To be, not to have

When learning a language in school we arrive very soon at the two most important verbs in the universe: to be and to have. Considering these, I think we need to focus more on being, less on having. (Side note: être et avoir is also a charming documentary about a school in rural France.)

To have a house and a car, the absolute pinnacle for workers caught in this meritocracy.

This house belongs to my wife and me as long as we pay the mortgage. When we stop paying the bank will take it. We have accumulated it, the stuff in it and the little second hand Lexus next to it by working for people with more money than us and by receiving gifts from our parents, who lived in a time where accumulating material wealth seems to have been more unavoidable.

The previous years we have ‘earned’ almost as much money by sitting in this house as by working. Even though we could never have afforded this house in the first place, its monstrous increase in value is now ours. This is a fundamental flaw in our society which arises from people’s desire to have stuff, rather than be something (e.g. hospitable, friendly, helpful, loving).

I want to break free from this road to perdition. Fortunately, my wife is also ready for a change of scenery. We both love the French Alps, so we decided to move there for at least a couple of months. Sell most of our stuff here (marktplaats & marktplaats) and live in a modest apartment in the mountains, which we will rent from a corporation.

Thinking about living well Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind. When asked for advice by a schoolkid he answered (paraphrasing): ‘Write the best poem you can, never let anyone read it, tear it to little pieces and throw it away. Practice becoming.’ I need practice.

Photograph of Kurt Vonnegut (I wanted to insert a link here to an insteresting article quoting the original ‘practice becoming’-letter, but the sites I found offer click bait next to the article, except Wikipedia but that feels less adequate (so dry and pc). So you might want to search ‘Kurt Vonnegut practice becoming’ and wade through the noise to get to the signal yourself.)

So we sold our house, stepping out of the ‘accumulating wealth by owning stuff while paying for it’-race. It scares me so much I’ve been losing sleep. Are we dumb? Did we not get raised right? We bought this house to have it without mortgage when we are in our sixties and our incomes most likely start to decline more rapidly. What now?

View of the French Alps.

Interestingly though, as we are getting used to the idea of throwing away our carefully planned future, the worrying subsides. As long as we answer ‘no’ to the question ‘are we in life threatening danger now,’ our fears are not real. I for one know a big chunck of my brain is dedicated to fear, specifically fear of rejection and subsequent death. By experiencing what happens when you shake things up my brain will learn different things than by forever holding on to every scrap. Maybe learn to put more trust in life (just a pinch of false hope here).

Note: I do not recommend ‘risking’ your house to play exposure therapy on a whim, that is not what this is.

Maybe we cannot have everything we want, but I think we can be anything we want.

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