Editorial—Shop ‘Til You Drop

The scene: a parking lot. The time: this morning, before dawn. Although most us were still snuggled into our comfortable beds in our warm houses, tens of thousands of people across the United States were sitting out on the concrete, huddled against one another and wrapped in quilts and blankets to keep warm in those chilliest night hours before the sun rises.

Homeless? Poverty-stricken? Hardly. They were waiting for the stores to open at 5 a.m. so they could score a fabulous deal on the very latest model of LCD TV.

After all, today was Black Friday, the day after US Thanksgiving and the premier shopping day in the States—comparable to Canada’s Boxing Day, and then some. It’s a chance to save big-time on your Christmas shopping (or personal shopping). And lately, It’s become a holiday in its own right.

Because stores open in the wee hours of Friday morning, many shoppers—eager to be first in line—arrive the night before and set up camp; and last week, a Florida family made the national news by starting its camp-out outside Best Buy a full week before Black Friday.

Then, when the store’s doors open, the herds rush in. And I mean the herds, because for many, It’s almost a desperate undertaking. Stores are trashed, good manners and common courtesy are trampled. So, by the way, are people; last year, employees and shoppers were injured by the stampeding masses. One employee died. Died, so that people could save a few hundred bucks.

It’s like a jungle, and we’re animals fighting over a prize. The year I went Black Friday shopping, I was embarrassed to be a member of the human race. I haven’t been back since; for my own safety and sanity, I’ve reserved my deal-hunting for online shopping.

But is that much better? Because It’s not Black Friday itself that’s the problem. It’s that we don’t just desire to score that über-deal, we somehow need it.

Look at the pattern. It started with Black Friday, but now the hype begins far earlier: It’s now ‘Black Friday Week,’ with special sales from Monday to Monday, both at stores and online. For example, online giant Amazon.com has been posting a slew of secret limited-time, limited-quantity, deals all week, causing hapless customers—including me—to log on several times a day in the hopes of finding something that will make our lives complete.

We’ve all heard the advertising catchphrase “A deal so good you just can’t pass it up.” Just a slogan? Maybe not.

The problem is that It’s getting harder and harder for us to pass up that chance to “afford” the latest and newest model of the It-Thing—whether It’s the new smart phone, the “in” toy, or the coolest tool.

True, we all like to save a few bucks on our Christmas shopping. But It’s a lot deeper than that. “Gotta have it!” one advertisement breathes. And unfortunately, we “gotta.”

The old “we’re all too materialistic this time of year” saw doesn’t really cut it anymore. We don’t need another editorial or ghost story to tell us that we’ve lost our focus and our sense of what matters. We already know it. What we don’t know is why.

So maybe we need a new approach. This season, when the ads pop up and we zero in on our prey, let’s remember that unlike the animals we’re mimicking, we can think. Let’s ask ourselves why we feel we need that new gaming console or stand mixer so badly.

Without a hint of sarcasm, let’s ponder what will happen if we don’t own the latest, coolest, and best. Will it affect us internally? Are we trying to prove something to others—or to ourselves? Are we using things to buttress our own flagging self-esteem? Are we escaping from personal problems—things in our immediate surroundings (family issues, stalled careers, financial difficulties) or deeply-buried hurts?

During the holiday season, we focus on giving. This year, let’s also give ourselves a gift: the gift of understanding. Discover why materialism is so necessary. Examine the hidden problems, hurts, and pain in our lives and relationships. Work through things. Consider counselling. Talk. Explore. Love.

What better way to get in the holiday spirit?

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