Pride of ownership

I never really understood pride of ownership. Owning almost anything is a pain in the neck, a regretful necessity more than a blessing in my book. And the moment you feel some sort of permanence about it, you’re reminded of the way of all flesh.

So basically, ownership is a reminder that you’ll die.

Think of all the things you can own. A car. Six-pack abs. A painting. A painting you made yourself. A reputation. A black eye. A pet. A business. Debt. Responsibility.

Whether that ownership brings any pleasure or not may depend not on what it is that you own so much as how it came about, what you did in order own it.

If I’d painted the Sistine Chapel I could imagine feeling a sense of pride to the point of becoming a docent just so I could let people know it was my ceiling as I showed them round. That’s owning the work, and the skill that went into it.

There’s probably something similar going on with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his two-sizes too small t-shirts. He’s justifiably and perennially proud to have created a body his shirt could only ever struggle to conceal.

But buying a house, for example, is just the beginning of a whole raft of worries and is usually only done out of necessity. You need to get on the ladder, own a house, otherwise you will miss out on the opportunity to do so. Something circular going on there that betrays the economy’s requirement for people to own houses.

It’s probably a variation on the theme of stuff. Stuff and ownership go together, and as a society we do place a premium on stuff. But who hasn’t breathed a sigh of relief, felt the weight lifted, when renouncing and reducing stuff? I reckon it’s not getting rid of the stuff that’s the relief, it’s just no longer owning it, feeling free of the responsibility for it. That’s why it’s no good sticking it all into storage just to get it out of the house; it’s still there, it’s still yours, and the monthly storage fee is there as a reminder. You still own it.

The problem may lie in the fact that with houses, with cars — with stuff — we generally didn’t do much but acquire it.  Ownership without achievement or effort. Unless you can take lasting pleasure in the reflection of value from the glint of your diamond or the roar of your Ferrari, you will probably soon tire of it and, for the most part, forget about it.

But not the house you built. Yourself. Or the music you composed.  The dog you rescued. Or the car you painstakingly restored. There’s pride in the process toward ownership that lasts; in these cases, ownership embodies your creativity, work, skill, achievements, frustrations and victories small and large. You didn’t just exchange a bunch of cash for something someone built for you.

Patrons of the arts, I think, tried to get round this by ‘owning’ an artist. This way they might get from their ownership a little reflected pride of creation. They can repeatedly enjoy the effect that reviewing their roster of artists has on dinner guests. But, ultimately, they will be disappointed. Great for the artist, though, who — if at all sympathetic — may offer to help his or her patron learn to paint, compose, or sculpt.

But the message for most of us: ownership sooner or later sucks. Better to lose the Rolex. But find the dog.