The Biggest Mistake We Make With Each Other.

I have a challenge for you.

I want you to think about the industrialized world (you know, the one you live in, where you use money for stuff) in two categories:

The first is services. The second is products.

Think about what you spend money on. Think about what you do for work. Think about that really awesome business idea you and your buddies came up with around last call that would totally make you millionaires.

I want you to close your eyes (actually don’t do that, then you can’t read) and think about the difference between the products and the services involved in all those industries.

A product “is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need.” Anything. Products are things. Products can be owned.

A service is an action or process that a person or business provides to another. A service cannot be owned. Providing a service is something a person does, not something they are.  Here, we are selling an non-tangible action, not an object.

For example: In music, a service would be performing a concert; a product would be the recorded CD of that concert. In finance, a product would be a bank account while a service would be a personal tax consultation. In education, teaching is a service while learning software and textbooks are products.

Human beings, fundamentally, are service providers. People may provide services that result in products, but they should never be products themselves. It would be offensive for us to treat them that way, wouldn’t it?

As such, any industry which appears to be selling people as a product deserves serious scrutiny.

trade

paris hilton

picked

Picked. Traded. Owned. Branded.

We use a lot of “product” words to talk about certain people in our society.

It isn’t surprising that we do this. We seem to think we’re some highly evolved society, that we have somehow figured out how to properly humanize people. We haven’t. Only a few centuries ago, we were explicitly buying and selling people as slaves.  This means that our capitalist system has a major history of people-as-products, one which persists in ways which are obvious (human trafficking, for example) and not-so-obvious (celebrity culture, college sports, the deifying of religious leaders, etc).

I’m sure there are also hundreds of human nature-y reasons why we might objectify people. Sometimes, we look up to someone (or the idea of someone) so much that we almost literally want to own a piece of them. Other times, we recognize that people can serve a purpose in our lives and “use” them in that way.

But when objectification becomes the cornerstone of entire industries, when we turn people into sellable products, wow. 

That’s really bad.

Perhaps the worst part is that we have created a world where becoming a product is glamourizedThat’s success, right? Isn’t being contractually tied to a company a good thing, a secure thing? Isn’t being a cover girl, a professional athlete, or a figurehead something to be sought after?

As long as those are jobs, as long as they are services that a human being is providing in good faith, then fine. Fine. But when being owned becomes our definition of success, something is terribly wrong. When people are becoming products because it’s the only way they feel like they can be seen (and hey, don’t we all want to be seen sometimes?) or loved or wanted, something is terribly wrong.

So keep your eyes open, friends. Keep looking for people who are being treated as products, for human beings who are being bought, sold, and owned.  Watch out for that product-centric language that we use so often when talking about people, especially those in the spotlight or who “serve a purpose” (yuck).

It happens more frequently than we think and, in my opinion, it’s the biggest mistake we make with each other.

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Three More Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me)

Let’s start by addressing a point one reader/friend made after last week’s post“You gotta stop stomping on all your prized possessions, dude.”

As much as I would like to defend my trademark…he was right.  Here’s how that one ended:

Bonus lesson: Don't step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you're trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy...
Bonus lesson: Don’t step on top of aerosol cans. Not even if you’re trying to be artsy. Though, since this already went down, I could probably pretend it symbolizes something fancy…

Ungh. Onwards?

[If you missed part one of “Things I Couldn’t Live Without (and the lessons they taught me),” you can read it here.]

5) Guitar

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What it taught me: Don’t underestimate “amateur.”  

This is the latest and greatest lesson I have picked up.  Seriously,  if you only read one of these, read this one.

The record company I’m interning for has the single greatest outlook on music, art, and culture that I have ever experienced.  The people who have made Folkways what it is (guys like Moe Asch, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger) are wholly inspirational.   Take one of Guthrie’s famous quotes: “Anyone who uses more than two chords is just showing off.”

W.G. keeps it real.

A few days ago, the interns all started talking about their musical backgrounds–the instruments they played, the classes they took, even the  degrees they held. I tried to slide in under the radar with this one, but we’re a small group. The conversation eventually turned to me.

“How about you, Shauna? Are you a musician?”

Awkward. “Well…I mean…I play music, sometimes. I picked up the keyboard, and I sing I guess, and I’m learning guitar.  But…I’m not any good.”

You know that feeling in the air when you’ve just said something out of line?  The chatter stopped.  One of the interns, a guy who had gone to college for music, turned to me sharply.

“Don’t say that. Seriously. Don’t say you aren’t ‘Good.’  Do you love music?” I started to answer, but he did it for me. “Yes. Do you play music? Yes. Do you love it?”

“Absolutely. Yes.” I rubbed my thumb over my fingers, blistering from practice the night before.

“Then you’re a musician.”

You know what? He’s probably right.  Sure, I have only had a guitar for a month now. I learn how to strum from YouTubers with cute accents.  I know a few songs… if you count slamming down G & C chords over and over while reciting the lyrics to Thrift Shop.

It’s perpetual amateur hour in my bedroom, and that’s totally okay. 

The fact is, I listen to, learn about,  and talk music all day.  I get inspired.  When the clock strikes 5, and I race home so I can get to my own instrument. I play, and it’s good for me.  It’s sometimes even good for other people–I recently received an anonymous message from someone who was at a New Years party where I played the keyboard :

Hey Shauna,

A friend of mine from the New Year’s party (you haven’t met him) wanted me to tell you that: “[you are] really talented and really made [his] new years to hear [your] performance.[you] resparked [his] passion for music, [he’s] re-picking up piano again… after a 12 year break”

Is that not the most beautiful thing?  I guess that in the end, loving and sharing music is what it’s all about.

6) Curling mousse

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What it taught me: Embrace what’cha got.

My hair.  Oh goodness, what to say about my hair?

Well, I guess the first thing to say is that I have hair at all, which hasn’t always been the case.

 

Yeah, I shaved my head in high school. We’ll call it an exercise in philanthropy, since I raised a bit of money and donated the hair to charity. Mostly, though, the head shaving was a result of the same “Well, why the heck not?” attitude that landed me in DC.  It’s a repeat of why I dyed my hair brown: I told someone in passing that I would totally do it. The opportunity presented itself. I totally did it.

Most. Freeing. Thing. Ever.

The whole process was a pretty big deal for a 15-year-old girl, especially one with braces and glasses (the word you’re looking for is “teenage heartthrob”). Up until that point, I had all but hidden behind long blonde locks.  If my haircut was half an inch shorter than necessary, there would be tears. My 9th grade email address was busy_being_blonde (heh. this was also my creative peak).  Not surprisingly, the head shaving was liberating.  My hair doesn’t define me.  Imagine that.

Since then, my hair has been just about every length. It has been most styles, too.  One of the many things I’ve learned from all this is that my hair is irrevocably curly. I mean, it’s really, truly, naturally curly.  It’s not going to be un-curly without a fight…and I do not have time for a fight.  All I have time for is a mousse.

When it comes to my curls, I can’t beat ’em, and I’m no longer in the business of shaving them right off.  The only option left is to join ’em.

7) ‘Senorita Margarita’ body wash

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What it taught me: Smell is associated with memory. If you’re moving on, change it up.

New body wash is my #1 weapon against homesickness.

…yes, actually.

I first discovered this trick in high school.  I was headed to France for an exchange, and was terrified of myself.  I figured France would be awesome, but it was my first time away from home and I didn’t want to mess it up with my emotions. I wanted to be able to take advantage of all that awesome. I needed to make sure I didn’t get homesick.

I knew smell could trigger nostalgia, and I wasn’t taking any chances.  I very deliberately left my collection of vanilla soaps at home. It was a great call.

Smell and memory have the craziest relationship. I know you cannot completely hide from scent-triggers, but when you move to a new place, it could be worth it to smell like a new you.

(And hey, you never know…maybe I’ll end up bringing Senorita Margarita home with me.)

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Remember, this is the second in a series of three posts on “Things I couldn’t live without (and the lessons they taught me).” What would make your list? Comment below with your list, or blog your own version and throw up a link!