Rethinking “Property”

One of the most hurtful things my roommate said to me recently was, “this is my house”….so I can treat you however I want was what he meant. He was referring to the fact that if he didn’t like something I did, he would simply throw me out since I wasn’t paying rent. I thought about it later and realized he doesn’t technically own the place since he rents and if he stopped paying, he could be thrown out. This is beside the point.

I’ve noticed that certain people give a high importance to their property and the crap they own. I say crap because most stuff doesn’t matter to me. In fact, I don’t know if I could think of one thing I would be devastated about if I lost it………….hmm……still, nothing. Oh, wait! My stuffed horse, Mac–he’s over 20 years old and big with me through thick and thin.

Maybe I’m unique. Don’t we all like to think that? Well, in this house I definitely am. There was an instance in which my roommates were talking about installing some sort of security system for our two-bedroom condo with wood laminate and I just stared incredulously into space, trying to decipher what they could possibly value so much that they’d want to protect from a thief.

When I asked about it, they mentioned various pieces of technology, primarily used for entertainment purposes. I know what you’re thinking, “Don’t you value the laptop you’re using to write this blog?” The answer is–no, not really. If I want to write down my thoughts, I have a journal and if I REALLY want to share my thoughts with virtual strangers in cyberspace, I can head to the local library and use one of their computers…for free.

I didn’t understand their view and they didn’t understand mine. “Some people value their stuff, ” one of my roommates said. “Yeah, well, you can’t take it with you,” I thought. That’s kinda my basic principal behind that–you can’t take any of that crap with you when you die so why waste so much money and energy on it. Even if you get good use out of something, like a musical instrument that brings joy to you and others, you can’t encapsulate that joy and feel it whenever you want–the memory lives in your mind and the feeling in your heart. We try so hard to capture precious moments with pictures and video but the moment itself is gone. We lived it–hopefully we participated and didn’t just watch it from behind a camera.

I’m not saying that symbols aren’t important, they are. They represent things. They are links to the past and provoke thoughts and feelings within us that are valuable. They are not, however, the thoughts and feelings they provoke. They’re things. We give them meaning.

The other part of property I don’t like is the idea of ownership being a license for abuse. This is mine so I can do whatever I want! Where did this come from? People use this justification for treating their kids horribly. They’re my kids so I’ll do what I want! 

One day, I saw a mother telling her daughter how much she was embarrassing her by crying. The girl was obviously frightened about something and while being shamed by her mother might have ceased her tears, it certainly didn’t help her. I didn’t do anything. I kick myself now but I didn’t step in. If somebody’s crying it’s for a reason–who cares what that reason is? That person obviously isn’t getting their needs met somehow and it’s the only way they can express it! Anyhow, I thought that if I tried to intervene, the mother would claim property rights to her child and tell me to butt out.

That’s bullshit. Nobody owns anybody else. We decided that wasn’t okay hundreds of years ago. We even fought a war about it. Maybe you remember it. But still, today, people use property rights as an excuse for abusive behavior. My house, my rules and the like. NO. Exchanging a piece of paper (check, paper money, a lease, birth certificate, etc.) for something or someone else does NOT give you the right to take out all your pent up aggression on it or them.

Now, I’m not condoning stealing or inhabiting a space that somebody else uses or lives in just because you feel like it. I believe in respecting the wants of others. I just don’t think it takes a piece of paper to tell someone you don’t want them to take something or treat something a certain way. I believe in people talking through disagreements, looking out for themselves, but also respecting the needs and wants of others.

Maybe this is too Utopian or idealistic or naive, but I really don’t care. Change was never made by people who were complacent and resigned to the status quo. Change is set in motion by idealistic, naive, Utopian dreamers like myself. So dream on!

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