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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Become a Minimalist Leader- But Don't Force This Lifestyle Upon Others

It's often been said that in this world there are leaders and then there are followers. And most people who would espouse this often insist that you can't be both. While it's not nearly that black or white in real life- we all have a boss, after all- minimalism is definitely one place where you can become a leader very quickly. Many times people look to those around them for what is appropriate behavior & will only act in accordance with the crowd that they happen to be associated with. But there are others who refuse to be in the herd (at least in some major aspects) & they don't mind ignoring the shepherd for awhile, either! Minimalism is neither right nor wrong in my book. It's a lifestyle choice, not a religion. Some writers bring philosophy, religion, politics or the environment into the conversation, and write in such a manner that they almost shame their readers for not choosing minimalism. I'm no such author. I fully acknowledge that both minimalism & consumerism have negatives aspects plus positive ones. Consumerism is often what fuels the funds in a capitalist society, as it is currently set up. We're at a point in time when most, if not all, nations have more people that need work than jobs to support them. I'm no economist & I don't pretend to be, but some trends are obvious for anyone to notice. My very first real job, when I turned sixteen, was working as a sales clerk in a CD & cassette tape store (yes, I'm that old). Not only does the place I work for no longer exists & hasn't for many years, but the once-bustling mall that I worked in is completely closed. The Internet changed retail forever & I don't think that impact can ever be reversed. I feel bad for teenagers of today because in most areas they don't have that first-job retail experience available to them. Soda jerk, gas station attendant, elevator operator jobs- all gone. One can watch old movies from the 1940's & just shake their head at the amount of work no longer available to the public.

Anyway, this was not intended to be a primer on modern society. But consumerism is really a lifestyle. Many of us, until we choose to view these things consciously, don't realize how commercials on TV, images in magazines & societal pressure induces us to buy much of what we do. Consider how Christmas is often celebrated in North America. Cyber Monday & Black Friday are talked up in the news, on the Internet & in public culture ad nauseum. Many people who've never even been to a Christian religious service still automatically buy a wreath, Christmas tree (with all of it's many trimmings), lights for decorating the outside of their house, gifts for under the tree & tons of food for the annual family get-together without a second thought every December. Especially when one has a child or children, the holiday season is often rife with extreme consumerism. There is usually immense pressure to please others through the things bought for them. It's even been said that not to shop (and not just in relation to Christmas) is downright un-American! A good Christmas is many families is measured by the amount of gifts we have to give each other this year. My mother views it that way, for example. But again, I'm not condemning anyone. Unlike a lot of minimalists, I actually love to shop. It is far harder to choose minimalism when you love buying things. I'm not saying this consumerism-heavy mindset is wrong because that's not my place. I'm just saying be aware of what you're doing. If you're going to be a person more interested in consumerism than minimalism, accept it & acknowledge it. Whatever you do in life, do it consciously & on purpose. I see people nowadays who believe they're being more minimalist because they're "shopping green"- but their actual level of shopping from before their pre-environmentalist days hasn't changed. They just buy different stuff! If you do nothing else in life, be honest with yourself.

I'm being honest with you when I say that I'm far less of a consumer than I used to be & my motivations when I do shop are very different. But I'm still not a hardcore minimalist & don't know that I ever will be. I'm always looking for ways to reuse, recycle, cut back, etc., just a little bit more. But I don't take it to extremes. It's important not to get into a competitive game of, "Who's a better minimalist, me or so-and-so?" This is about your journey. Minimalism isn't a sport where there are winners or losers. I try not to make my family feel bad if they don't want to live the way I do or look at things as I view them. People can't come to this lifestyle by force & stick with it if they're given a choice. Let me tell you, if you want to create a future shopaholic, deprive them of the things they want consistently in childhood & adolescence. Disappoint them enough, make them envy others around them & make them feel as if they're living in perpetual drought while others get all the rain they need- you'll make them think simplicity & minimalism are the works of the devil. It's wonderful to teach your children charity, appreciation for things people do for them, gratitude & humility. You can certainly set a wonderful example of organization, simplicity & minimalism in your own life. You can talk to others about the subjects & try to educate the interested, but don't preach at them. Conversion rarely takes unless it comes from an internal desire to have less items to care for, a smaller home to clean & a realization that shopping doesn't actually fill a nagging void in the soul. People won't recognize this just because you got converted by a feeling like I just mentioned. Let them discover it for themselves & chances are, they'll make changes that stick all on their own. I'm not saying that you should indulge their every whim or deny who you are. You should always feel free to express why you've made adjustments in your lifestyle & what it's done for you. Just don't force who you've become onto them.

Becoming a minimalist leader has nothing to do with how many followers you have. Actually, you might not have any at all. Leaders who are confident & content with themselves have no need to count their followers, believe me- they're too darn busy for that. Leadership means that you're willing to do what you know is excellent, right by yourself & others to the best of your ability, every single day. You acknowledge that you can never be perfect, you're working on the knowledge you currently have available, you'll always be learning more & that you will always need mentors. But you're willing to step out & be different from the crowd. People might not like this, especially at first, but you're accepting of this potential loss of popularity. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Being the President of the United States is a perfect example. Our President may be the definitive leader of our land, but he sure has plenty of people who dislike him & wish him ill will. People criticize & even threaten him. He can win two elections & yet still have many enemies (most of whom don't even know him personally). Many people don't understand him & don't even care to try. He's not only put down for his policies or beliefs, but in some circles his very skin color is maligned. He has a lot of people that he must please but also has to try & satisfy the deep sense of ethics which exist in his own being. He walks a tightrope every day that he wakes up, forcibly dealing with tragedies in a very public manner, taking chances with his very life just because of his job title. He's a leader all right, but this leadership comes at an exceedingly high cost. And yet he chose to take it on anyway- and in the case of our current President, he took it upon himself to try again for another four years in the job despite these overwhelming challenges. He never really gets to relax & must remain calm even with the very weight of the world on his shoulder. And lest we forget, he's also a mere man, one trying to keep his wife happy & raise two productive, happy children in a difficult world. The President knows that he can explain himself until he's blue in the face, but some people will automatically hate him & just refuse to listen for even a second. He can try to work fairly with others & fix things that are broken, but some people will inevitably block even his most noble advances. Yet he has to keep going, trying to reach the branch of people who will listen & try to activate them into pushing forward despite tremendous challenges. People used to depend upon a President for comforting words & a steady hand in times of trouble- and I'm not sure we're well-served for essentially abandoning this mindset. We all do better coming together & working for the common good than bickering over the issues we disagree on. Imagine what we'd get done if we all said, "Hey, let's drop this arguing, work together on the things we agree on as a majority & we'll get so much more accomplished!" A President knows this but must still deal with a group of humans who will never engage that kind of logic & will always prefer to gripe instead.

So think of this example when you decide you want to pick a path like minimalism that really isn't that well-traveled. Friedrich Nietzsche said it best- "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Here's to being a conscious organized minimalist,
Liz

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