Thanksgiving. You stuff yourself full of turkey, take a quick nap, get up and go out with your family to eagerly wait in line to buy new stuff at steep discounts. You drive around the mall and see crowds of people roaming around, chattering, sometimes running. It’s cold. Dark. You don’t like being around all these people and you have a feeling you’re not the only one who feels that way; yet, somehow, for some reason, here you are. You figure that this one night of discomfort is worth sacrificing for the new TV you’re going to get. You’ve been waiting all year for this night and you won’t have an opportunity to get a brand new TV until next year.
Every year when Black Friday rolls around, I’m stuck between two feelings: as a consumer, I’m happy that I can buy things at discounted rates and finally give myself an excuse to get things that I’ve been putting off; as a human, I’m extremely sad as I hear about people lining up outsides stores and getting trampled when the rush begins.
I didn’t notice until recently that it’s never the affluent parts of the country where these rushes happen. Rather, it’s the areas where people are closer to poverty, where people literally can’t afford to make these kinds of purchases at any other time of the year.
I used to scoff at the idea that people would hurt others just to pick up a few material things. “What capitalism, what materialism. I am above that,” I would tell myself. But I’m only able to have this thought because I already have all the stuff I want. I’m able to live without more things because I don’t need more. But some of these people have so little that they’re getting their first chance to get something nice in a very long time, or it’s the only time in the year where they’re able to get gifts for all of their kids.
Sometimes I drive around the poorer parts of Tacoma and I wonder why there are so many nice cars there. I used to wonder what the owners of those cars are doing in Tacoma; they certainly don’t belong in a place where their cars obviously don’t fit, right?
Not so. One thing I learned recently is: people close to the poverty line also have nice things. They work incredibly hard to make ends meet and save up for many years before they can buy their dream car or toy or game console. It’s the one lighthouse in the dense fog that is their lives. It’s the one thing that brings them joy. They cherish it more than any of the other things they have because that’s the one thing they have.
So if you see someone (especially a child) with something nice and you know his family’s not doing well financially, don’t judge. Don’t scoff. Don’t approach and berate him for having one nice thing despite the rest of the family having nothing, because chances are, there’s a story behind that thing and you’ll never be able to hear it, and you’ll never have to experience it. If you associate a negative emotion with the thing, you’re also taking away the one thing that brings that person the most joy.
Instead, ask about it. Show him that you see its worth. Don’t let him think that you hate him for having it. He’s probably getting it from elsewhere.
Let him be happy with what he has.