Quote of the Day

Sunday, December 25, 2011

peace in WalMart and goodwill towards shoppers

"Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn't come from a store."
-Dr. Seuss

No, your eyes do not deceive you, this is indeed a new post. It must be a Christmas miracle!! Really though, I know it has been quite a while. But thanks to the Christmas holiday I happen to have a bit of free time to relax and reflect, and what would Christmas be without a reflection on consumerism and the true Holiday spirit??

We all know the deal. The Holiday displays go up November 1st, while jack-o-lanterns still grin their demented pumpkin-y grins on front porches. Department and drugstores a-like start pelting our ears with the same 5 Christmas carols on loop. Downtown shopping areas become overrun with crazed, zombie-like mobs intent on spending as much on the perfect holiday gifts as their credit limits will allow. And every year, no matter how bad the economy gets, the insanity just seems to get worse and worse.

I don't think anything illustrates how out of control this Christmas consumerism has gotten better than the medley of incidents that occurred this year on that aptly-named phenomenon known as "Black Friday”. Last Novemer a madwoman in Porter Valley (an affluent neighborhood in the LA area) used pepper spray to get the jump on her fellow Walmart shoppers, hurting 20 people, including some children (one of these, a 13 year old girl, was also punched in the face by another customer). In New York City, some shoppers, enraged that Hollister's flagship store was not opening at midnight, broke into the store instead and stole merchandise.

Shoppers in two different Walmart locations were shot in the parking lot in apparent robbery attempts and a woman in Connecticut was carjacked outside of a Lowe's. A video that's gone viral on youtube shows a man unconcsious and bleeding from the face--he had been knocked down by police after allegedly putting a video game in his belt to free his hands so he could pick up his grandson as the crowd surged around them. At a Target in West Virginia, a 61-year-old man collapsed and later died, meanwhile people continued to shop, some even stepping over his body or walking around him, according to local reports. And the tales of ugly (mis)behavior go on and on.

At the very least it should be common sense that a holiday that's supposed to be about family and love, about peace and goodwill towards all, is not in accordance with hurting fellow human beings in order to get a good deal on china for Mom or a Playstation for little Jimmy. Whether you're religious or not, I would think you could get on board with that. But the kind of behavior exhibited in these and other incidences on “Black Friday” represents not just unfortunate greed and materialism, but also a disturbing lack of empathy for fellow human beings.

So how the hell do people come to this? When exactly did holiday shopping become a brutal combat sport? A vicious match to the death for kitchenware and electronics? These are not starving people battling over life-sustaining nutrition, not infected folks clamoring for a limited supply of antidote. These people are fighting, trampling and maiming their fellow human beings for x-boxes, waffle irons, crockpots. Bath towels. Hardly seems worth the risk to health, sanity--even perhaps your life. And personally, I don't think it's worth the sacrifice of your dignity and humanity either.

I'll be the first to admit that I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the parties. I love cozying up in front of roaring fires (or high def yule logs). I love the smell of pine trees in living rooms and the warm, spiced (spiked) drinks. I love the societal blessing to indulge in obscene amounts of cheese and chocolate. But I hate what rampant consumerism and materialism have done to this holiday. Yes, there is a certain warm sense of satisfaction in finding just the right gift for someone, a certain pleasant surprise and feeling of being loved in getting a well-thought out present from another. But I feel like Christmas can be just as enjoyable without all of the bows and whistles, all of the stressful holiday shopping.

It’s a natural human impulse, to a certain degree, to think of yourself and your immediate family and friends first. However, to be willing to harm others to buy them the latest Christmas gifts?? Seems unreasonable. But it’s the same “us vs them” attitude that has brought prejudice, war and genocide upon our world for centuries. And now it seems it’s become even pettier and closer to home than ever. And it’ s frightening. Because when we fail to see others as our neighbors, as our sisters and brothers in the human race, as fellow people worthy of respect and love and compassion; that’s when the human race starts to spiral ever downwards. If it's every person for themselves at the local WalMart how can we expect to avoid war and carnage on a global scale?

Just think of how much better of a place the world might be if all of these Black Friday shoppers, instead of camping out in front of store and shoving and pepper-spraying their way to gift bargains, would instead donate their time and money to people in need all over the world. Think how good things could be if everyone taught their children the importance of loving and respecting all of their fellow human beings instead of the importance of material possessions. If they taught children about the value of living within their means and not expecting and demanding the latest high-tech gadgets and toys that may not be afforable. It’s an impossible dream, maybe. But hey, when better to dream than Christmas??

I think that Christmas is the perfect time to remember to be mindful of others and to exercise compassion. And for me it’s also a good reminder of the distinction between "want" and "need”, which I’ve recently been trying to be more conscious of in myself, and which I believe may be ever more increasingly crucial to keep aware of in this age of shamelessly opportunistic advertising and rampant consumerism. Because no matter how many things I think I want or “need”, when I reflect on it I have to realize just how lucky I am for the many things (both material and intangible) that I have had in my life and the unexpected blessings that have come my way in the past year.

So Merry Christmas, I hope that you’ve had a joyous holiday and I wish you all the best for the new year. And please, whatever you do, do not try to shop on Black Friday next year. I don't really need an LED light-up ice cream maker with ipod speakers and I like you just the way you are: intact.

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