Alive vs. Not-Alive


A parent wrote that her young AS daughter had trouble (from her mother's POV, of course) distinguishing between things that are alive and things that are not alive. As a result, the child sometimes would resist the parent's attempts to get rid of objects (the example given was a wrapper that the child considered a friend). I responded:

In general (but keep in mind that I've never been in parent), I think it's okay for people to retain all objects (living or otherwise) with which they are able to maintain an ethical relationship. So if your daughter has the capacity to relate adequately with the wrapper (i.e., if she can give it the care it needs without causing problems for other beings), it might be just as well to stop trying to separate them. On the other hand, she will need to begin developing the ability to understand what such a relationship requires.

Relating (forming relationships) with objects is a good way to feel at home and to feel some measure of control over one's environment. It can become overwhelming quickly, though, when you have to make all such relationships ethical/caring ones. I am able to live with several hundred teddy bears (a good many of them made by me) because the amount of care they require is within the range of the amount of emotional and physical energy I can muster. If I tried to live with that many people or lizards or birds or green plants, I wouldn't last long. The people would erode me most quickly, but even the plants would become burdensome within a week.

I stubbornly resist changes in my environment because adjusting to change saps my mental energy (and my emotional energy, too). I think it's okay (necessary, in fact) to establish limits. Everyone has limits. If you live alone and you don't impose your own limits on "stuff," eventually you will get in trouble. You may get sick, you may cause a fire, you may get kicked out by your landlord; at the very least, you will run out of room, and, long before that (for most people), you will run out of the ability to relate adequately with the elements of your increasingly cluttered surroundings. If you live with other people, limits must be negotiated. Your "stuff" can't take precedence over other people's "stuff," nor over their health and comfort (unless you can negotiate trade-offs on comfort).

In other words, I am not sure it is important to establish 100% clear distinctions between "alive" and "not alive." Physicists have learned that such hard-and-fast boundaries don't exist, and the same is true in much of the world-as-seen-by-biologists.

Different "stuff" calls for different kinds of relationships with us. If I am relating to a bear who needs to eat and shit and get physical exercise, I need to be willing to respond to those needs. If I am relating to a teddy bear, I need to be willing to respond to that bear's need for protection from damp, shade from direct sunlight, and an occasional dusting. Both bears require attention and caring. If I am not willing and able to provide attention and caring, I should not try to keep either bear in my life. Same goes for a wrapper, in my opinion.

My bears also get love and provide companionship.



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