The Myth of Ownership

I’ve been struggling with the concept of ownership for a long time, and suspect it may be just a myth.

Many people here tragically lost homes, investments, jobs, retirement funds in the economic downturn. It seems like we have gone through that moment when the illusion of ever increasing wealth is faced with a harsh reality, and a disordered psyche fails to integrate the two. I was spared, in that I didn’t have so much to lose, not really owning the usual things we have come to expect a person and a family should. I didn’t have the basic elements of the classic American dream, no house, no car, no retirement, no investments.

I was supposed to inherit land at one point in my life, that I gave up, and I did have a car for a while that I gave up, and now I can say it is much easier for me in some ways when I keep a small apartment and use public transportation. I’m not sure things like land can be owned, after all. I could think that I owned a house or land, and the taxes could be too much to keep it, the government could decide to take it with eminent domain, it wouldn’t really be mine anyway-not here. Where I grew up in New York, the land had been occupied by different cultures over the ages, none of whom I would think of as owning it. The words of people who lived here before us come to mind, how can you own the sky, water, land? A version of Chief Seattle’s response to the US government offer to buy land is here:

I do have an American dream. It is the one where I know how to plant and cultivate and share, and cook and build and create, and my neighbors do to and so we are never without meaningful work. It’s the one where we are a nation of “we” helping meet all of each other’s needs and not a nation of “I”. Some days I’m afraid we all like having “things” and money way to much to ever have a real revolution. Hearing so many voices raised all around the world this October 15th, I felt like waking up to a new day, where the dream was not just for sleep but for waking.

What’s your idea of a dream nation, community, world? Please leave a comment to share views with readers, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

You may also be interested in Short Stories “Death and the Dream” available at



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35 thoughts on “The Myth of Ownership

  1. My wife and I have had to come to a stark realization this past year: The only things we actually own is…nothing! With the economy as it is, we have had to sell some things that we would have previously not even thought about selling, things that we close to our hearts and gifts we have even given each other. But, what is ownership really? The occupation or holding onto of one thing? This is a limited definition as this is a timed occupation. We are only able to hold onto something for so short an amount of time that it is really meaningless to attempt to hold onto things that are “fleeting”. That’s why I think things like wars for expansion are silly, and nothing but a waste of time and the most precious resource: human life. Life is what is really important, and how you spend your life and who you spend it with. My family’s rational for having to sell some of our possessions was that it was going to bring us closer as a family, and once the distractions were removed we could improve our relationships and really spend quality time together.

  2. Thank you for this moving post Jennifer and sharing Chief Seattle’s reply. On the show Mad Men set in the 1960s, ad men Pete Campbell defines the American Dream to an elevator operator as everyone is going to have a house, a car, and a color television. How simple that sounds now when I think of our modern demands of a house (always remodeling), two cars, gadgets (always upgrading), cable designer clothes (but not made in America as the fashionable threads on Mad Men were in the 1960s), etc. We can learn a lot about what matters most from Chief Seattle.

    My American dream involves a world of thriving libraries, arts, main streets and small businesses, family farms, parks, charities, healthcare, caring for animals and all the sacred beings Chief Seattle mentioned in his moving response.

    1. Michael @NebulaLights thanks for the visit and for sharing the link about borders. Natural borders are one thing, like rivers and canyons, but political borders always seemed like a very odd concept to me. How did people ever come up with all those borders and keep track of them? What are we keeping in, or out? I love the internet for connecting us across these silly, imaginary lines.

  3. Great speech. sadly this world has become too individualistic and materialistic.
    You don’t appreciate the little things until they become all that you have, thats when you realize that those little things are the REAL things in life.
    Again, great post 🙂


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