Written by Cameron Campbell
Who are you? And who do you want to become?
It’s been said, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Truth be told, it often can. More than that, sometimes others suffer because of our ignorance. Today it seems that many people are becoming increasingly aware of our ignorances, particularly in regard to consumerism. The United States is a country whose economy is based on our consumption of goods and services. In fact, the American economy relies on consumerism to sustain itself. So, as good citizens, we go shopping. After all, if we want our economy to grow we must shop. The American economy could be its own discussion, but let’s focus on the stuff we buy that become our belongings.
Simply put, we buy stuff because we may need it, think we need it, or just want it. It’s there, it’s cheap (“Oh look! It’s on sale!”), so why not?
“Well,” my spouse says, “we don’t know what kind of conditions the workers made this in…”
“Exactly!” I respond. “We don’t know. They could be good conditions for all we know.”
I know full well it could be the opposite. I’ve heard the stories: the Nike sweatshops, the enslaved who make our Christmas lights, factory workers committing suicide or just falling dead from being overworked.
There’s the old adage, ‘Old habits die hard.’ But what if consuming things was ingrained in us since we were infants? It’s second nature to us. Privileged with wealth, we know if we need or want something, we can go get it or order it. This ingrained mentality is not just in the rich though; the under-resourced in our country feel it too.
I first began to consider where my stuff came from when I heard about Nike’s sweatshops in Indonesia. Once a fan of Nike’s products, I began to reconsider my ways. If it was true that the people who made my shoes or clothes were treated unjustly and in a way that I would not appreciate being treated, what else of what I owned had hidden stories behind it?
With the realization that what I chose to purchase increases the demand of that particular product, I knew that meant somehow my purchasing decisions are in some way inextricably connected to other human beings – in other countries even!
I knew that my life had to change including my habits of shopping. Maybe the way in which I think also needs to begin a new process of transformation. Thoughts and feelings are often connected, meaning I will need to become aware of what I feel when shopping too.
Guilt, feelings of shame, and anxiety can be some of those feelings that arise when shopping especially when your conscience reminds you of the awful stories you’ve heard about the people who make your stuff. With the exception of shame, maybe these feelings are good road markers as we journey into a new way of living. If you didn’t feel a little pressure while shopping (after hearing the true reality of our belongings and their sources), then maybe that reveals to us a little apathy towards others. But our minds can be crafty when in the battle of decision-making.
‘Yeah, but you need it. It will save you time.’
‘You’ve been wanting this a long time.’
‘You’re overthinking it, relax.’
‘You don’t really know if the working conditions are bad or not.’
‘Today is about treating yo-self.’
Who are you? And who do you want to become?
I’ve gone back and forth when it comes time to purchasing. Am I thinking too much about where stuff comes from? Should I relax? This is the way our culture is right now. Culture can make some things possible and some things impossible. For example, you cannot find Christmas lights that have been made in the USA. So then, how will we ever light our house or Christmas tree (if we choose to get one)? It’s all about love right? So if I’m loving my family by purchasing lights that could have been produced unethically, it would be okay right? Anyway, I’ve read before that love covers a multitude of sins.
What we’re often not told about is the beautiful relationship between love, justice, and righteousness. They all go hand in hand. To love, I must act justly all the while being in accord with right action.
Who do we want to be? And who do we want to become?
My wife and I want to be people who see others (really see with attention and care), who are merciful and compassionate (suffering with those who suffer), and who execute justice in the earth (we have many varied ways we pursue this).
And that, my friends, is what drives out any confusing or contradictory thought when it comes to our consumerist mindset. Guilt and anxiety are not sustainable motivators toward change. Vision for something or someone beyond ourselves will carry us to something greater than this present reality. Culture can change, but vision in itself in not enough. Change will always begins with people who are willing, diligent, and determined to align their habits and practices with a vision for love, justice, and righteousness. Somehow, even consumerism can be a vehicle by which we can learn to love and care for our neighbors, both near and far.
Change is difficult. And it comes with a cost. If you plant a fruit tree, it will require time, energy, and patience. The reward of your efforts will hopefully be an abundance of good and precious fruit. The return of your efforts however is not simply fruit. You gain much more throughout the process of cultivation. Benefits such as knowledge, patience, discipline, an increased ability to nurture growth, joy, an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all living things, and the satisfaction of being a steward of the earth.
All these benefits and more belong to those who are willing to change and learn the disposition of living in harmony with love, justice, and righteousness. For those of us in America, we can do this by forsaking our ways of self-preservation and open our eyes to see the world around us. Who are we? And who do we want to become? Maybe by taking a critical and honest look at how we buy and what we buy can give us some insight into these questions.