Wayne Muller

The Tyranny of American Enormity

Several years ago author Wayne Muller facilitated a workshop that I attended. One of his phrases has stuck with me: "the tyranny of American enormity". We live in a culture where enough is never enough. Every laptop and cell phone must have more features and be faster than the previous model. Profits this year must exceed last year's profits. More choices. More data. More. More. More! The consequences of our consumer culture on the planet and on the poor laborers who make our lust for more possible have been well documented. According to the Worldwatch Institute, we are 5% of the world's population, yet we consume 24% of the world's energy. Every day we eat 200 billion calories more than is needed, enough to feed 80 million people.

Nowhere is this addiction to "more" more apparent than during the Christmas season (a.k.a. retail season) as we spend our way into greater and greater debt. But the tyranny of "more" is not just economic. It's become an entire lifestyle. How many of us can keep up with the increasing number of emails we receive? To read, reply to or act on each email would take most of us most of our daylight hours. Just to triage email requires the skill of an e-surgeon.

Of course, email is not the only technology which has grown to enormous proportions in our lives ...text messages, Facebook, Twitter, radio, television, podcasts, Internet sites we frequent...the list is endless. And, of course, it's not just technology. Billboards, snail mail flyers and junk mail, books and magazines we've not read, clothes we've not yet worn or no longer wear, piles of papers and possessions...all compete for our attention and add a sense of weight to our lives.

How can we escape this tyranny of American enormity? This is the culture in which we live. How do we become counter-cultural and yet still function?

Here are some questions for reflection that might help us lighten up and simplify:

What if...

  • Instead of buying Aunt Polly a 3-pack of jams for Christmas, I make a donation to a charity in her name?
  • I take a three-minute break outdoors when I'd normally be immersed in keeping up with the demands of whatever my e-addiction is? What if I look at a tree or a bird or even water flowing over a wood bridge (photo above) until I feel a sense of awe, of "enough"?
  • I limit the number of times I check email to once or twice a day? If my work does not allow that, what if I take a "e-Sabbath" one day a week or month when I don't check email or surf the Internet?
  • I spend more time getting to know the camellia in my backyard and less time catching up on the latest "Honey Boo Boo" gossip?
  • I unsubscribe to at least one email subscription and make it ok that I am choosing to keep up with one less thing in the world?
  • I pause before buying the next item I plan to purchase and reflect on why I feel the drive to purchase it?

The Magi brought the baby Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts I long to receive this Christmas are simplicity, awe and a felt sense of "enough".