You Can Always Get What You Want.

I’m ten years old.  Or nine, or eleven.  Around that time, anyway — the precise age is not important.

It’s lunchtime, and the students in my little school have emptied out of their classroom and are rummaging in their school bags for their lunchboxes.  Soon, the cacophony begins to wane, and the children sit down on the floor, cross-legged, and start to eat their lunches.  

There’s the usual suspects of white bread and polony or cheese and Vegemite.  Most children have homemade cake wrapped in greaseproof paper, or perhaps some sweet biscuits.  

For the record, I never had those things.  Poor, deprived child that I was, my mother used to insist on packing sandwiches made with wholemeal bread, and for snacks, I would have yoghurt, or almonds and dried apricots, or an orange.  Nobody wanted to swap lunch with me.

Except for days like this.  My father had been in Perth the day before, and he drove the three hundred and sixty kilometres home, bringing with him a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Sure, by the time he got home, I was asleep, and it was well and truly cold by then anyway (my mother put it straight in the ‘fridge) but the next morning, I could take it with me in my lunchbox to have for my lunch.  

Cold fried chicken.  I am the envy of every child in the school.  All twenty-five of them.

Do you remember, when fast food was a treat?  When I was young, we didn’t have the access to it, mainly because of our relative isolation.  We were twenty minutes’ drive from the nearest ‘town’ which had (and still has) one small general store, a hall, a wheat silo, a mechanic, and a few houses — really, that’s it.  The next town was about forty-five minutes away, with TWO supermarkets(!!), a post office and high school, several houses, and a pub… but still no fast food restaurant.  Fast food — apart from what you could buy from some service-stations — was just not accessible everyday.

For the last few weeks, the Handsome Sidekick and I have been trying to return to healthy eating habits which fall by the wayside when we’re both too tired to think, which has been quite often, in the recent past.  We’re eating more raw food, reducing our already fairly limited intake of meat, keeping chocolate for the occasional treat, eating smaller pieces of cake*, and checking our portion sizes.  The result is that we’re (very slowly) losing some weight, and we seem to have more energy.  We also feel a lot healthier — whether that’s psychosomatic, who knows?  These were benefits I expected.  But the element I didn’t factor in was just how amazing food can taste, when you limit it.  How good it is, to look forward to a meal, to be really hungry, and then feel immensely content after you’ve finished eating.

A friend of mine is observing Ramadan this month.  He is not a Muslim, but fasting is part of his weekly routine, and as a spiritual person, he appreciates the value of depriving oneself of food, and of prayer and meditation during that time.  Reading what he had to say about the sense of calm one feels with an empty stomach, I could understand the desire to participate.  Restricting food in this sense allows us to realise how precious a thing it is, and how good we have it, when we have enough to satisfy our hunger.

It led me to think about delayed gratification, and how there is so little of that.  We don’t deny ourselves much, these days, do we?  We lament the way we can’t have things, but it’s an external force (usually money) which doesn’t allow us, rather than it being a case of self-denial.  Money really can buy anything — you can get whatever you want, whenever you want.  It used to be that certain clothes or food or shoes or cars were only available in particular countries or areas. That’s no longer the case.  If you have the money, you can get it.

Can't always get what you want?  Well, actually...

Can’t always get what you want? Well, actually…

And obviously, people do.  They pay the money — or put it on credit — and get it.  It’s available; and taken on face value, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have what they want.

Take Disneyland for example.  It started with a single theme park, and now they can be found from Paris to Hong Kong and in between.  Having more than one Disney theme park means that more people can visit.  The Disney experience is open to a wider audience.  But does it cheapen the value of the original?

Those building the new parks would perhaps argue that they’re ensuring the experience is accessible, that it avoids elitism.  I’d argue that it ruins the uniqueness, the specialness, of these ‘things’ we used to be able to only get somewhere else, or at a certain time of year.  Of course, restriction of anything means that less people will be able to have it, or enjoy it.  But doesn’t that make it all the more special when you can?  When you finally manage to travel to California, after years of wanting to, and get your picture taken with Goofy, or ride on the roller coaster of your dreams?  Or when you finally sit down to eat after a long fast, or when you finally get to read that book, or watch that film or kiss that person?

Just because we can have whatever we want, doesn’t mean we should.  The mere fact that it’s available shouldn’t mean we feel obliged to get it.  Business models being what they are, if there is a market for something, then it will be marketed.  But we have a choice.  We can choose not to eat it, or visit it, or buy it, or do it.  Whereas before, availability was the limiting factor, now it’s us.  It’s up to us to limit ourselves, to have some self-control.  Only then is it possible to really embrace and savour the experience.  Only then can we feel as if we truly deserve it, that it’s really worthwhile.    

*I know what you’re thinking.  But I’m OK with this.  Really!


11 thoughts on “You Can Always Get What You Want.

  1. I liked your thoughts, but I’m going to pick a fight about the Disneyland stuff. 😛

    As someone who has been to all the Disney locations, I can tell you that there is enough different about them that makes it worthwhile having more than one. The first thing being the ones that have non-English language aspects. Most of the Tokyo one was in Japanese, with only a few rides having English alternatives. This is really good for people who only speak Japanese. Paris and Hong Kong were similar, but had more dual-language options (English/French and English/Mandarin). If there was only Disneyland California, then the Japanese/French/Mandarin speaking kids perhaps “eventually” getting to go to California aren’t going to enjoy it as much if they don’t understand English.

    The rides can differ amongst the parks, too. There was one ride at the California park that was my FAVOURITE EVER last time I went there, but it’s not at any of the other parks.

    Besides which, especially when considering the Hong Kong park (and the one they’re building in Shanghai)… how many Chinese families do you think would ever be able to afford to fly to California? You’re someone who has written about the crisis in China wages and labour in the past, so I think that’s something to take into consideration. It’s not just about kids in Western countries.

    • I hear you on the difference between locations, and in essence, nothing I say is going to stop them going ahead with building more! But I was kind of using it as a wider example of how we are able just ‘have’ everything nowadays, compared to before. I mean, when we were growing up, Disneyland was this magical utopia, where only very very few children managed to go, and as a result it was on this pedestal of awesomeness. And the thing is, having more of them… sure, it means that there are people in different countries who might be able to more easily get there, but it is still really, really expensive to go and stay — still beyond the budget of many people, I would say. I don’t know much about the one they’re building in Shanghai, but I’d hazard a guess that the kinds of people I’ve written about on subsistence wages will probably never be able to afford to go, despite the fact that it’s right there on their doorstep.

      And in a sense, it’s this idea that accessibility is the great equaliser — Disney would argue that having parks all around the world means that now everyone can have the experience and I would argue that there are still going to be people who can’t afford it, and at the same time, they’re making something that used to be unique and special and magical into something mundane and common. Obviously it might still be really, really fun! And it’s not like I want to deny people the opportunity to have stuff — there are many people in the world who really do not have a choice, and they go without because of circumstance, which I think is pretty tragic, considering how much excess there is in the day-to-day lives of others (myself included) … I guess I just feel as if it’s not a sustainable thing for us to always think that everyone has to have everything, and that sometimes, not having something can make you value it more. For those of us who really do have SO MUCH compared to others, like potable water, and plentiful fresh food, and reliable electricity, we could afford to sometimes do without ‘stuff’, you know?

      • “Accessibility is the great equalizer”. I know this isn’t quite the sort of “accessibility” you were referring to…but it still irritates me that so many so-called “handicapped-accessible” public restrooms really aren’t. I wrote an email to the TX State Aquarium when I realized that, although the entrance to the public restrooms was wide enough to be considered “accessible”, the designated stall itself was no bigger than the other stalls, and there was only one grab bar. When I go to a shopping mall and I have my walker with me, the aisles are so crowded that the price tags on merchandise always get tangled up in the handbrake cords. It’s very disheartening to realize that so-called “accessible” facilities were clearly designed by an able-bodied person, who’s just paying lip service to the idea without actually consulting a handicapped person about what their true needs are. Accessibility would, indeed, be “the great equalizer”…if architects, designers, etc actually took the idea seriously.

      • Yes, and even though it *is* different to what I was talking about, the point is the same. Often it is lip service, and it’s not making life better/happier/easier. I remember being so embarrassed that a shop I was working in didn’t have wheelchair access, when a woman was trying to get her son’s chair up the step — it wasn’t a bit step, but the chair was very heavy (a motorised wheelchair) and it took her and us to get him in. I was embarrassed not only because it had been so hard for her, and it was OUR SHOP which was making it hard, but also, because it had not been something that I, as an able-bodied person, had considered ‘necessary’. I was onto the area manager later that day to tell him we needed to fix it (sadly, they didn’t think it was a priority, and it was not until the shop closed down and someone new moved in that a ramp was installed. Shameful).

        The moral of the story: customer service is pointless if the customer can’t even get in the door!

      • Yes, that’s true, they’re probably not ever going to be able to afford to go. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some earning a bit more wouldn’t, but wouldn’t be able to afford to go further than China.

        I routinely deprive myself of buying all the DVDs and going to see all the movies I want to see, even though I could afford them. I did understand the message you were trying to get at – there are definitely people in Western countries who could do to limit themselves more.

  2. Dear Bean, first off, thank you for your thoughtful reply to the racis lwk, who trashed your comment on his site and took the opportunity to post a racist diatribe on mine, as well as insulting so many of my readers personally that I had to turn on Comment Moderation.. That’s the sole reason I came to see your blog today.

    I’m from the States, and this comment is about Disneyland. DIsney is a multinational corporation that does not export other D’lands to somehow make the experience more accessible to everyone, anymore than KFC expands to other countries to “share” the experience of truly artery-clogging food, hee hee. (Sure, it tastes good… that’s the evil scheme!)

    These are all companies that not only originated in the States – they operate mainly in the States and pay NO corporate taxes. While we are spinning and barfing on the Tea Cup rides, let’s remember that It Is Indeed a Small World After All: A small cadre of billionaires, based in the States, selling us out to the highest bidder and contributing nothing to public schools and social programs. I boycott them all.

    As to the idea of something being a treat “back in the day,” yes! We were allowed one bottle of soda-pop per week. Caffeinated beverages were not in the mix. My daughter had to wait until she was 16 to have her ears pierced; I told her, “What fun would life be if you didn’t finally get something you wanted for a long time?” She later thanked me.

    Great blog, will keep reading. Peace, Amy Barlow Liberatore, USA AKA Sharp Little Pencil

    • You’re welcome 🙂 We are very different people, he and I, from very different places, and so continuing the conversation seemed to be pointless, really. I’ll never convince him that my views might be valid, no more than he’ll convince me that I’m safer with a gun!

      I don’t know about the corporate tax dodging by Disneyland and KFC — I do know that corporations all over are quite interested in paying less tax, though! I’ve been watching with interest how Google and Starbucks managed to get away with paying no tax in the UK, despite earning massive profits. It had such a profound public backlash, for which I felt very happy! People voting with their money, it works every time.

      There is something to delaying gratification, isn’t there? And sometimes it’s hard to not give in to your children, but they do thank you later 🙂

      Thanks for reading, and sharing your thoughts!

  3. Apparently I can’t do this as a reply to the thread I already started, but anyway:

    A wheelchair-bound friend of mine was thrilled when a local grocery store not only offered her a job, but made a very big deal about retrofitting one of their checkstands to make it easier for her to work. She didn’t realize until after she started working there that the breakroom was on the second floor and the only way to get there was by climbing stairs. Then her employer had the nerve to shrug and tell her that they couldn’t afford to install an elevator, she should be grateful they retrofitted her checkstand, and they couldn’t help it if customers who saw her on the sales floor didn’t realize she was on break–if she didn’t want to help them, she could either find a way to go upstairs, or risk getting writen up for “poor customer service”.

    • That’s just beyond comprehension, isn’t it? How utterly ridiculous. I mean, ignorance is bad enough, but a blatant ‘well, put up with it’ attitude is just unconscionable.

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