Treating Things Like People, And People Like Things

By Sunday, September 15, 2013 13 0

Have you ever seen a person lavish great care and affection on his or her car? Pamper it with endless baths, buy it the best accessories, react with indignation, even rage, if anything threatens to scratch its pearly-smooth surface?

In these cases, the car owner seems to be treating the car not like a thing, an inanimate object, but like a person.

When we treat things as if they are people, putting great amounts of energy into them, there’s not much energy left over to put into the people in our lives.

And when we don’t have energy for people, we can end up treating them as if they are things. Inanimate objects, existing to make our lives more convenient and pleasant. Do this for me. Do that for me. Why so slow? Can’t you look any better than that? Get out of my way. All examples of treating people like objects. (We’ve all done this on occasion. Regretting it later is a good sign :).

Cars are just one example of things being treated as if they are people. It’s possible to treat houses, guns, jewelry, closets of clothes, music collections or almost any possessions this way. People in wealthy, developed countries like the U.S. are especially prone to treating objects with the single-minded devotion that seems better suited to a special-needs child. Or anyone we care about.

Dollar-poor people (I was one of these for part of my life) are often better at treating people well, treating them like people. They tend to know that they need each other. Interdependence is the real currency of life, not expensive objects.

If that last statement feels hard to believe, consider the fact that you will die. Consider what you will need as you are dying. Will you need a curvy red Corvette? Or will you need a human being holding your hand?

Of course we need possessions in order to live. And we do need to take care of those possessions. But treating things as if they are people creates a poor quality of life. It creates a cold-hearted world. It escapes nobody in the vicinity that the car (or other object) is the center of concern. It escapes nobody that the cherished object is crowding them, the human beings, to the margins of the picture. Treating things like people over the long run breeds loneliness, isolation and pain. It creates lives impoverished of what matters.

Is there anyone in your life who treats things like people, or people like things? How rich do you feel, yourself, in the things that matter most in life?


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  • Anonymous
    January 25, 2014

    People take pride in what they buy it feels good to get a compliment on a well kept car that looks really nice it doesnt mean that they are sitting there like a psyco path, trying to make love with it as if it was a person, its a hobby and an intrest. And they do have some life like qualities as you get to know how it works and the little quirks quirks it has let it be a gun car a computer, and you get a little attached to it and it becomes a part of your history and it gives you fond memories

    • Alison
      January 26, 2014

      You make good points, Anonymous. I’m sorry if I implied anyone who cares a lot for their car has mental problems. I don’t think that at all. I do think our culture puts too much emphasis on things and possessions, and not enough emphasis on people and relationships. T

      I didn’t mention it in this post, but that cultural emphasis means we are burning through the earth’s finite resources in a way that accelerates climate change.

      Thanks for your valuable comment.

  • Debra Yearwood
    September 24, 2013

    My husband and I were shopping in a large discount store that sold things in bulk sizes. We were in the store for about 15 minutes when he said he had to get out. He felt overwhelmed, “grossed out” was how he described the way the store made him feel. When we discussed it later he said the level of consumerism around him was just too much. I was in the same store several months later with a friend when she had the same reaction and needed to leave the store.

    What’s notable about both of them is that they are people who like being out in nature. As we watched the oversized shopping carts filled to over flowing being pushed by people who were reaching for more it was kind of like watching gluttony. It is not natural to love things in such a complete way.

    We have a culture that has told us not just to accumulate things, but to love those things. In the context of that kind of preoccupation, I don’t think it’s surprising that we come across people with unusual attachments to their possessions, but it’s not a sustainable. I don’t think it takes much to move from consumerism to hoarding and we are already seeing a lot of concerns in that area. It’s also not sustainable from an environmental perspective. I wonder how many people felt as my husband and friend did, but thought they were alone in their reaction? I haven’t been back to the store in over a year so clearly it took it’s toll on me to.

    • Debra Yearwood
      September 24, 2013

      All that commentary and I forgot to add, GREAT POST , it made me think. :)

    • Alison
      September 25, 2013

      Debra, I’m contemplating using your in-depth comment as a whole new post, crediting you, of course. I especially like your insight that it’s only a short step from consumerism to hoarding. And our current culture is defined by consumerism. I know well that feeling of being grossed out in certain stores and shopping malls. Nature brings us back to our senses, to sanity, it seems to me. Thanks for this excellent comment (also for your subsequent comment/compliment.)

  • Arleen
    September 20, 2013

    For many an object fills need that we do not normally get from people. I am not saying it is right. I knew this woman whose life was shopping. I had never seen anything like it, Her bra and underwear matched the outfit she was wearing and the shoes, handbag also matched. She was unhappy and things made her happy. Or she thought they made her happy.

    As I get older and have gone through some difficult situations in my life no object is more important than my family.

  • Jacqueline Gum (Jacquie)
    September 20, 2013

    Great reminder of what’s really important in life. But I will say that I am very attached to some “things” in my life. But it is because I associate the thing with the person who either gifted it to me or experienced it with me. For example, I have an antique desk that belonged to my great-grandmother. The desk has been with me my entire life… no matter where I lived. It just seems like wherever that desk resides, it makes it feel like home.

    • Alison
      September 25, 2013

      Jacquie, I’m attached to some things, too. I don’t know anyone who’s not. I remind myself that the object is not the person, and I can love the person without, for example, keeping every gift they ever gave me. Some objects carry the loved one’s energy a lot more than other objects, like your great-grandmother’s antique desk and the artwork and nature photography that my now-deceased mother left as her legacy.

  • My Inner Chick
    September 20, 2013

    Excellent Perspective.
    The only thing that last in life is “LOVE.”
    Everything else will die…including red corvettes!

  • Danielle
    September 20, 2013

    When I’m in a rather self-pitying mood, I start the thought treadmill about how ‘poor’ i am these days - monetarily that is….Deciding to leave my well-paid job and comfortable living behind in search of a more authentic life seems like it was a big mistake.

    Thankfully, I have set up lots of mental triggers for when I experience certain emotional states..i know the feeling of this self-pity very well, and I just start to repeat all the riches I have now…a wonderful relationship, a job I enjoy, peaceful surroundings, yoga, singing, playing ukulele, a greater likelihood of seeing the beauty in others, seemingly deeper understanding…and eventually the self-pitying feeling is crowded out by these other thoughts.

  • Krystyna Lagowski
    September 19, 2013

    Oh, as much as I love cars, I couldn’t love them more than, say, my family. The song “People” comes to mind - we do need people, and we need to take a minute every day to let them know that we care about them. With all the methods and means of communication at our fingertips, there’s no excuse!

  • Mike
    September 18, 2013

    Alison, I’m very a non-materialistic person. It’s just an enlightenment that came to me many years ago through my very spiritual aunt. I quickly liked and adapted that same belief system. I have a 10 year old Jeep that I absolutely love. I bought with with my Golden Retriever, Phoenix, with me. I can still remember that day clear as can be. People put far too much worth and “person” into material things in my opinion. This was a fantastic post! :)

    • Alison
      September 18, 2013

      Mike, I enjoy hearing this about you. It jibes with your blog Past My Curfew, with its joyful emphasis on Phoenix your dog, and play, and cooking good food. How cool that your aunt had strong spiritual values that you could embrace. Thanks for sharing!