Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What are you sacrificing?

Tough times call for sacrifice. But what does that really mean?

What are you sacrificing?

My column today contains thoughts about the word "sacrifice," given that Americans are being told we'll have to sacrifice much during these economic times.

But what does the word mean to everyday Americans?

I posed the question to a few dozen readers, and included some of their remarks in my column. Since I couldn't fit everyone in, and since a lot of people had such insightful things to share, I wanted to print here the e-mails that didn't make it into my column, for space reasons alone.

Feel free to add your own thoughts. I'd love to hear what you have to say on this.

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“For my family, I don't use the word ‘sacrificing,’ but we are certainly ‘giving up’ stuff.

“We have always lived frugally (for the environment and to save money). But now we are even more careful. We keep the house at 65 degrees, instead of 66. We are giving up restaurant meals (except a rare occasion). We spend less on in-kitchen meals. (We eat homemade soup and grilled cheese at least once a week.) Since fall 2008, I've banished any thoughts about buying any item of clothing."
  - Carolyn Burke, nonprofit staffer


“The thought that has occurred to me so many times since things started going bad for the economy is: "I'm so glad that I have lived my life within my means.

“I'm not sacrificing right now in particular; I have pretty much learned to regularly sacrifice my whims and desires to practicality where spending and material acquisition are concerned.

“While I occasionally have mildly envied friends and acquaintances who seem to have better cars and nicer homes than I do, I'm generally very content in the fact that I get the most out of a car that I can before replacing it; that I bought a home that is well within what I can afford; and that my friends don't judge me by what I exhibit I have, but rather by who I am, and who I am to them.

“That doesn't mean I don't spoil myself in some ways; I just don't spoil myself in ways that overextend and put me at potential risk if I get sick or injured, lose my job, or experience some investment downturn.

“So I think some people who are just learning the meaning of "sacrifice" just haven't lived their economic lives very smartly... and now liken themselves to those who truly have hit real hardship through unfortunate situations beyond their control.”
  - Michael Spangler, commercial artist

“Times are hard all around us, but our own household times are holding, however tenuously.  No raises, but no cutbacks, and my debts are quite small.  This makes me feel that I should be among the people still going to restaurants, leaving tips, buying birthday presents and theater tickets, etc., as long as I can w/o pain.  There's a reason we have less company in most restaurants these days.  We're not profligate, but if we had just one salary (or none) it would be foolish to do what we do. 
 
“Right now, as one of the lucky ones, I feel it's my place to be wise and careful with resources that haven't dried up on me -- but not to sacrifice.  I know that could change in a heartbeat, and it makes me thankful for every tasty dish and every cheerful waiter we see on a Friday.  (And who sacrifices if we don't go out and there's no tip on the table?)”
  - Eileen O’Brien, medical writer

“Sacrifice or Simplify?  Because we live in a capitalist society, we can't have people ‘spend less.’ If we do, there is less money moving around; less profits, etc.

“I think the problem is mostly spiritual in the first place: People looking for love in all the wrong places (New this or that; bigger this or that, etc.)  Or deciding [a particular neighborhood] is the ‘hot new place to be’ because it’s becoming ‘valuable’ – when the same ‘ole stone and bricks are involved.  The vision/concept/hope are what people assign value to. So what we sow (greed) we reap (brokenness.)

“Money, per se, does not even exist.  It's simply a piece of paper that we all agree to assign a value to. It's about trust - that when I hand you $2, it's going to equal a Starbucks coffee.  There is no value IN the money. 

“I go around and around on this with my mother.  "How can someone else lose your money (pension)" and I can't get it through to her that first of all, when I contribute $ to a fund, no one is boxing up dollar bills for me, they are "investing." People decided that this "money" equals this or that many project in Japan, or ?  But when the people decided the dollars did not equal that value, they became worthless (i.e., stock).

“So I am not hearing people talking about sacrifice, but definitely, simplifying. ‘We eat in more,’ my friends W. and B. told me last night. But is that a negative? ‘Sacrifice’ sounds negative.

Lastly, one of our leaders recently said: “It's time for shared sacrifice.”  A friend said: “Yeah, but it was not a time for shared bonuses six months ago.”
- Joseph Varsanyi, Lutheran minister

“For me, it's both sacrificing goods, and sacrificing expectations. And something more.
 
“I had believed we were the generation of prosperity, and now we've become the second depression generation. And I think that the twentysomethings we see who have such a sense of entitlement are in for a rude awakening, because at least we had role models, as it were, for how to live frugally, since our grandparents did and our parents learned from them.
 
“On a simpler note, I find that I have become an even better tipper (wait staff and cab drivers don't earn what I do, and if I am struck by food prices, I can only imagine how they're faring). So even as I will go out of my way to save on the price of milk because a grocer farther away is cheaper than the one closer to home, I'll part with that buck for someone else. So to me, this environment has brought about a strange sort of bonding more than sacrifice.
 
“This may be a stretch but in some ways it feels a little like 9/11 -- we're all in it together. In my gym, on the subway, I find strangers chiming in on conversations about the state of our economy. Everyone seems to be reeling and no one wants to feel like they're in it alone."
  - Jodie Green, web designer


“We live in a consumer culture that’s so gluttonous, I feel as though it’s swallowed us whole. Creature comforts are no longer considered comforts, we consider them necessities. Just remembering Bush’s response to 9/11 is enough to make me feel ill; we as a nation were so ready to do whatever he’d ask of us, and yet all did was plead with us to continue to go shopping. Get thee to the local mall! Buy an extra plasma TV! It’s the American way, people! Heaven forbid we stop buying s**it we don’t need, or else our economy would collapse. (Well, as it turned out, that happened anyway.)

“Argh, we’re surrounded by so much spending for spending’s sake, so much accumulation for accumulation’s sake. And because we feel entitled to all this junk, we’ve lost the proper enjoyment and appreciation of new things. Not to mention the havoc we wreak on the environment when we throw away perfectly good stuff in favor of the newest version.

“So anyway, about a year and a half ago, I decided to opt out: I stopped buying anything new for myself. I didn’t mean to stop entirely, I just thought I’d scale back.

“But once I started evaluating my purchases, I discovered how little I really needed. And I got really hooked on NOT buying stuff. I unearthed clothing from the back of my closets, and carried last year’s handbags, and discovered I didn’t die of embarrassment. When my vacuum cleaner broke, I actually dug out the owner’s manual and a screwdriver and fixed it myself — an experience I’m still glowing about. I bought stuff off of Craigslist and got (and gave) things on Freecycle.org.

I didn’t drive myself crazy, mind you; I’m a working mom of two with little time to scour second-hand shops or arrange Freecycle pickups. I bought new clothing and toys for my kids, and when we needed a CD tower in a hurry I bought a new one from Ikea, and didn’t beat myself up over it. Just the opposite, I felt like it was okay because I was freed up by my not buying needless crap for myself.

“I told almost no one about my whole not-buying experiment, by the way, because I didn’t want to seem sanctimonious; it was just something I needed to do. And it felt so good. {My husband] made fun of me, of course, and pointed out that if everyone was like me, it would be the ruin of our economy. But he was very supportive, especially when he realized the thousands of dollars we were saving along the way.

“That was a nice fringe benefit. It’s amazing the way our everyday thoughtless purchases add up; I never realized just how much they cost until I cut them out.”

- Sabrina Rubin Erdely, freelance journalist

“I think that what we’ve lost in this tough economy—though not by electing to ‘sacrifice’ it—is our comfortable, unthinking status quo. We have a new sense of our own vulnerability, and along with that we’re more likely to think about people more vulnerable than ourselves—about the bigger things they go without every day.”
  - Anonymous, a reader


“Sacrifice:  to me it means giving something up and finding an alternative.  It means defining what are justifiable needs versus wants and then acting upon those definitions. 

“I do this daily by the sacrifice I choose to make to try to live a greener lifestyle.  Sometimes it’s less convenient and costs more money, but the choices I make reflect the importance I place on environmental issues.  This personal choice reflects not only my values but a sense that sacrifice is necessary and important.  I think this is a time for communal sacrifice and this needs to be our clarion call of the times. 

"There are many hard choices to make and we no longer can ‘have it all.’  Therefore, sacrifice is not a dirty word but derived from freedom of choice and a response to duty.   Sacrifice is required in order for America to become a just and fair society.  Changing our thoughts from ‘what do I want?’ to ‘what can I give up?’ will be challenging, to say the least.  But I feel this is a moment in time when we must communally sacrifice for the greater good of society."
   - Julie Becker, Fairmount resident

 
"I am sacrificing negativity and any words or talk of lack.  [My husband] and I have never been big spenders, so we don’t really see a major change in our life. But yes, we are paying more attention to what we spend. But I am also paying more attention to unexpected income – things like discounts, savings from store cards, coupons, free stuff – this is all unexpected income!!  I now even write down these unexpected income items by the week and last week had over $100 in unexpected income!  This way I keep my attention on growth and abundance, not lack and limitation.  I certainly know that others are experiencing lack and limitation, and on some level we are also.  I just don’t choose to put my attention there.  All my attention is going to growth and abundance!"
  - Christine Boylan, association manager

“My husband has volunteered to work shorter shifts so others could have hours. 

“Personally, I've been brown bagging for two years because it is too difficult for me to leave my desk to go out and buy lunch, and that way I can eat when I am hungry and use my breaks for errands.”
   - Randi Wagner, nurse

“ IMHO, our world isn’t asking for sacrifice as much as it’s begging to be regarded once again as a ‘sacred’ trust, e.g., that we be stewards of the gifts we’ve been given, on whatever level – natural, material, spiritual, emotional – and use them for loving ends.  Hafiz said it best: At the end, you will cast only two votes: to love more and be happy. 
“That whole ‘love our neighbor as ourselves thing’ really means 'if my brudda ain’t happy (e.g. he’s hungry, cold, uneducated, being exploited, etc.) then I ain’t really happy neither,  ‘cause I am he and he is me.' ”
  - Cheryl Lowitzer, organizing consultant


"All I have been thinking about in terms of sacrifices is that those guys on Wall Street, whom we all bailed out, are STILL making BONUSES. 

“What have I sacrificed from my tenured life? Not much, except a sense of security and a sense that putting away my money and investing it in the system that we bailed out will not allow me to pay for college for my girls or to retire.

“But those Wall Street guys – now they need to be making that much money. Their work is so important and specialized that they are worth millions a year – as opposed to folks who teach children to read, or who care for old people…and need to save for college and retirement."
 - Erin Horvat, Ed.D., Temple University professor

“I am on the Board of an organization that helps families in crisis, and I have always felt like I am there under false pretences.

“I am a writer and a musician mainly, have no social-service credentials, don't know too many rich people or powerful 'players,' nor do I have any IT skills. I'm on the board because my mother was on the board and my mother (who had a masters degree in social services) was a great contributor to this organization.

“I am not gregarious and outgoing the way she wa,s and there have been times when I have felt so out of place that I had to leave a meeting early. But gradually, as things have gotten worse economically and, more importantly, as the man who is now our new president began to offer a different example, I am feeling encouraged to allow myself to simply be who I am, participating the best I can.

“What I am 'sacrificing' - and it is not easy! - is the luxury of my own discomfort, because it holds me back from full participation. I may not be the best person for the job, but they want me there and so long as that is the case I will do my own best.”
  - Lucy Avery, Spring Garden

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.


Read more from Ronnie Polaneczky at Earth to Philly, the Daily News blog on anything and everything "Green Reach Ronnie at polaner@phillynews.com.

Ronnie Polaneczky Daily News Columnist
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