, mending, reuse and preventing wastage.  
Recycling

We further deviated from the Islamic ideal by outsourcing chores in our lives that we used to do ourselves like stitching, home repairs and cooking. We do not stitch anything anymore; we now buy readymade. We do not care about repairs; we simply throw away the offending appliance and replace it with a new one. We no longer cook; we prefer to go out and eat. I am told that in the Philippines, there are apartments without kitchens! On the streets outside the apartment buildings are vendors and food courts where the locals eat and drink in disposable containers. The apartment is just a place to sleep. This culture of fast food emerged after casting aside the beautiful and fulfilling process of cooking, and the culture of affection and love that came with it. A few years ago, achars (pickles) were made at home by the elders and chutneys by the young girls. These were not available in packages off the shelf. While preparing these at home took time and effort by the family members, the result was not just the consumption of the achar and chutney, but the experience of family connectedness.

In our further quest for convenience, we “threw away” parenthood by outsourcing the caring and nurturing of our children. Because taking care of a child was too messy and too difficult, we handed over infant care to the nanny. For many parents, our jobs became too important and we began to leave our children in day-care centres while we were at work. Then, we discovered pre-schools and playgroups where we could get rid of our children as young as two or even younger, thinking foolishly that they would take care of our child better than we could! We are now doing this with panache, even though no education expert anywhere in the world recommends sending a child to school before the age of six. Even prayers, a most essential part of Islam, do not begin before the age of seven. Yet, we think that this schooling is more important than the prayers and should start at age two! I tend to think that this early schooling is only a pretext for not wanting to raise the child at home; we have become too soft, too weak and avoid hard work.

The throwaway mentality hardened and extended from items and traditions to throwing away the bond with our children, and from there to walking out on our parents – living abroad while our parents live a wretched life in the home country. Then we “progressed” to the throwing away of our marriages. Marriage is now a disposable relationship, like paper plates and cups. Broken marriages very early on are becoming more frequent than we are aware of. 

Reversal, revival
It is an illusion that this throwaway culture of things and relationships is making our lives easier, full of conveniences and is making us happier and peaceful. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders in children, teens, adults and the elderly are telling a very different story. One way we can rescue ourselves from this is through a “whole-life” orientation where we learn about the beginning-to-end processes of things and learn to value people and things.

For example, we no longer experience growing vegetables and fruit; sowing the seeds, watering the saplings, and nurturing them as they grow. We do not contemplate how they are protected from intense heat, sun and excessive water; how one prays as they recover from neglect, or disease; what patience is required to finally see them ripe with fruits or vegetables. Therefore, our tendency to throw away food has increased; we let it rot, and this waste is abhorred by Islam. Our ignorance also hurts us in that we buy vegetables and fruits not knowing the polluted sources through which they have been watered, and what harmful chemicals and insecticides they contain.

One way we can avoid this is by having a home garden. With some collective effort, we can transform a ten-by-twenty foot space on our roof-top, terrace, or hallway, into a garden.  It could potentially provide us with organic food to meet our family requirements for the whole year, as well as wholesome gifts for neighbours, family and friends. It would not only be cost-effective, but we would have the assurance that the food we eat is clean, and not hazardous to our health. In addition, this process would teach us important life skills required in any relationship: the value of team work, the importance of patience, the need for continuous effort and care, the need for adjustments in severe conditions, the high costs of neglect and above all, the power of prayer and faith in Allah swt.

Plastic shoppers are another item that has caused us to develop a throwaway mentality. They are carelessly discarded, causing a major environmental nuisance. They clog drains, cause flooding during rains, and choke landfills so that nothing can grow for decades – severely damaging the greenery and aesthetics of our cities. Not only are we putting half of our eeaman in jeopardy through such littering, we are overwhelmingly contributing to the pollution problem. We can show our commitment to much-needed cleanliness and environmental preservation by using bags that are sturdy, biodegradable and last for a long time. At our homes, we can stitch bags from sturdy cloth – stitching, designing and embroidering them with decorative motifs. This activity, from the idea stage to the finished product, would promote life skills such as creativity, designing and confidence in one’s abilities. The output of this effort would be a product that we care for. Consequently, we would be more inclined to keep it clean and safe because our love and labour went into its production. Using such bags would be a statement of our concern for the environment.

We need to learn by doing, by making things, by stitching, by mending, by repairing. We need to learn by nurturing relationships with living beings with love and care – by learning to grow plants and vegetables, by raising pets, feeding them and playing with them. We must learn to grow our relationships by understanding people, caring for them, making adjustments, adapting, learning that giving is better than taking, learning to forgive and to forget.

We need to pray to Allah swt to grant us sincerity – performing these deeds for His sake only – and to give us confidence and trust in the goodness that is around us.


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The author has a wide experience in academic leadership, entrepreneurial ventures, training, and research and as a motivational speaker.

[This article appeared in the Fall/Winter 2014 issue of HomeWorks, a semi-annual Muslim homeschooling magazine. www.homeworks.com.pk]

P.S:

  • How disposable our friends are! Note that our facebook friendships are all so shallow. They can be discontinued with just a click! We "Like" a post often without reading it just by seeing the name of the person who posted it. We barge into a discussion, make our comment and leave. Without bothering to digest previous comments. 
  • All relationships are becoming transactional. Connection with a teacher is the most important part of our learning experience. With online MOOCs, they have become disposable and transactional. We are no longer going to connect to the teacher, only to a website, or the minions of the teacher who would be replying to my questions or comments!
See Also:
Relationship with grandmother (nani) and others provided appreciation of our traditions and culture:
Relationship with relatives:

Relationship with Mother:
Relationship with Father:
Relationship with Teacher: 


Other References:

12 comments:

  1. Excellent, Very thoughtful, really touched my Soul!

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  2. Note that our facebook friendships are all so shallow. They can be discontinued with just a click! We "Like" a post often without reading it just by seeing the name of the person who posted it. We barge into a discussion, make our comment and leave. Without bothering to digest previous comments.

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  3. Muslims in general for the last 800 to 900 years have rejected all progress and made fun of scientific and social frontiers moving forward, clinging to a long gone by past.

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    1. I believe progress means progress of humanity and progress in our quality of life as a whole.
      If progress means pollution of pristine waters of lakes, aquifers, streams, rivers and oceans with industrial waste, chemicals, insecticides, refuse, plastics, and other garbage that renders them unfit for life, then it is “regression” not progress.
      If progress means herding the majority of people in sardine-like fashion in city ghettoes with below-poverty level subsistence eating unhygienic food, then this is “exploitation” not progress.
      If progress is eating polluted GMO food and processed food seeped with contaminants and causing all sorts of known and unknown side-effects, then this is “genocide” not progress.
      If progress means increasing the temperature of world with “global warning” through industrial pollutants destroying the Ozone layer, then this is “environmental terrorism” not progress.
      If progress means killings millions of people in wars instigated by military-industrial-complex to extract natural resources from the poorest of countries and compelling them to buy them back with “value-addition” at the barrel of the gun, and killing them in numbers never witnessed before in history, then this is “savagery” and not progress.
      If progress is to destroy the environment and our beautiful earth with species getting extinct at a rate never observed since the end of dinosaurs, then this is “self destruction” not progress.

      We cannot define progress = pollution.
      We have to redefine it as movement towards social, compassionate, and considerate human beings.

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    2. But Sir, to my perhaps uninitiated mind, is this not like throwing away the baby with the bathwater?

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    3. But Sir, to my perhaps uninitiated mind, is this not like throwing away the baby with the bathwater?

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    4. Precisely! the progress that pollutes and renders our environment unfit for life, is like throwing the baby (life) with the bathwater (pollutants).

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. The stance of this lesson do not only give us valuable instructions of how our living stuffs and relationships should be preserved or utilized for the optimum periods; In fact it also drag us toward sort of rational behavior in which we can revitalize the things that we often threw away after using them just for the time being.
    Indeed your anticipation and participation of sharing such real life matters immensely assist even motivate out to put our life under the premises of humanity, simplicity, courtesy, compassion, and humility in the light of Quran and Sunnah.

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    1. Challenge is how to get out of this false sense of "convenience" and peer pressure of "keeping up with joneses"

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  6. Dr. Sahib, great thought... MashaAllah

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    Replies
    1. Please do browse through other articles on this blog. You may find them interesting.

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