Sometimes we go to so much effort to improve our lives and conditions that we inadvertently cause quite the opposite effect.
The examples are limitless — from containers to exercise to enjoying a meal.
For example, a year ago, the theater program my daughters participate in asked each thespian to bring all of their theatrical supplies in a well-labeled box for practices and performances. We bought beautiful decorative plastic boxes with lids. This week my daughters informed me that their plastic boxes were completely broken and unusable and they needed new ones. Two thoughts came to mind. The first didn’t require deep thinking but demonstrates the difference in my daughters’ generation’s thinking and my own — shoeboxes. Who ever heard of buying boxes before the 1990s? The second is more indicative of my grandmother’s generation, but it deserves to make a comeback — baskets. My house is home to plenty of hard-core woven baskets — the things are practically indestructible.
Why did we stop using baskets?
They’re completely serviceable. They aren’t expensive to make. They aren’t bad for the environment. If you ask me, a strong basket is a much better way to carry a load than many alternatives. And, a good basket lasts for decades, centuries even.
This week, a young friend of mine reminded me of the exercise equivalent. He was discussing the new martial arts class he was taking.
“You know, there’s a purpose to it,” he said. “Yes, I’m getting great exercise — probably the best I’ve ever gotten, but I’m actually learning something useful too. I’m learning self-defense. For some reason, that makes it work better in my mind. I’ve never been good at going to a gym and pumping iron because I grew up on a farm. If you need to get some exercise on a farm, you just go out and work. It makes more sense to me that way.”
Basically, he was stating one of the conundrums of the last century — we’ve created lives filled with such comfort and plenty that we’re challenging our very existence with a lack of exercise.
And finally, the hoops we sometimes jump through for the privilege of enjoying a meal out often require more energy than staying at home and cooking a meal ourselves. If we’re feeding a crowd, whatever happened to doing a potluck? We’ve allowed ourselves to become programmed to believing that meeting at a restaurant is just the way we do things — rather than reflecting on what might be easier in the big picture. Let me be clear, I have nothing against going on to eat every now and then, but we’re missing out on some great shared moments — whether we’re with our families or friends — of leisurely sitting around the family table and settling in to the point of “loosening our tongues,” as one of my daughter’s teachers once said.
Additionally, a few more meals at home offer the added benefit of teaching our children how to cook and clean the kitchen. Believe me, some families are missing out on both sides of that equation. (I know that’s difficult to fathom if you’re the type who cooks and eats at home on a regular basis, but, trust me, I know this to be true.) Yes, cooking and cleaning are skills our children can learn somewhere else — or on their own, if they really need to, but there’s something special in passing certain traditions from one generation to the next. And, in the spirit of the point of this column, cooking at home genuinely can be simpler and less complicated than going out to eat. Food doesn’t have to be fancy to taste good.
Neither do exercise or baskets.
Fancy is fine, but fancy all the time isn’t fancy anymore.
Jan Risher’s column appears on Sundays. E-mail her at email@example.com.