The “yellow pages” arrived the other day. You know—the telephone book with the listings and ads for the businesses in the area. It’s a relatively small book: 8 ½” by 7” but thick: 560 pages long. It covers only two counties: Lake and Geauga here in northeast Ohio. Before I put the book on the shelf, I sat down for a few minutes and leafed through it. I wanted to see what this book says about our contemporary society and what it reveals about our needs, values, fears, and priorities.
The first thing I looked up in the Yellow Pages were churches. After all, I am a nun. I found 4 pages of churches. The Baptists have the most churches with 24. But if we combine the Methodist with the United Methodists, they have 24 too. The Catholics and the Lutherans come next with fifteen each. I saw no fancy ads for any of the churches. Just listings. I imagine the advertising budget for most churches is pretty small. Next I looked up restaurants. I found 28 pages of restaurants. I wondered: Are we more interested in getting physical nourishment than in receiving spiritual nourishment?
Next I looked up physicians. I expected to see a lot of pages for doctors. Sure enough, there were 12 pages worth of doctors. Then, I looked up dentists. There were 12 ½ pages of dentists. When I looked up insurance, I found 10 pages worth of insurance companies. That’s understandable. After all, we have many, many things to insure–most of the items falling under these four categories: auto, home, life, and business. I noticed that florists had 7 pages of listings. I’m glad sending flowers is still important to us.
I expected to find a lot of pages for auto dealerships and repair shops. After all, we Americans love our cars and would be lost without them. Sure enough, the yellow pages had 19 pages devoted to car sales and car repairs. Heat contractors had 8 pages; air-conditioning had 6. Plumbers too had a respectable 6 pages. (I really value plumbers. We had water gushing from our living room ceiling a few years back, and when a friend showed up and made it stop, I was ready to kiss him on both cheeks!) I also learned that burglar alarms had 5 pages, computers had 4, and funeral parlors had not quite 2 pages.
But what profession do you think had the most pages in the yellow pages? Take a moment to think. (Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock). Ready? (Drum roll please!) The answer is: attorneys! Yes, our two-county yellow pages has 30 pages of attorneys! Many of them have big fancy ads. Now what do all those pages say about us and/or our legal system?
We can detect our society’s values in many ways—even by leafing through the yellow pages.
Did anything surprise you in this post? In what other ways do you detect our society’s values?