Published in the July, 2020 edition of The Community Chronicle:
I’ve heard people say, “We were poor, but we didn’t know it.” I’m not sure if you’d call us poor, but we lived in a five-room house with a single-car carport, pine and linoleum floors, one bathroom, no built-ins, and no air conditioning. Dad worked two jobs, and Mom went to work when the mothers of most of my friends stayed home. But I never missed a meal, I wore the latest fashions the Sears catalog offered and we had a black and white TV that we watched in the kitchen because Mom didn’t want us sitting on the “good” furniture. I had all I needed, a few things I wanted, and all the love a child could hope for – and I was content.
Summers were a little bit difficult, though. My brother and I weren’t allowed to go outside or to have visitors when Mom and Dad were at work. Vacation Bible School and Church Camp filled a few days, and an occasional sleep-over or trip to the local swimming pool with a friend was allowed. But mostly the long, hot days of summer were spent reading, watching TV or doing chores, and I wasn’t quite as content then.
On rare occasion Mom took pity on me, especially after my older brother took a summer job, and broke the monotony by taking me to work with her. We had to get up at the crack of dawn, but riding the Continental Trailways bus from Mesquite to downtown Dallas was an adventure worth losing a little sleep. The hours while she was actually working were pretty boring, but on her coffee break I was allowed to choose a treat out of the vending machine, and we ate lunch in a restaurant.
I made sure to be on my best behavior so Mom wouldn’t get into trouble and neither would I, and I became somewhat of a favorite with her co-workers. Her supervisor, an older woman who had never married, took a particular interest in me. She would lend me movie magazines she had in her desk so I would have something to do while I waited for quitting time. She eventually began sending the magazines home with Mom when she finished with them and even included the latest Seventeen Magazine.
I’m not sure if it was the magazines that opened my eyes to a world beyond the simple life I had always known or if it was teenaged angst kicking in, but somehow I was not as content as I had been. My mail-order fashions and home-sewn clothes didn’t quite measure up to the slick ads, and my measurements weren’t as balanced as the models. My hair wasn’t blonde enough, my teeth weren’t white or straight enough, my chin was too pointed and my lips were too thin. The fashionistas and advertising executives had gotten into my head.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the purpose of marketing is to make the potential customer discontent. I saw a perfect example of this principle at a trade show for hair stylists, barbers and cosmetologists. For sixteen years I worked for a company that designed and manufactured furniture and equipment for salons and spas, and part of my job was attend various expositions where our merchandise was displayed. At times, our booth would be overrun with customers, but while the educational demonstrations and classes were in session, there was nothing to do. I would position myself where I could watch the platform artist in action while also keeping an eye on my display. On one such occasion I heard the CEO of a company that manufactured chemical processes for hair make these comments: “No one has good hair. If they have straight hair, curl it. If they have curly hair, straighten. And everyone needs color!”
That experience opened my eyes to the part that marketing plays in the discontent that seems so pervasive in our world today. Your car is last year’s model! Your phone has only one camera! Your house isn’t smart enough! And apparently, based on the number of purveyors of silicone and collagen that exist now, I’m not the only one with an unbalanced figure and thin lips.
We have become a culture of discontent. And it’s not just our possessions or our bodies that have come under attack. People and groups are criticized, vilified and demonized for their opinions, their beliefs, the socio-economic class into which they were born, their ethnic background, their ancestry, their achievements and more.
It has become harder in recent days to remain content, but contentment is still possible. First, remember that God made you who you are, and you are an amazing creation. And second, He placed you where you are for a reason. It seems to me that the secret to contentment is to use the creation you are to find and live out the reason you were created.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Psalm 139:14a
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, Acts 17:26