(image from Pixabay)
The sun beat down on our heads as my friend, Natalie, and I dragged some logs over to strategic places around the backyard. Buzzing cicadas and the faint squawk from Cockatoos in the distance did nothing to distract us from our mission. We were building a show jumping arena... we didn't have any really horses to show jump with, but we did have the horses in our imaginations and these horses could be any type of horse that we wanted them to be. The power of the imagination, outside in the sunshine, with your bestie by your side, and some very simple (and free) props that could turn an ordinary backyard into something extraordinary - nothing could be sweeter or more human than this mix of action, relationship building, fun, and play. My horse was a golden Palomino, my favourite horse ever, and together we negotiated the show jumping course with joy, leaping effortlessly over broomsticks and planks of wood. Natalie followed close behind, her horse just as real to her as mine was to me, coming a close second in points (or so I thought, cause you know, in my imagination I was the winner!).
Free, simple, imaginative play. Where has it gone?
Compassion and consumerism seem like strange bed-fellows. One is about recognising that suffering of others and attempting to do something about it, the other is about grasping for more in pursuit of a particular feeling or lifestyle, without any reference to inherent suffering that such "covetous-ness" could cause. The affect that consumerism is having on the world is as far from the very premise of compassion that you can get. So-called "Compassionate Consumerism" is still based on a set of desires to be a certain way, live a certain lifestyle, whilst "helping others less fortunate," even as you, contribute to your own suffering by going into debt or feeling overwhelmed by "stuff." I question whether there is compassionate consumerism, and if there is a possibility for there to be compassionate consumerism, what should it look like?
For me biggest issue with consumerism is the way that advertisers focus on children. It seems every day there is a new "IT" toy that comes out, that every child must have, and the pressure it puts on parents to provide their children with the best is heartbreaking. In this sense, I believe that we have what is best for our children around the wrong way. When I think of my childhood, one spent outdoors using my imagination to create new worlds out nothing or what was available around me, or indoors where I would craft, make houses for my Barbie's out of cardboard boxes, and dance around to music in my bedroom (something I still like to do!). My childhood was filled with visits with friends, engaging in schools activities, and lovely family holidays out "bush." The world was out there ready for me to explore with openness and empathy - even as a child. Life wasn't about stuff (in fact the only time it kind of became about stuff was Christmas time, and even then I knew that I could only limit myself to one BIG present, so I had to pick really carefully what it was that I really wanted), it was about... life. I feel compassion, I feel deep deep wishes that children can engage with their imagination, their friends, and nature, as I did as a child. There is magic in being awake to the simple things in life.
Daniel Goleman speaks about Compassionate Consumerism in his talk - Why aren't we more compassionate? He makes a repeated point (by using examples from psychological experiments, to parables, to anecdotes) that we live in a world where we are becoming more and more self absorbed. And through this self absorption we are missing out on what is happening around us, the moments of joy, but also the moments where we would have the opportunity to show compassion and kindness. If we opened our eyes more to the present - and if we teach our children to value human connection over "things" - we could cultivate more compassionate lives, but also more compassionate consumerism.
As Daniel states, "there are the hidden consequences of shopping" and these consequences are things that we rarely think about. Where did the products we buy originate from? Right down to their disparate parts. Was there suffering involved within any part of the supply chain? Is there ongoing suffering for communities due to the production of this product? Is this product causing us suffering in any way? Is this product causing our children to suffer?
And this is what I want to leave you with - does consumerism contribute to our childrens wellbeing? I think yes.
What can we do about it?
We can approach consumerism from a compassionate and mindful place, really think about the impact buying those toys or clothes will have on your children, on the environment, and on society. Do not buy stuff for ourselves and our children (beyond what is absolutely necessary), have experiences instead, together, and apart (gives you more to talk about around the kitchen table).
What would you do to break the consumerist cycle?