9 Perspectives on a Garbage Heap – Honouring Our Collective Truth

Lynn Serafinn does a virtual vox pop with dozens from the 7 Graces community, gathering their honest and varied responses to a photograph of urban e-waste.

Last Saturday, I was walking through my neighbourhood here in Bedford, England and passed by a local ‘junk shop’. I saw a sight that struck me as poignant in some way, so I took out my mobile phone and snapped a photo of it:

What does this photo say to YOU?

The picture said a lot to me and I had thought to write a blog post about it. But then, I thought it might be an interesting experiment to ask my readers to tell me what THEY thought and felt when then looked at this photo, and I’d write my blog post around our collective ideas.

So, on Sunday evening, I posted the picture in a blog post with the headline: ‘Write My Next Blog For Me. Tell Me What This Photo Says to YOU.‘ I shared the link on my social networks and within 24 hours received dozens of responses. Some people had more than one perspective in their comments, looking at the picture from different angles. I was impressed by how varied-and how TRUE-they were, even though some of them came from seemingly opposite angles. To be honest, some of the perspectives were things I hadn’t thought of until my readers brought in their view.

I noticed there were some identifiable themes running through the comments, so I grouped them and came up with these 9 broad categories:

  1. TV? Good Riddance!
  2. Creativity
  3. Nostalgia
  4. Non-Attachment
  5. Sadness and Grief
  6. Questioning Our Unconscious Consumerism
  7. Anger at Wastefulness: Let’s Recycle, Reuse, Pass it On.
  8. Anger at the Obsolescence Trap
  9. Creating a Different Future

Let’s take a look at these perspectives and see what greater truth we can see in this picture by looking at it through the lens of these 9 different, but complementary, angles (both UK and US spellings have been left unedited):

Perspective 1: TV? Good Riddance!

Several people thought it was a great thing to see a TV in this garbage pile. As far as they were concerned, that’s where it belonged. Getting rid of their TV had been a positive, liberating experience:

‘Garbage In. Garbage Out.’

‘The minute I threw out my television and turned on my intuition, my life become infinitely more exciting, thrilling and fulfilling!’

‘Got rid of mine over 10 years ago 🙂 Lots of free time and free thinking without it.’

Perspective 2: Creativity

Other people didn’t care to address the ‘reality’ of the photo, but preferred to use it as an opportunity to express their creativity and sense of play:

‘Live life in full colour – grey and beige end up with the trash.’

‘I think of a story about a relative of R2-D2, maybe T2-D2, and his smaller cousin B4-N4 having a confab about feeling unappreciated, tossed out after giving long and trustworthy service. But they are secretly hatching a plan of escape, and perhaps re-incarnation or re-cycling that will be enacted when there are no human eyes on them. Stayed tuned for the next instalment…’

Perspective 3: Nostalgia

A few people had an emotional response to this photo because they recognised the model of the TV. What’s so funny about that (for me) is that I ALSO owned this particular model of television back when I lived in London in 1999.

One young woman also said ‘I am only 29 but it seems that this TV brings back a lot of my younger memories. To think that nowadays TV’s are slimmer. LOL-antique?’

Well, I’m 58 and the first TV I remember was a LOT bigger and clunkier than this one. It was housed in a big mahogany cabinet and weighed a tonne. It had doors on the front, so it could look like a ‘sensible’ piece of furniture when you weren’t watching it. My mother dusted it daily and polished it at least twice a week with lemon oil.

Perspective 4: Non-Attachment

The fact this photo elicited so MANY responses from this perspective was a genuine surprise to me. People saw the picture as a metaphor for ‘letting go’ and being unattached to material possessions. One person said, ‘to discard things is the first step towards understanding who we were meant to be. It is important to let go of ‘things’ so we are free to realize who we are.’ Another put it more simply: ‘When you hold onto the past it becomes junk.’

A few lovely people shared their stories of the generational difference in attitudes towards material possessions. They spoke of how their parents’ generations believed ‘things’ were ‘meant to last a lifetime if properly cared for’, and they were loathe to part with them ‘just in case they needed them’. When someone in our lives has this perspective, helping them ‘down-size’ (especially if they are getting old and preparing to move into assisted life-or leave the world altogether) can be ‘heart-wrenching’. One daughter said, ‘Releasing her attachments to her “stuff” has been extremely disorienting. And it’s caused me to take a look at the things I’ve acquired and accumulated. Am I ready to release my own attachments to stuff?…now that I’ve witnessed how difficult it can be to let it go, and how much it holds us back, I’ve realized the inner work I need to do on myself to be free.’

Another reader commented similarly, but with regards to her OWN catharsis with moving house ‘the fourth time in five years’. Having moved from the US to the UK in 1999, I completely relate to this point. The amount of ‘stuff’ we had accumulated and had to sell, discard, recycle or give away was enormous. And, oddly, the amount of ‘stuff’ we had to ship over was just as enormous. The reader said ‘It is not the “things” that define me. It’s what’s inside me and that’s pretty great. That goes everywhere with me and doesn’t require a box or a moving truck.’

Perspective 5: Sadness and Grief

Others found the photo to contain a profound sadness, which sometimes verged on grief. Some saw this from a human perspective, while others gave a voice to the poor, discarded items (and sometimes a bit of both):

‘I see this and for some reason it makes me sad. I can’t pinpoint exactly why.’

‘I think it all looks quite sad – these items were probably once someone’s pride and joy, to be polished, cleaned and valued. Maybe some of them are fixable, but in today’s throwaway culture they are thrown on the scrap heap – they might just be old and out of date but still working. However, by virtue of all this being outside a junk shop, they might have the possibility of being loved and valued again! A bit like people really. With a little bit of collaboration everyone and everything has the possibility of becoming bright and sparkling again!’

‘There is a sort of loneliness in the photo…even though they are inanimate objects, it reminds me of how older people might feel when discarded like that–even though they still possess wisdom, beauty and usefulness–society seems to no longer appreciate them as much.’

‘Discarded, abandoned, rejected: how can we fulfill our life purpose if we are not connected to source?’

‘We’ve been good to you and we are not going to take this sitting down!’

Perspective 6: Questioning Our Unconscious Consumerism

Then, people started to question our priorities, our consumer tendencies and our relationship with television. What are we really buying? What is driving our decisions? How conscious of our motivators are we?

‘A couple of weeks ago my husband bought his first flat screen TV. It was definitely his purchase and I felt that whilst it was not how I would choose to spend the money, he had earned it and it is how he relaxes after a hard week at the office. It works a treat when we do movie night for the girls as now it does look more like a mini cinema.’

‘People want things, maybe save up for them and buy them and care for them. Then after a time these items are discarded, perhaps because they are ‘dated’ and something brighter and shinier comes along. Some unwanted items become someone else’s possessions and are maybe loved or just tolerated because that was all the new owner could afford. There’s something in this picture about the value of possessions – not just financially but environmentally, and ‘statusly’.

‘The TV speaks out to me. “I was always on. Sometimes ‘just for a bit of background’ – I was the one in charge of the relationship – always got my own way. You sat there for hours and hours, even when you said there were other things you wanted to do. Then I told you about a thinner, glossier, smoother TV. Lots of them actually. I didn’t think you’d let me go. There’s nothing wrong with me. I look just the same as the day you got me. My remote’s a little sticky but that’s not my fault. Though knowing you, it was the interest free-credit, just for the weekend. That’s what got you, isn’t it? Stupid thoughtless buy. And you had to throw out your uncle’s beautiful wooden table too, to let the widescreen stand in its full glory’

‘You could have put me on Freecycle – not everyone just forks out for a new TV or is willing to whack up their credit card – or even has any left. If you didn’t want me, I’m sure there was another home…And I know you’ll do the same with your new TV – I’m the one who showed you the ad in the first place – and there are loads more where that’s coming from. You were on the phone ordering your new TV when an ad for an even thinner one came out.’

‘My two main thoughts on this picture are from different perspectives and they both share a root of profit without purpose. My first was around TV as distraction. In 1957 Edward R. Murrow said, “It might be helpful if those who control television and radio would sit still for a bit and attempt to discover what it is they care about. If television and radio are to be used to entertain all of the people all of the time, then we have come perilously close to discovering the real opiate of the people.’

Perspective 7: Anger at Wastefulness: Let’s Recycle, Reuse or Pass it On.

Others reacted to the sheer wastefulness of throwing out not just this television set, but ‘stuff’ in general. Their perspective was that we should make every effort to find another use for things that do not serve us anymore. NOTE: ‘Freecycle’ mentioned by several people is an online site (http://freecycle.com) where people give their unwanted ‘stuff’ away.

‘I see this photo and I see man’s tendency to waste and the harmful effects – how our super consumerism is destroying the planet.’

‘Do not toss it! One man’s junk is truly another man’s treasure. Make the effort to donate it.’

‘Did I really need to leave that there or could someone on the freecycle network made use of it?’

‘Many people still chafe against recycling their rubbish! Laziness is endemic and rather than judging it, we need to make it really easy for people to dispose of unwanted items.’

‘I saw it and it spurred me on to take action. Our old TV of 15 years standing is now on Freecycle and I really hope we get a taker.’

‘I love Freecycle. Have recycled lots of things on there just pleased that things go to a new home & hopefully help someone else out.’

‘This photo speaks to me of a lot of waste. The store owner probably had lack of space & too many items of newer technology and newer furniture of more appeal. Upcycling and DIY tips can be used to make anything more visually appealing and unique. Sure it’s nice to have an 8′ X 6” flat screen TV, but what if these TV’s work (and do you want to watch TV that much anyway)? There is so much out there of use and value that is just tossed away. I’m an artist so you know if I lived there and saw this, I would have been dumpster divin’ for sure!’

‘Unwanted items are needed by those who can’t afford to buy such items. Surplus wealth is not ours; it is meant for those who are less fortunate. We are here on this planet for a test.’

‘There’s a restaurant on Upper Street (London), where they use old TVs and monitors as fish tanks and plant pots. The picture made me think of that.’

Perspective 8: Anger at the Obsolescence Trap

Others dove more deeply into the cause of the issue-planned and perceived obsolescence on the part of big business and marketers. This is a huge topic, which I spoke about in the chapter on ‘The Deadly Sin of Scarcity’ in The 7 Graces of Marketing. In a nutshell, ‘planned’ obsolescence is when things are ‘made to break’ after a specific period of time, and the cost of repair usually exceeds the cost of replacement. This strategy is employed to ensure steady, predictable sales. ‘Perceived’ obsolescence is when things ‘appear’ to be obsolete, due to being surpassed by products with new features, new design, latest fashion, etc. Both of these are forms of scarcity marketing that in effect cause ‘scarcity’ on our planet by creating environmental imbalances. Here are a few comments with that perspective (again, some come from the TV’s perspective):

‘Built-in obsolescence, the cancer of capitalism’.

‘When our TV died after sitting in storage while in Bahrain we found out we could do nothing! It was a nice 46 inch flat screen. The cost to fix it was more than a new one. Yup.’

‘I am seeing part of the process of planned obsolescence, the place where probably most pressed wood goes to die, and e-waste that will probably be shipped overseas to be recycled by children who will be exposed to toxic waste. And I see coffee table made of good hardwood that is out of style, probably with a broken leg. It is too expensive to fix vs. the price of another used table.

You don’t care that I’ll end up on a landfill site, maybe shipped off to one faraway, where western rubbish ends up. You’re ok so long as someone takes it away. So what if it’s killing the planet. The sun always shines on TV.”

Perspective 9: Creating a Different Future

Other people took a pro-active and visionary perspective. Some explored possible solutions that could create a better future, while others asked questions that might make us pause and reflect on the kind of future we are currently creating:

‘Maybe it will be better to rent technology hardware, if the rate of replacement continues’

‘Can our marketing evolve to become a wider, deeper, finer and infinitely more interactive vehicle? A television manufacturer can ask consumers what they want based on what is currently possible with a mind toward what can be achievable within the next 10 years…the more we can see as achievable, the more we will allow as conceivable.’

‘Imagine if earth or virii take over and mankind becomes extinct or has to move to another planet because we’ve rendered it too inhospitable, or the climate is no longer temperate. These objects could still be stuck in the same place in a thousand years time. Imagine if another life form visits the planet and beholds this scene all over the world. What conclusions would they make of mankind?’

‘I was thinking about the inventors and product designers of the TVs and what they’re driven by. We humans are brilliant at innovation, our creativity is boundless and most of us will create, design and innovate just because we can, because it’s a natural human drive and one that’s kept us the dominant species for so many years. If innovation is always rewarded by money without strict sustainability guidelines and principles, then we’ll always get built-in obsolescence. I hope that product design is changing with the adoption of initiatives like the Circular Economy where materials flows are designed to either re-enter the biosphere safely or circulate without entering the biosphere at all. But I fear we’re not changing fast enough.’

Closing Thoughts

I’m impressed, humbled, thrilled and honoured that this random snapshot was the midwife for so many different points of view on the world. As I said at the top of this article, what I find so fascinating is how, while some of them seem to be in contradiction of one another, they all complement each other to make a larger Truth.

This exercise taught me many things:

  1. Collaboration begins by a common vision. In this case, our common vision was a photograph, the desire to express ourselves and the aim of creating a blog post.
  2. Collaboration must include innovation. Only through the injection of all the fresh ideas from others can we create something truly great. I could never have written this blog post on my own.
  3. Through Trust we can find the greater Truth. When I took this photo, I had my own perspective. It was (I’ll tell you now) mostly to do with waste and the culture of obsolescence. But by trusting the collective wisdom of the ‘crowd’, I learned the much greater Truth contained within this picture. I believe (passionately!) that the future of our world — people and planet — depends upon our reaching beyond our limited individual (or cultural) viewpoints to come up with solutions for our collective future on Mother Earth. This can only come when we are courageous enough to open up the dialogue amongst us, and allow all points of view to fill in the gaps we might lack in our own perspective.
  4. Collaboration is easy. It took me some time to compile and write this article, but honestly, it’s the easiest one I’ve ever written. And that’s all down to you–and the Grace of Collaboration.

I hope you enjoyed this article. And if you have MORE comments to add about the photo OR about the perspectives shared in this article, please let us continue the dialogue below.

And do please become part of our ongoing conversation by subscribing to this blog.

Lynn Serafinn
(and dozens of 7 Graces readers)
2nd July 2013

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing

LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.

Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors. Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

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