Last night my two boys (7 & 5) got into a fight over a matchbox-sized car while I stepped away from them for all of two minutes. It was at the end of the day and they were tired. Personal ownership of items is so wrapped up in identity at these ages that taking things away is often painful. It’s like a part of yourself is ripped from you.
Maybe that’s why Buddhism and early Christian asceticism have such a deep focus on detachment from the world. The truth is that our identity has very little if anything at all to do with our possessions. Once we figure out at a young age that the world is one object among many, we find ways to control it and manipulate it to suit our needs. The problem is that we control so very little of the world and the notion that we can direct it as we wish is the biggest lie we tell ourselves.
So with all that anxiety driven by emerging egos my boys fought over a car. They both scratched each other and did they ever cry. We had a short discussion afterwards about how they felt after fighting. The conclusion was unanimous: fighting hurts.
I later asked my 7-year-old what started the whole thing and he told me about the car he and his younger brother fought over. I asked him, “Did either of you get the car after all that?” He said no. “So doesn’t it seem silly that you fought over a car that neither of you had whole time you were fighting, that neither of you has now, and both of you are happy without it anyway?” He just smiled.
The moment our sense of self gets trapped in the lie that the stuff of this earth is the source of who we are at our deepest levels is the moment that we begin a cycle of suffering.
Let’s not fight over such stuff.