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Sonny Bill Willams and Fetishizing

Our favourite New Zealand sportsman was in the news once again this weekend for both his rugby and for his extraordinary off-field act of generosity - and he taught us an important lesson on fetishizing in the process.

Our favourite New Zealand sportsman was in the news once again this weekend for both his rugby and for his extraordinary off-field act of generosity - and he taught us an important lesson on fetishizing in the process.

No, I'm not talking about that fetishizing, I'm talking about the act of "attaching an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing."

Sonny Bill's medal to be precise. Which is where a pitch invader comes into the story.

Charlie Lines, a young rugby fan in attendance at Twickenham, ran onto the pitch in an attempt to get some autographs as the All Blacks were on their victory lap. Instead he got "smoked", as Sonny put it afterwards, and was tackled to the floor by a security guard twice his size.

Sonny, feeling sorry for the fella, led him back to his mother and gifted him with his winner's medal to the delight of Charlie. Cue, utter social media meltdown.

But what is interesting is, why Sonny Bill did what he did.

When asked, he said, "I know he'll appreciate it and when he gets older he'll be telling his kids - that's more special than it just hanging on a wall.

"Better for it to be hanging around his neck than mine. I'm sure he'll remember it for a while."

When pushed further he said, "The bonds that we have as brothers in the changing room - the medal represents that.

"But it is more about going back in there and seeing the smiles on the boys' faces and knowing that we have accomplished something that no other All Black team has ever done is pretty special."

Sonny Bill Williams gave away his gold medal to someone else for whom it would have much greater meaning and a greater impact. He just kept the memory and the achievement.


That got me thinking: how many objects do we have lying around the house that are kept for symbolic purposes and which we hardly ever use? Could we get rid of them and put them to a better use?

Clothes are the obvious ones that spring to mind.

If you're like me you will only wear a fraction of your clothes regularly, and the rest you keep for once in a blue moon. Some of them are several sizes too small or too big for you and most of them you wouldn't even notice if they were gone.

And yet our cupboards are rammed.

Actually Marx hit upon this concept of fetishism back in the day too. He complained that in capitalist societies we buy and sell commodities for money, and so soon we see the value of an object not in the amount of labour that went into it and how useful it is to us, but as somehow inhered in the object itself.

Take jewellery for example.

We hoard it up, more and more over our lives, convincing ourselves of its sentimental value, its investment value, and how regularly we wear it, but again, like Sonny Bill's Winner's Medal, ultimately jewellery spends most of its time locked away in a box in a bedroom.

It's actually pretty useless most of the time.

We have become a race who fetishize inanimate objects by imbuing them with special meaning and powers, and caring about them far more than they are actually worth.

It is interesting to note that fetishizing is also defined as "worshipping an inanimate object for its special powers" - precisely what so many traders in markets do every day when they buy and sell currencies. That paper is worth precisely nothing if not for what value society has magically imbued into it.

Then there's the attic test: What goes into thy attic is not needed in thy life forever more.

Just go into your attic today and you'll see it crammed full of old toys, knickknacks, broken furniture, old paperwork and journals, and no end of other odds and ends.

Could we throw these away? Could we recycle them? Could we give them to those less fortunate than us?

Of course we could.

But there is something else we all have that we should be sharing.

It is a connection with our surroundings, with the people who matter in our lives, and the deep feeling of contentment at our personal achievements and a confidence and peace within ourselves.

It is seeing things for what they really are and valuing value itself, not its receptacles.

It is what that designer shirt says about you and what that gifted gold earrings from your mum represents - as opposed to the shirt itself, or the earring.

And the brilliant thing about sharing "true value" is that, like Sonny Bill's achievement of winning the World Cup and having that brotherhood in his team, "true value" is not something that decreases inside you when you share it - it only increases.

True it might be difficult to give away these things and to break our idols, but then that's why not everyone is Sonny Bill.

Let's take a lesson from the All Black Hulk and start clearing out our cupboards both mental and physical, and sharing the best of what we have to give with others.

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