I’m on vacation all week, which means no daily bike commute. Lack of exercise plus too many Christmas cookies means I am packing on a few unwanted pounds. My buddy Russell is in a similar situation and the Facebook photos of his new trainer guilted me back onto my old winter trainer. Most people complain about sweating when they ride their trainers in the winter. The only thing I could complain about was my toes got a little cold.
Seriously, winter is really ski season, but as much as I like cross-country skiing in the nordic paradise that is the Kettle Moraine, I have to drive to ski. I still plan on skiing this winter, but I am going to do it less so I drive less. It is really not much of a sacrifice given the awesome mountian bike trails I have so close to my house, but it is a sacrifice.
The holidays are supposed to be the season of giving, not overindulgence, but with all the spending on gifts and going out with friends, it sure doesn’t feel like it. Instead, we are almost guilted into buying more than we need. The news media inundate us with stories about how the retailers need consumers to consume for the economy to recover.
In our American culture sacrifice almost implies poverty. We are taught through advertising and social norms that we are all entitled to whatever we can afford and even borrow. More, we seem to be defined by how much we earn and what we own. We are somehow un-American if we don’t strive to fulfill our every want and desire since.
As I slide my single speed mountain bike from in between the 7 other bikes hanging in my basement, and slip on the Finnish-made studded tires so I can go for a mountain bike ride in the winter, I see that my family and I am are as caught up in this as anyone. As a low-level bureaucrat married to a public school teacher, we are solidly middle class by today’s economic standards. But by the standards of a generation or two ago, our lives are filled with largess and luxury. Even by the standards of other cultures around the world today, my family has far more than our share.
Looking at his photographs, I wonder if the size of our homes has something to do with how much we buy. In the same way our supersized soda cups fuel the expansion of our waistlines, even our “modest” 1920 Milwaukee bungalow has way more room than my family of three (plus two dogs and two cats) needs. But like good Americans, I have fulfilled my consumerist duty and purchased things to fill our house, from the remodeled upstairs attic to the rec room in the basement and out to the garage.
As friends and regular readers know, I buy much of what I purchase used, from bikes to clothing to lawn mowers, but I still purchase way more than my share. So is it hypocracy for me to even suggest that I am making a sacrifice by mountain biking when I would prefer to drive to go ski at Greenbush? Am I blind to the true meaning of sacrifice when I forgo the fresh California strawberries in December from the grocery store and choose instead to pull from my basement freezer a quart of raspberries my family picked last summer?
I’m working on a New Years resolution for 2011, but having trouble with this concept in light of the relative comfort in which I live. Given the obvious excess in our lives, do small sacrifices have value? Is there a better way to frame this discussion? What do you think?