Sunday, November 30, 2008

Let's Talk About Consumerism

I'm sure that by now, most of us have heard about the Wal Mart employee that was trampled to death by shoppers, and how those same shoppers also broke down the doors to the store.

Really? Is this the society we live in? That just to save that bit of money (OK, yes, I understand they had some good deals) acting so aggressively is OK? Are you serious? How do you completely ignore someone who has been knocked to the ground? It's just boggling that people would let someone lay on the ground, while other people rushed around and over them. I would also imagine that at some point this person made some sound of pain or groaning...and they were ignored. This is utterly shameful.

Yesterday, I was in Target. In line in front of me was a man, probably around 60ish. He was moaning about prices while holding his cash, and not giving it to the cashier so she could finish ringing him up. I suspect he was trying to angle for some kind of "oh, let me give you a discount" treatment from the cashier. I'm not kidding when I say this man was complaining about "how many people I have to buy gifts for...I just don't have that much money...My money doesn't go as far as it once did." It's a good thing I wasn't the cashier, because I wouldn't have handled him with the grace and patience she did.

Both the Wal Mart and Target stories are examples of just how appalling I think the Christmas shopping season has become. (Note: yes, I know there are other religions with gift-giving holidays/traditions in December, but let's face it, most people buying gifts are buying for Christmas celebrations.)

When we look at shopping for the holidays, consider:

1. You don't "need" to buy gifts for all those people. I don't know a whole lot about Christianity, but I'm pretty sure the bible doesn't say "buy gifts for everyone you know, to celebrate the birth of Christ." People are so far gone from what Christmas is really supposed to be about, and use it as an excuse to buy an over-abundance of gifts (many of which people don't want or don't care about). Even as a non-Christian, I know Christmas isn't about how many gifts you give or receive, and I wish more people would remember this.

2. Most of the people reading this live in the US, which means that you're living in a first world economy, and you have some level of affluence (or at least you have a computer and an internet connection). Remember your affluence. I'm still 98% unemployed, but I'm still better off than people in third world countries in that I have money in the bank and could get a job if I really pursued it. There is a recession going on, and it has spread throughout most of the world now. Think about that. Really. A lady I know can't afford the gifts her teenage kids want, so she's going to have them volunteer for some charities this holiday season, to show them how good they have it already and that the newest electronics/whatever they want, isn't that important in the grand scheme of things because there are people and teens in their community who have nothing.

3. If you are going to buy gifts for people, do it with care and thought. Personally, I am a big fan of consumable gifts. Every year or so, I buy my mother some perfume. I used to give some older relatives a variety of food stuffs, and they loved that. I take friends out to dinner or for drinks for their birthdays. The latter creates great memories, instead of giving them a CD that gets lost in the depths of their CD collections. Consider making donations in people's names, and then presenting them with a card notifying them of the donation. Or just talk to people and say "Hey, do you mind if we not give gifts this year?" You'll probably be surprised at how many people will breathe a sigh of relief as they say "Yes, that would be fine." Send cards to let people know you are thinking of them over the holidays. Or, just pick up the phone and give someone your time and talk to them for 20 or 30 minutes. If you are going to buy a gift, find out what the person wants or can use. My father always used to say that the perfect gift was one that he wouldn't buy for himself. Gifts should be treats, not obligations. If a gift is an obligation, I recommend rethinking why you are giving that gift in the first place.

I know that we're in a recession right now, and that spending money helps the economy. My point is to not get so crazy that people are killed, or that what should be a happy time becomes a "I don't have enough money" burden. If you're of the Christian faith, think about what Christmas means from a religious perspective, and remember that buying carloads of gifts isn't the best way to commemorate the holiday.

Gift giving should not be a competitive sport.


Phil said...

Great post - hope it's widely read by Christians and non-Christians alike. Consumerism is crushing us to death in some cases literally.

Jerry said...

I couldn't agree more. I was overseas when I heard it and it didn't help any of the image of Americans being consumerist-vapid-stuff buying mongers. Your sentiments are right on target and we need to remember all that we have in this country. Every time we turn on the electricity, take a shower or get into our warm beds, we should remember that much of the world does not have these "luxuries". And, they are luxuries. It's an accident of birth that we are born into this society of affluence and I think it's our duty as citizens of the world to give back and provide some insurance for future generations. We can only hope that our knowledge and generosity will lead to change?

Associate Money said...

When I first saw that article, I was flabbergasted.

Really, how can we just trample over another fellow human being just to be the first to grab at whatever discounts await inside.

This is barbaric behavior and if it has happened in a third world primitive country, I can understand.

But no, it happens right on our shore. America which is a first-world country but with hardly any grace.