Materialism causes divide between people

by Dana Tsuri-Etzioni, Staff Columnist

Materialism is a large part of western society. People are told to desire and acquire material goods, and many make it their life’s goal to be able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want. Materialism is the norm, and it is detrimental to society.

I went with Hillel, a Jewish organization, to Guatemala to help build a school out of sustainable material over spring break. Materialism is definitely not the norm there. Most people in the small town of Comalapa, Guatemala do not have running water in their homes, nor do they have other luxuries we are accustomed to in the United States. The lack of material wealth, however, causes the people to be more communal, which is refreshing.

We worked alongside Comalapa locals building the school. Their kindness and was apparent regardless of the language barrier. Although I was only able to speak high school-level Spanish, I was able to communicate with them and find things we had in common. The people displayed genuine gratitude towards even the smallest things, and for any help they were receiving. They didn’t take anything for granted, which is what many people in our society tend to do.

Even the townspeople were kind and open to strangers. When we would walk to the school in the morning, every person we encountered would say “buenos dias,” and in the evening when we would walk back to the hostel we were greeted with “buenos noche.” They knew we weren’t regular community members, yet they made us feel as though we were. They made us feel as though we were a part of their community.

The material items western societies are used to can lead to competitiveness among people. We aren’t necessarily taught from a young age that we need to work as a community and to help others even if we don’t know them, unlike the people of Comalapa, Guatemala.

Maybe materialism seems to be a natural —it is the “American Dream,” after all — but it causes people to want to adopt an individualist approach and see others as competition. Being in Guatemala made me realize I take a lot of things for granted as well, especially things like having a hot, running shower every day.

Although I would choose to the comfortable lifestyle the U.S. has to offer, it’s important to keep in mind what materialism can do to individuals and societies as a whole. It has such a large impact on the way we interact with others and as the Snapchat Geotag in Guatemala read — “perhaps you need some Guatemala” to help put things in perspective.