There is an expression that is used to refer to the maintaining of the status quo, or level of conformity, or struggle for par – call it what you will — when you want or have what everyone else has, that reads “keeping up with the Jones’.” Sometime back in the late 1930s, somewhere in middle America, in some small bustling community, there lived a man named Jones, who worked hard and made lots of money. He lived in a fairly big house, kept his family in the best clothing, bought only the best food and still had money left over to spare.
One day, while walking down the main street of a nearby city, whistling a happy tune, he saw in the window one of those new television sets that allowed one to watch the news being read by people rather than simply listening to people read it over the radio. Mr. Jones decided it was what his family needed and knew that no one on his street or even in the whole neighborhood had one of these new fangled contraptions. So he bought the most expensive model with all the bells and whistles and packed it up and brought it home and soon word got around that the Jones’ had one of those new television sets and wasn’t it a fine piece of technology and weren’t they lucky and wouldn’t it be grand to have one as well?
As Mr. Jones didn’t share this new toy other than to invite people to dinner so he could show it off, everyone in the neighborhood had to go out and get their own and pretty soon everyone was sitting at home watching the news being read. As such they were also watching advertisements for shiny sleek new cars. Mr. Jones, having money to spare, was the first to go out and acquire this new car, as he was the first to get a television set, and before long envy spread across town and soon everyone who was anyone had some version of this car as well.
But poor Mr. Jones couldn’t find a way to keep ahead of the rest of the people, every time he got something new, different and distinctive, the rest of the herd followed suit. He became the norm, the model, and the status quo of what was out there for the buying, and eventually became what people needed. And thus the saying was born, if you wanted and had what everyone else had, you were said to be keeping up with the Jones’.
But what if keeping up with the Jones’ meant something different, what if it became a term associated with those things you can’t see and can’t possess? What if it became the norm to be a sort of Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela or even somewhat like Sean Penn (the later years) and all the other unsung heroes in the world, and thus everyone would go around trying to outdo each other in their superhero-ish type of things, like caring for those less fortunate, standing up for and speaking out on injustices, listening to people, doing whatever is possible to avoid world-affecting altercations, even if it meant ticking off those in power?
Imagine if those people who make up the less than two per cent who own over 95 per cent of the world’s wealth were inclined to make the Jones’ peaceful warriors who live in modest housing, rode their bicycles everywhere and cared more about the environment than making a profit? What if it meant actively bringing the rest of the world up to par?
I’m not talking a so-called blissful utopian type of life like in Brave New World, where we’re all high on government issued soma-like drugs as we sit and watch the subliminal-message-filled feelie shows on television. I’m talking a balanced world where the negative and positive co-exist, where everyone has enough food, shelter with running water and flushing toilets and there’s no prejudice based on the colour of your skin or the religion you practice or how much money you have. Now that would be keeping up to the Jones’ in my book.