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My husband wants buy a new, expensive car. Personally, I feel it is a waste of money. We have two kids and I feel that the money would be better spent on other things. After a lot of arguing, my husband finally admitted that it was the status symbol that attracts him. He feels that we will get more respect if we have a big car. I think it is stupid, but my husband is hooked in the idea and now we are not talking. What does lam think?

Adopt a lifestyle that makes you cool on the inside, not on the outside

My husband wants buy a new, expensive car. Personally, I feel it is a waste of money. We have two kids and I feel that the money would be better spent on other things. After a lot of arguing, my husband finally admitted that it was the status symbol that attracts him. He feels that we will get more respect if we have a big car. I think it is stupid, but my husband is hooked in the idea and now we are not talking. What does lam think?

TP, Thimphu 

I think that there are two sides to this issue. First of all, why does your husband need respect? In reality, when we rely on confirmation of ourselves from outside, our lives will always be unstable. It is like leaning on a wobbly chair for stability. When it moves, we move.

Instead, it would be better to develop our own sense of wellbeing. Basically, your husband should just focus on being a good human being and not worry about whether he receives respect or not. Furthermore, he should set a good example to your children by helping them discover the magic in simple things. In this way, they will be content in whatever situation they find themselves.

On the other side, we should reflect on why society holds people with expensive cars and houses in esteem. Surely, it is people who are loyal to their families and who take care of their friends and neighbours who are worthy of respect, not those who merely possess material wealth.

In reality, societies around the world are becoming shallower. Rather than aspiring to become noble, courageous, and caring human beings, we instead drool over celebs who possess expensive cars and wear the latest fashion.

What is the problem with this? Well, when our self-esteem is based on fashion, cars, and physical appearance, we become a slave – a slave to others’ values. You see, your husband may crave an expensive car, but what actually gives that car its social value? In reality, a Tata truck is expensive, but I’m sure he does not want to buy this kind of vehicle. So, why does he crave that specific car? Is it because it meets the specifications that he needs to go about his business, or is it that the car manufacturer has been good at brainwashing people to believe that it raises the social status of the owner?

And, when we follow such trends, we are a slave – a slave to values created by marketing experts at car companies in East Asia or fashion houses in Europe – and being a slave is not fun. I’m not suggesting that we do not dress fashionably or refuse to cruise around on a cool bike. In reality, these things are fun and we should enjoy them, but, at the same time, we should be aware not become a slave to a marketing expert’s idea of what is cool.

In this respect, I suggest that your husband analyse whether the things he craves really hold a value for him or is he just attached to a label created by others. Furthermore, he should consider why he feels so insecure that he constantly seeks respect from others.

I also recommend that he consider ‘the eight worldly dharmas’: Praise and blame, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, and pleasure and pain. Normally, we crave the positive attributes and reject the negative ones. However, in doing this we generate a lot of hope and fear. You see, if we only hope for praise, then we will fear blame. We cannot have one without the other. So, rather than craving for recognition, we should create our own way forward, and accept all situations as equally part of our lives.

Of course, we should not be arrogant and ignore others’ opinions and suggestions, but we should also not rely on them for our sense of wellbeing. If we do, we will always be looking over our shoulder to check whether people are admiring or despising us. At its worst, this need for respect can be very destructive, and it is not unknown for parents to deny their drug-addicted children the opportunity to receive rehab treatment or to refuse to take what is considered a low job, even when the family are in desperate need of money, purely because they fear social stigma.

To repeat, respect and dignity should come naturally from within, not from others’ opinions. In reality, relying on material goods to boost our self-esteem is a strong sign that we are very insecure, and showing off merely exacerbates our lack confidence.

Furthermore, we should consider how we will feel when we are old and dying in a hospital bed. At that time, will it matter how much property or expensive cars we possessed? These things provide only fleeting pleasure. Instead, it would be better to adopt a lifestyle that makes us cool on the inside, not on the outside.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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