On thanksgiving day, facebook was filled with heart-warming posts about reuniting with friends and family, good health and non-tangible things. Material things very rarely made the cut on people’s list of what’s most important. But the next day, the posts did a complete 180, and they were about people’s excitement about taking advantage of the “Black Friday” deals, and less than 24 hours after being thankful for the priceless things in life, people were ready to open their wallets again.
What is our obsession with material things? Thanksgiving is evidence that we all know better, but then we still return to our conditioned state of constant consumption.
Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? Spent on people who didn’t go to bed on Thursday night with a full stomach?
This post isn’t meant to be accusatory, I am guilty myself of many unnecessary, overpriced name-brands dangling in my closet, and Jordan and I found ourselves caught in this moral dilemma even in a place where poverty is around every corner.
For the most part, the goods in Southeast Asia are extremely cheap, and so purchasing them has been easy to justify: hand-made bags for 3 usd, shirts for 1, a silver bangle for 5. We’d ask ourselves if we really needed it (of course the answer is no) but then reason that it is the perfect souvenir and this might be our only time in this part of the world. But why do we need something tangible to prove it?
As cheap as the goods are here, it is equally cheap to feed a family, provide transportation for a child to go to school, or fix a leaking roof. I don’t think anyone would argue those things aren’t worth 3 usd, but then why do we buy the cheap pair of sunglasses instead, and then shrug our shoulders when they break three days later?
Nick Kristof, a New York Times columnist recently (and rightfully) tore apart Kim Kardashian who spent 10 million dollars on a wedding that lasted only 72 days. He named all of the other things that ten million dollars could have done (built hundreds of schools across the globe, thousands of goats so families could start farms and become self-sufficient, or malaria nets for millions of people who die unnecessarily to the preventable disease every year) and all of these things would have lasted exponentially longer than 72 days. I agree with Mr. Kristof that Kim Kardashian’s wedding expenditures are absolutely ridiculous and it’s especially frustrating because that money could have done so much good and she could still afford to live a luxurious life.
But it’s easy to just point fingers at celebrities and at America’s 1%. If we are going to play the blame game, shouldn’t we also take a look at ourselves? Aren’t we doing the same thing as Kim Kardashian every day just on a lesser scale? Me choosing a crappy pair of sunglasses instead of feeding a child is equally wrong but just not as noteable because it’s a small sum of money. But if people like me and you turned down a pair of sunglasses a day, or a beer at the end of it, we could really make a difference. And just like Kim Kardashian can donate a massive sum of money and still live luxuriously, we could all donate a smaller amount of money and still live comfortably. Shouldn’t we be held accountable too?
Jeff Singer, a philosopher whose ideals have stuck with me since I read his “Practical Ethics” in college, suggested that everyone should give (minimally) 10% of what they have. I agree.
Most of the things we are thankful for are things outside of our control (supportive family, good health) and by giving something small we have the ability to pay it forward and provide those things to someone in need. And as a bonus, I’m sure the feeling is more rewarding than a great deal on a pair of jeans.