Consumerist Ways

A few months ago I was asked to meet my mother at the local Sam's club for a quick chat and transfer of goods-- a pair of pants she made for me in exchange for a big thank you and warm hug. Seems easy? That's what I thought until I arrived.

Approximately 3 years ago I boycotted Wal-Mart on what I thought were solid grounds: unfair wages, purchasing products from impoverished countries at ridiculous prices, no respect for local economy, etc. Over time my reasons for avoiding that store has changed (some stay the same), and my weariness of big-box stores has increased; I try to shop local and purchase only (mostly) what I need. I avidly avoid the consumerist centers, and instead focus my time on promoting fair trade awareness. My actions, or lack thereof, have produced very negative reactions within myself, such as those I felt when I stepped inside that Sam's club.

Rows and rows of flat screen televisions flashing bright blue pictures, salesman waving and persuading "Come! Try! You'll love this," children screaming, endless ceilings, grandmothers complaining of joint aches, fried chicken, bulk mayonnaise, and cheers of delightful prices. I aimed for the area of my mom but instead became lost in a sea of buyers, my eyes darting back and forth looking for that familiar face. Never before had I truly experience "deer in the headlights" syndrome, and stumbling upon such a shocking place stabbed into me. I was scared. I wanted to run. Cry. Hug my mom. I needed to leave, but I could not find her! I frantically called her cell phone and she directed me her way-- a quit area next to the rows of clothing in uniform colors, hailing from China.

A quick respite, announcement that the pants I came for were not sewn in time, a hug goodbye, and I swam back through the masses. Checkers shouting "Ma'am, this lane is open," hallways of hormone-injected meats, and signs up SUPER SAVINGS!

I hung my head in shame-- shame for being there, but also shame for all the people that didn't realize what they were doing. They were promoting the rape of the poor. They were taking advantage of cheap labor off which employees struggle to live (but is often their only income). They were feeding their incessant drive to have more, be more, more more more. Of course, their actions were inadvertent and not malicious, but still harmful. I felt shame for my society.

The reason for revisiting these thoughts is this: I spent the afternoon "window shopping." My aunt and I went to Old Town Albuquerque where we browsed the gift shops. Some of the little stores were genuine-- handmade jewelry by native americans, or woven rugs by local peoples, BUT, most of the shops were tourist traps where they make a pretty dime off their cheap imports sold at outrageous prices. Thoughts of wanting to purchase a gift for a good friend, and realizing there was little to purchase that would take away the guilt of knowing whatever it is I give would come at a cost much higher than money: someone else's potential happiness, overwhelmed me.

It's a moral dilemma. I dare not tell the young, single mother that the money she has saved by shopping at discount stores is "evil." I dare not suggest to the jobless, homeless man that he shop elsewhere, where prices are higher and charity give-outs not as frequent. In fact, I try my hardest not to pass judgment on any patrons of the above-referenced stores; life is hard and we all want the best for ourselves and loved ones. We're all trying to have our own quality of life.

So, what do I dare? I dare to suggest awareness.

I'm not free if consumer-sin. I drive (on occasion). I listen to music on my fancy mp3 player. I eat candy and yearn for certain belongings that I cannot afford. Often I do my grocery shopping at a chain store. But, I'm working on improving my lifestyle, and that begins with awareness. I'm learning about economics, I'm striving to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I've dedicated much of my life to service. I use a bicycle for most of my transportation. Every day I have new thoughts, such as knitting my own dish rags instead of cycling through sponge after sponge. Or, perhaps, attempting to have clothing made by myself and family, or purchasing used goods.

I'm sorry to myself and others that I do not live more of what my mind preaches; I am drawn to the path of least resistance. But damnit, I'm trying. So a final question for you:

Just how much impact do you have?

And better yet, how much impact can we have as a society?

Comments

  1. I don't mean to discredit the positive actions some of these stores take part in, and I make note that larger corporations often have much greater capacity to give to charity and attempt to promote wellness in their customers and communities, but the economic basis on which these stores are founded is that of decreasing the end cost for the consumer while increasing profit, and driving out all competition in their path. Because of the relentless drive to lower prices for the consumer, stores like Wal-mart purchase from countries and companies with no child-labor laws, unsafe work environments, and ultimately do as much harm as, if not more than, good.

    This blog was not a tirade against any particular stores, but a criticism of our consumerist ways. So many of us want more than we need, buy more than we can afford, and throw it all away in the end.

    My final challenge was not suggesting you, or anyone else, should stop shopping at wal-mart, but instead realize the impact we all have on a global level and what we each can do. Small steps add up to big strides, but not without personal awareness.

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