I’m sure some folks are going to get aggravated when they read this article, but I feel compelled to write it. I find myself completely appalled at how obsessed we have become with shopping. How or why retailers and those that embrace their goods can think it’s okay to be camping outside a store at midnight to get a TV or other gadget is beyond me. If we look back the process of having to be able to shop any day of the week at any hour has paralleled the loss of connection to spending time with family, friends or even ourselves. Brian Walsh, adjunct professor at the Toronto School of Theology, warns that consumerism is the new idol in our culture. He states that our purpose is to be faithful consumptive units to help feed the global economy. Globalization isn’t just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard of proportions. Progress is its underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image” Stores used to close at five or six and people went home to their families and ate dinner together and chilled out. Then stores stayed opened later but weekends were still freed up. Then Saturday became available and then finally Sunday was added since why should that day be free of being able to purchase something! After all you need to do your part to keep the economy afloat. Well, I’m trying to figure out how I survived my childhood. I never saw anyone walking the streets emaciated because they weren’t able to go to the supermarket on Sunday, nor did any of my family need to take anti-anxiety medication because they couldn’t go to a department store to buy a new piece of clothing. I think we have lost our collective minds. There are many excuses we can come up with for why stores should be open 24/7, but for the most part they’re lame. We may be gratifying some needs or desires by accepting the consumer mentality but we have lost a great deal more. Our financial futures have been compromised, as well as our ability to connect to activities that could serve us mentally, physically and spiritually . But most importantly, it’s only “stuff”, and no one ever gets buried with their stuff, unless you’re a Pharaoh, and their long gone.
The holiday season is upon us and I am trying diligently not to feed my inner curmudgeon. I must admit to having a lot of mixed feelings about Christmas. I totally embrace Thanksgiving, because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy knowing I will have a wonderful meal with those I care about.
I realize that I can create a similar experience with Christmas day and I have. My need to run out and buy gifts that I hope will be appreciated by those that receive them has become a thing of the past. I now celebrate by sharing experiences that give my family and friends memories of us being together.
My own memories of the holidays are rife with nostalgia. I remember spending time with my grandmother making cookies and breads that she would give to friends and family. I received very few gifts and I still remember them because they lasted a very long time; a small toy piano, a red shiny wagon, a porcelain doll, a music box. They did not come all together, but one at a time, one Christmas at a time.
Perhaps part of my dismay is how wrapped our culture has become in the need to accumulate hordes of stuff that often ends up having no meaning. I have been witness to children ripping open package after package of contents that end up in a pile in their room. Their delight in any of it soon fades. We have all heard the metaphor that “too much of a good thing is too much”! Not only does this old adage make sense but it’s also something neuroscientists have discovered resonates with our brains. When the pleasure center of the brain is over stimulated it becomes harder and harder to feel pleasure.
Our 21st century culture has definitely created a mindset that fosters this concept. Consumerism has practically become a religion in America. We have slowly removed the possibility of having any respite from stores being open. There are probably a handful of days left and I am certain they too will soon go by the wayside. When did the retail industry become such a necessary part of the American experience? I truly would like to know how and when the transition occurred. Is our economy so entrenched in needing retail dollars to sustain itself that without them we would spiral into a huge depression? Not a day goes by without constant advertisements reminding us to buy, buy, buy. Many of the messages often allude to the fact that we should feel guilty if we are not purchasing something.
The media spends time reporting on how much we’ve spent this year compared to last year and shows us pictures of crowds pushing their way into stores that decided to open at 3AM on black Friday. Some people were injured in the wake of frenzied consumers who were fearful that they might not get their bargains .
How about spending an equal amount of time showcasing individuals that are volunteering their time helping their fellow man, or those that are overseas defending our country? How much do we need, and when will we have enough?
Perhaps it’s time to spend more time filling our souls than emptying our pocketbooks.