“…the more I buy the more I’m bought. And the more I’m bought the less I cost.” – Joe Pug – Hymn #101
The holidays are upon us with a vengeance here in the U.S., commercialism steamrolling across our media saturated landscape with all the subtlety of, well, a steamroller. We can barely get through Halloween before the inflatable Santas are billowing around in stores. And we plunge frenetically into the cornucopia of Thanksgiving,with apologies to Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” “quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice” to get right to Christmas and Hanukkah and whatever secular opportunities for giving and getting we can carve out in between.
But to what ends? It’s funny in the movie, depicting a post Depression era Christmas. But today? In a society awash with so much stuff that every American produces over 4 lbs of municipal solid waste per day, accounting for half of residential garbage? The rest of our ‘waste stream’ comes from the manufacturing, retailing, and commercial trade that mostly feeds our lust for stuff.
We’ve advocated here before for Adbuster’s Buy Nothing Day , an international day of protest against consumerism celebrated
annually just after Thanksgiving. Buy Nothing Day is specifically a backlash against Black Friday (or Woeful Wednesday, as the case may be – the image at left was taken today, the day before Thanksgiving, of eager shoppers setting up in front of a Best Buy in Tampa). Adbuster’s calls Black Friday “a massive, absurd, and destructive consumerist machine” that conspires to make us max out credit cards buying things we don’t need to maintain a consumer society that’s broken. Buy Nothing Day is an opportunity to stop, and “remember what real living is all about.”
The video below, titled Children See, Children Do, produced for NAPCAN, an Australian agency that works to prevent child abuse, illustrates powerfully our influence on the generation that comes after us. A society in which we move from one immediate gratification to another, to the next new thing and the next new thing after that, is a society in which we become short sighted, disconnected and trigger haired.
The gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” widens, but the problem may be as much about the things we think we have to have – money, big houses, hip cars, expensive electronics, jewelry, trendy clothes – as about the gap itself. Poverty of the soul is the Midas touch of this hectic, shallow, consumer driven society.
Do we really want our children to believe that happiness comes from a store? That material goods are the only measure of our worth? That camping out in a shopping center for two days is is the proper use of a tent intended for the communal experience of woods and wind and water? That buying is more important than creating? That things are more important than people?
If that’s the only legacy we can give them, that’s the only legacy they, in turn, can leave, and nothing will change.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re not gaining anything of value, for ourselves or our society, on this hamster wheel of consumerism, dependent on our commercial brethren for the shiny things of our ever fleeting happiness. We can Make things better, create a gentler holiday, a season of thoughtfulness, of intentionality, of caring and compassion.
Maybe this holiday season, we can give something more meaningful to one another than anything a store can provide, something of immeasurable and incomparable value, like our time and attention, our conversation and consideration, the warmth of our heart, the craft of our hands, and the gift of our kindness, and perhaps regain some of that priceless commodity, our humanity, in the process.
Happy Thanks Giving.