Saturday, December 13, 2008

Black Friday Massacre: Separating Love and Consumerism

In my previous installment, I put forth the opinion that, once upon a time, people expressed their love through words. Later, people began augmenting those words with trinkets, baubles, knick-knacks; tangible objects representing the feelings we carry for one other. Finally, there came a time, for many people, when gift-giving took the place of love entirely, rather than being a means of expressing it. I'd like to flesh that last assertion out a little bit more, then suggest some possible solutions to the problem. To do so, however, I must address the nature of love itself.

Wiser individuals than I have tackled this complex subject, of course. I possess no more foundation on the subject than any other person, but as a human being, I believe I'm qualified to speak on the subject. So I'm going to take a stab at it. Imagine, if you will, water dripping from a faucet into a cup, drop by drop by drop. At some point, depending upon the size of the droplets, and the rate at which they fall, the cup runs over. Real love, in my subjective and abundant opinion, is precisely like this. The cup, in this instance, is the human heart. The droplets represent the accumulation of good feelings towards another person. Each droplet is a single iteration of a three-step process of awareness, assessment, and action. First, you have to get to know someone. Second, you have to take some time away from that person in order to decide how you feel about them. Third, you make a judgment about that person based upon the interaction of the first two. And that process repeats.

Think, for a second, about your first love, or your best friend. There was that moment of awareness; that point where you first met that person. Maybe you had yourself a nice little chat over coffee. Maybe you met in line at the grocery store. Maybe you were already friends. Next came assessment. You found yourself thinking about that person when they weren't around. Perhaps you missed feeling good in the particular way that you felt when you were around that person. Finally, you took action. You decided, "yeah, you know what? I'd like to see that person again." And the process repeats.

Each time you saw that person, each time you learned something new about them, you went through the same three-step process. Sometimes the droplets were small; a friendly wave in passing. Sometimes they were large; "until we met, I thought I was the only one who believed fervently in international human rights for everyone except clowns!" Sometimes the droplets were far apart; a coffee date, followed by two weeks of not seeing each other. Sometimes they were close together. Regardless of how it happened, those drops accumulated, until finally, one day, the cup just spilled over.

There came a point in time, though, when we started filling our cups with things instead of feelings. Don't ask me when it happened, or why it happened, but at some point gift-giving began taking the place of real love. Maybe it started innocuously; a woman got so used to men buying her drinks at bars that pretty soon, she wasn't talking to any other guys but the ones spending money on her. Maybe it started not-so-innocuously; some Richard III-esque character decided to mask his sheer abhorrence as a human being by showering his intended with gifts. However it happened, the trend caught on. And with this trend, as with most that turn out to be particularly profitable, enterprising individuals and market-savvy industries were ready to capitalize on it.

And so it continued. People kept substituting the acquisition of things for the love of people, to a greater and greater degree. Not just for romantic reasons any more; pretty soon, the acquisition of things became a means of filling the empty spaces in our own hearts as well as the hearts of others. Think about all the products that exist now which separate us from real people. Where you once might have engaged in conversation with the person next to you on the bus, white earbuds are now rampant. Where kids once played baseball in the street with their neighbors, out in the sunshine, they now sit at home, alone, allowing Super Mario and Master Chief to be their new playmates. Where families once ate and talked together around the dinner table, now mother, father, sister and brother take their meals alone, often eating while doing something else (watching TV?). And speaking of TV, at least there was a time when people gathered around the TV to watch together. Heck, a TV program might even foster discussion, about why someone would want to crash planes into buildings, or whether Gilligan and Co. would ever get off the island. And now? Now most of us have TVs in our rooms.

And yet, all this obsession over the getting of stuff, by itself, is not the worst thing in the world. It's not ideal, mind you. But a world where everyone wants and gets stuff is not the most terrible thing ever. Actually, this was the world that Wall-E showed us this summer. Oh, sure, people got fat, and completely isolated from each other, but at least no one got hurt. Suppose, though, that everyone can't get what they want? What if, due to economic downturn, say, there's a lot less money to go around? No problem; people have been purchasing stuff on credit for years. Ok, but what if the credit markets dry up, maybe because of said economic downturn? What then? We're still telling ourselves we can't do without our stuff; "how am I supposed to give my family a great Christmas without money for presents?" "Once I've got that HDTV, then I'll be happy." But now we can't just drop a ton of cash on it, or put it on a credit card. Now we find ourselves in a real pickle: how to purchase "happiness," itself a highly-desirable commodity, with less money? Two words: Black Friday. Here's your big chance to get the things you "need" for cheap. But there's only so many $388 32" HDTVs to go around. So you'd best be sure you get yours. And if that means pushing, shoving, or worse, so be it. We're talking about the pursuit of happiness, after all.

In short, we got to a place where we began replacing love of people with love of things. Not universally, of course; we're talking about a matter of scale. Just like there are guys out there like the Dalai Lama, filled with love of people and almost totally unconcerned with stuff, there are also the truly materialistic among us, those that value things most of all, and pay mere lip service to people. Unfortunately, it doesn't take too many of such individuals to do some real damage. Jditymai Damour learned this in a way that no one ever should.

So. How do we fix the problem? As I mentioned in my first post, I suggest two things we can do to start improving the situation. First, we need to be more appreciative of each other. Second, we need to engage in "responsible" gift-giving: the giving of gifts that require us to really, truly know someone. I shall cover these in my next installment.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Shalz said...

I enjoy any and all Wall-E references...