Monday, February 10, 2014
Not Being Powerless
This graphic so completely captured what I've been trying to say in this space, since I started this space, and the feelings that were stirred when we, recently, watched Les Miserables. It's a wonderful story, set in early 19th Century France.
In the preface to the book, Hugo says of his work: ... so long as ... the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night are not solved; ... so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.
In my experience there are very few books that I would deem "useless." More often there are stories that need to be told, because someone, somewhere needs to hear that story. In the case of Les Miserable, more of us than are really hearing - and I mean REALLY hearing - the story, really need to hear the story.
It's a deeply moving story ... at least it was for me, and my daughters were amused by how much it affected me, but it wasn't just a movie. It seemed to me that it epitomized the truth of the above graphic, too. When we think we have no power, we tend to not take responsibility for ourselves, either. If we believe that someone else has control over our lives - as Fantine was certain that she had absolutely no control ... and hers was the most tragic of all of the stories in the entire work. One might argue that Gavroche was more tragic as a youth cut down, too soon, by the French Army, but he made the conscious choice to do what he was doing, and he was happy to be where he was, even though, in his naiveté, he couldn't possibly know what lie in store for him.
It doesn't take grandiose displays to exert one's power. We don't have to blockade the streets and die for a cause, but we can, quietly, live the lives we wish to live, even as society tells us that we can not have those things or want those things.
I don't know that Fantine's fate could have been different, even if she had made different choices - certainly in the interest of building the story, Hugo could not have made her choices different. I just know she didn't make any decisions, and so her life ended tragically and quickly, and to the society in which she lived, she was little more than the human detritus that littered the streets of Paris, much like most poor people are all over the world, even today.
I guess, if I could wish for something, it would be that people who believe themselves disadvantaged could find that inner strength to take back their power.
Speaking of taking back, too often I hear comments like, "I can't stand Wal-Mart, but I don't have any other choice." For the record, I live in a typical suburban area, and I'm surrounded by the same sorts of stores that everyone who complains about no options sees. There are four Wal-Mart stores within a twenty-five mile radius of my house, and fast food restaurants so numerous that I couldn't spit without hitting one. In fact, one area of the main thoroughfare through a neighboring town has been dubbed "Hamburger Alley", because of all of the fast food joints. Hamburger Alley is just down from the "Automile", so named because of the mile or two stretch of just car dealerships.
There's a mall nearby, and the several miles between the mall and my neighborhood are dotted with shopping centers with more than my community's share of Crapplebee's, Rite Aids, Walgreens, Starbuck's, Books-A-Millions, Payless Shoes, Toys R Us, Targets, and Old Navys. What was it I said about spitting and hitting one of those stores? I live in an area that is just as much about Kuntsler's "Happy Motoring" as anywhere else in these United States, and all of the same stores others have in their neighborhoods are in mine, too.
My community is not the treasure-trove of Mom & Pop establishments I think people must think it is because I talk so much about buying local and not shopping at chain stores. To not shop at chain stores takes a great deal of effort on my part. It's about making choices, and it's worth every second of effort it takes. I also don't save money shopping at the Mom & Pop store instead of ducking into Wal-Mart for a quick shopping spree. I do, however, save money by shopping less often, and when I do go shopping, doing so with specific intent (I need to get X, Y, or Z) rather than as a past-time, like playing cribbage.
Edited on 2/15/13: Thanks to Anonymous for pointing out that, if we want to really be conscientious shoppers, we need to do our homework. Too often, the companies that we're trying to avoid own the companies we think are better - like Amazon owning Quidsy, which owns Vine.com. So, I won't recommend that online vendor, and I'll go back to the shop local mantra. Surely there are some local vendors who aren't owned through a chain of smaller LLCs by some big conglomerate.