What Does Scarcity Mean to You?

I have a good friend whose father, as a boy, lived through the Great Depression. He went on to thrive in his life, building a successful dental practice and providing for his bustling family of five children. But, having survived such lean times as a child, despite his financial success, he was always thrifty and hated to waste food. Which is why he insisted on eating a pork chop that his wife had lovingly wrapped in tin foil, placed in their freezer for later, and labeled 1972. The aforesaid chop being proposed for consumption a good twenty years later sufficiently alarmed his daughters that they forbid their father from taking a bite before they checked with Poison Control. Said experts advised my friends that the meat would probably be a little tough, but it wouldn’t kill anyone. And so, the good doctor dug in.

I love this story. I love everything about it. But, it also got me thinking about the experience of scarcity and what people do with it.

Over the course of our lives, we all undergo a form of scarcity, be it a scarcity of material goods, a scarcity of love and approval, or a dearth of another sort entirely. And, no matter where we are in the world, it is far more probable that any physical deprivations we have suffered pale in comparison to those of our forbearers, so we need to be grateful they took the hit for us. But what about those other types of deficits? How do we compensate for them? Do we even need to? Must our life scales be continuously full and balanced?

My grandmother loved to serve meals using up all the leftovers she found in the fridge. It gave her enormous satisfaction to announce that, “it all evens out.” I’m not totally sure what she meant by that, but I suppose it had something to do with not letting anything go to waste—which is one of the things I’ve had to unlearn in terms of not needing to finish everything on my plate. As Americans, we exist in a culture that champions the idea of abundance for everyone in all arenas of life. While it’s wonderful to enjoy such bounty, somehow along the way, this morphed into the misguided idea that we have to make things “right” for everybody, all the time. To wit, all kids should be awarded trophies and promoted to the next level, regardless of skill. Or accommodations must be made to spare everyone and anyone a sense of disappointment, exclusion, or insult. Since when? Why would we perpetuate a practice that is not remotely connected to how life actually works?

Scarcity of some of these experiences provides a wisdom of its own. We learn to value things that don’t come readily– hence, the 1972 pork chop—and we also learn to do without. The value of this lesson is not to be minimized. For instance, I was never invited to prom and the one time I screwed up my courage to ask a boy in one of my classes, after 3 days of waiting, he turned me down. Ok, so that’s a pretty devastating thing for a high school girl, but I survived. Sure, part of me feels a little like a freak for having never having been to prom, but so what? It’s good for me to have dealt with this because I’ve learned that I am more than that and can apply this wisdom to future letdowns. Plus, for someone who has been blessed with a life of a fair amount of privilege, this disappointment (among others) has imparted a level of empathy I am deeply grateful to have.

There’s a lot more to be said on this subject. For now, however, I charge you to consider some of the scarcity you have felt and what you have done with this experience. How has it impacted your attitude towards not getting something you desperately wanted or pursuing something you desire? Have you learned to live successfully without? Perhaps its made you more appreciative of those times you do get to be with that special person or enjoy that elusive experience. I suspect there may be other benefits as well, as odd as it may sound to perceive deprivation as a bittersweet positive. Re-booters recognize that not getting everything you want or need provides its own form of reward.

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One Response to “What Does Scarcity Mean to You?”

  1. paobs Says:

    Ah, Rett. How sweet you are!

    Sent from my iPad

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