Discipline is Not Just A Four-Letter Word – The Ninth Commandment For The Environment

Lifestyles should be oriented according to the principles of sobriety, temperance and self-discipline, both at the personal and social levels. People need to escape from the consumer mentality and promote methods of production that respect the created order, as well as satisfying the basic needs of all. This change of lifestyle should be helped by a greater awareness of the interdependence that ties together all the inhabitants of the earth.

This commandment reminds us that life is not about having but being. Unfortunately, humanity had succumbed to the habit of having possessions as if possessions make them. Athletes using sports paraphernalia realize and have a very good sense of that. Having the best bowling ball in the market does not guarantee a bowler good scores. Using a top of the line set of clubs does not always register under par scores for a golfer. Wearing the latest rubber shoes may give comfort but does not warrant an A-game for a basketball player. Or simply, donning a fashionable and beguiling dress does not make one attractive and beautiful. No, it is not absolutely true that the clothes make a man. There are a lot of marketing savvy in that statement. Sadly, many fell for it. Having is not being. Further, having more than what we need is unjust.


Three popes spoke about the dangers and evil of consumerism:

In 1967, in his Populorum Progression, Pope Paul VI asserted, “No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when other lack the bare necessities of life…The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” (par. 23)

John Paul II incorporated a spiritual dimension to the issue in his Centissimus Annus when he criticized “a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards ‘having’ rather than ‘being.” In response to the said lifestyle, he offered, “lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, and goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.” (par. 36)

And Pope Benedict XVI, in his Epiphany 2009 speech said, “Poisons and pollution in the world could destroy our present and out future unless we rein in our unbridled consumption and consumerism and adopt lifestyles based on self-restraint and moderation.”

Gadgets, for example, seem to have gone a long way for the last 20 years. Many people keep changing their phones, televisions, stereos, cars, and others, with the latest. Close examination will reveal that there are really few differences with the previous models. In spite of the added features, the basic features remain the more used and important. The added features are mostly optional. Most are rarely used, in fact. And mind you, the increase in cost is great. People are willing to pay for the new and the latest. This seems to be the case in many of peoples’ possessions. There are reasons to doubt whether they do because of more efficiency or just for show and prestige. In short, consumerism at its height!

In the same way that we have gradually acquired a lifestyle of consumerism, we can free ourselves of it. Habits are formed. It takes time and effort to inherit them. It will also take time and effort to be released from them. We have to make the first step if we are to reach that long and difficult journey to change our lifestyle. The fight to defend and care for the environment necessitates no less than a change in lifestyle. And this entails RESPONSIBILITY; first, to our Judge and Creator, second, to our neighbors (in the Christian sense), and third, to ourselves. If we imbibe a worldview and a conviction that creation is for all and must be respected while being satisfied by it, escaping from a consumerist lifestyle to a lifestyle of “joyful austerity” is possible.

The words of St. Basil the Great are relevant here:

The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.

Photo credit: Glogster

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