I was reading Utne Reader the other day and saw the word consumer in a different way than I ever had. Americans are consistently described as consumers in the media. After 9/11, our own president told us to “go shopping.”
Why are we characterized as consumers? How did our society become a hotbed of consumption? Is this what we truly want?
I repaired to the OED. The proper etymology of consume is Latin; its roots mean to take up completely or to devour. We do seem to be devourers of things, the material aspects of life. Wal-Martians, if you will.
But then, my tricky etymological mind took another look.
Instead of consuming, what if we are, instead, consumed? When we are consumed by something, we are passionate about it. We lose time. We are so focused on whatever draws our attention that it consumes us.
The OED took me to another word: consummate. Con- means altogether; summa is Latin for utmost, supreme, extreme. Think of how this word is used. Someone is the consummate gentleman or lady. Or, as a verb, one consummates a relationship.
Consummate has the implication of fire in it. Fire consumes wood. We too can be consumed by fire, the fire of passionate living.
When we live in a world where we look to be consumed instead of consumers, we focus on the utmost, the supreme. It’s a summa cum laude existence. We are consummate beings whenever we attend to that in which we excel. I, for one, choose consummation, being consumed, over consuming every time.