Yesterday bringing in the newspaper took two hands—one to carry the news portion and the other the bundle of ads. In our town that means the news weighed less than a pound and the advertisements a good five pounds. It was a lopsided workout to be sure.
The ads went straight to the recycle bin. I try not to go shopping on Black Friday. Not because of any ethical considerations but because I don’t like crowds of people. On a day when I’m tired from having cooked and cleaned for a good week the last thing I want to do is shop.
Unfortunately, today I did have to venture out but only to the grocery store. I expected it to be a little crazy too but it was a ghost town. I loved it. Checking out the clerk asked me why I wasn’t at the mall.
“I’m not up for that,” I said.
“That’s good. I think it’s awful. The whole Black Friday thing is wrong,” she said.
While she was talking I noticed a penny in front of me. As I reached to pick it up I heard her say,
“People spend too much.”
I smiled and nodded ambivalently. I wasn’t up for tackling the issue.
Eating lunch an hour later I noticed a steady stream of anti-Black Friday comments on Facebook. One from a woman who went so far as to say folks should boycott it. It was in all CAPS for emphasis. Of course there were also plenty of people posting about the great deals they’d got. I was taken aback by all of it. I don’t remember it being such a polarizing issue last year.
At the Thanksgiving table the topic had come up and Luke and I got a chance to re-tell our story of camping out at Circuit City right before Christmas to get his grandpa one of the first Nintendo Wii game systems to hit town. It was an epic adventure that involved snow, blankets, standing our ground, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Neither of us had ever done anything like it. We still puff up with pride over our conquest and his grandparents still love the Wii. It’s a memory he and I will always cherish.
That’s the positive. The negative of course is the “consumerism”—the widely held belief by many that it is good for people to spend a lot of money on goods and services. I think this is what the gal at the supermarket was speaking to.
I get it. I see it and at times I’m guilty of it. Not as much anymore but take a peak in my closet and you will see more pairs of blue jeans than I need. I’ve shopped to save before and I’ve forgotten I already had something and bought another. It’s ridiculous and not something I’m proud of.
But, having said that I also don’t think it’s my place to judge shoppers and this year that’s what seems to be happening. Folks aren’t just protesting the retail machine they’re protesting the people who feed it and this doesn’t sit well with me for a couple of reasons.
One is that it’s just not my place to judge. There’s no clear cut right or wrong here. I have no idea what lies at the heart of the person shopping. For some folks getting a deal might be the only way they can give a special gift to someone. Others might view the whole experience as an adventure like Luke and I had. Some people just go because it’s one of the few days off they have. The list of motivations for folks is long as the list that Santa gets from a six year old and nothing on it requires my stamp of approval.
The other reason is that it is as much luxury to criticize consumers as it is the opportunity to be one. This phenomenon is what I call a non-problem-problem. Others call it a first world problem. Only in America do we criticize our neighbors in this way. In a truly impoverished country very little time is spent worrying about the guy in the next hut and how he spends his money. Folks are too busy concerning themselves with their own survival.
What’s the anecdote? What could I have said to the gal at the checkout? Probably nothing in that setting that would have changed her mind. But maybe over a cup of coffee I could have told her about my adventure with Luke and how much fun he and his brother and cousins have playing it with their 75 year old grandparents. Perhaps I could tell her why gift giving brings me so much joy and how even when I make a gift I still have to buy the supplies. Would she have believed me when I said I want folks to save as many pennies as possible shopping so hopefully they give some away?
I don’t know but at the very least I hope she would consider some other perspectives beyond her own. Black Friday isn’t the Black Plague—judgmentalism is. The belief that your opinions are always right and equate to the “truth” will lead to far more harm than shopping. The death of society isn’t going to come at the hands of retailers it’s going to come at the hands of people who refuse to love their neighbors as themselves.