Something is happening to me.
I want to say it’s bad, because it feels bad a lot of the time… but I think it’s actually good. Maybe even very good.
I don’t know. All I know is that I used to be able to go into a store, pick out what I
neededwanted, pay for it, take it home, and enjoy it without a single irritating thought about where it was made, or why it was so cheap, or who made it. Clothes and shoes and jewelry and electronics and furniture and household goodies just seemed to appear, as if by some sort of hip, trendy, mind-reading magic, in the stores I frequent. All I had to do was have an idea about what I’d like to wear to a wedding and when I showed up at H&M it would be there waiting for me. If I thought about the perfect thing to hang above the toilet in the downstairs bathroom, I could run over to Target and, not only would I find it, it would practically jump into my cart and wheel itself to the checkout.
|I look just like this when I shop! No, I don’t.|
I didn’t even have to try – I could always find just what I was looking for. Sure, sometimes I wouldn’t get it because I couldn’t afford it, but until recently, I’d never walked away from the perfect find because I wasn’t sure about the conditions of the factory it was made in, or the workers ages or wages.
I mean, I’m not a damn hippie.
But, like I said, something’s happening to me.
I think it started on the busy streets of Cambodia, when I saw a parade of trucks carrying thousands of factory workers out of the city after a long day’s work. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, packed like lil’ smokies onto long, diesel driven flatbeds with wood slatted sides, bandanas tied across their noses in a vain attempt to keep the billowing smog and relentless dust out of their slight bodies. It reminded me of passing a cattle truck on a California freeway, and as one truckload of people after another went by, the labels in my cheap clothes started to make me itch. I wondered if any of them recognized their handy work in the Old Navy tank top I’d thrown on that morning, or if they could see their solid stitches in my trusty Target sandals. Seeing all this, I started to feel embarrassed by my own blissful ignorance, so I did the only appropriate thing…. I slid down as far as I could in the back of the taxi and avoided all eye contact.
That was like the first time I’d come face to face with where clothes come from.
I felt like a child learning hamburgers are made out of cows and chicken is actually chicken, and then, quite suddenly, I was faced with a moral dilemma I hadn’t been prepared for. I knew my response would imply things about my character I wasn’t sure I wanted to even think about, let alone address, so I did the only appropriate thing… I tried to forget about it.
I came home from SE Asia and tried with all my might to forget everything I’d seen and every stupid idea I’d ever had about my role as a consumer and my consumer responsibility to the world and all of its inhabitants. I decided to forget, because averting my attention is the grown-up version of averting my eyes; if I’m not thinking about it, it’s not happening.
But it was useless.
I’d seen their faces, they’d seen mine, and for a brief moment, my comfortable retail world was invaded by the harsh reality of the people whose shoulders it rests on, people who are trucked in like cattle to make my every wish come true.
I’m telling you, the magic is gone. The fleeting tingle I used to feel when I came home with the latest, cutest, cheapest thing, has been replaced by something… significant.
I am consumed by thoughts of consumption.
“Where did this come from? How was it made? Did the person who made it get paid a fair wage? Is the person who made it a slave? Is the person who made it able to provide for her children? Wait, was this made by a child? Or, did the person who made this thing I’m about to buy arrive at the factory in the back of a truck, with wind whipped hair and a mouthful of dirt, and a dream of having her own one day but no hope of that ever happening?”
These kinds of questions haunt my every purchase. I swear, I can’t buy a box of tampons without wondering if I’ve made an ethical choice. I recently spent like 120 hours online trying to find a backpack for my 16 year old that was both ethically made and affordable enough for a pastor’s salary. And I’m really, really, really sad to say that in the end I got so frustrated I just ordered the first one he asked for and when it arrived directly from China, I did the only appropriate thing… I put it in my kid’s room, closed the door, threw all the packaging in the outside recycling can (so I wouldn’t have to look at it), and felt uneasy for a month. Actually, I still feel uneasy…
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel bad about buying stuff from China — I’m all for international commerce. The truth is, that backpack may very well have been made in an upstanding factory run by a kindly, benevolent old man who loves God and people and wants to make the world a better place. Like a Chinese Jean Valjean. …Though, it was cheaper than if I’d made a backpack myself using twine, garbage bags, and tree sap… so I doubt it.
Anyway. The point is, it’s a process and I’m trying.And I can’t not care about this anymore. The connection between the Western appetite for cheap goods – MY APPETITE — and the fact that there are more slaves worldwide than ever before is too blatant. So, even though I said I’m tired of caring, which I totally am, I haven’t been able to shake the idea that the way I consumeis directly related to the way the world works.
Can I just be totally honest here? (Of course I can, this is my blog.) I’m probably not gonna start making my own clothes any time soon. Or ever. And, even though our family’s made a conscious decision to live pretty simply – which we mostly do – I still buy lots of stuff. I’m still a huge consumer. I still want to dress cute, I still enjoy a stylish space to live, and I haven’t shunned iPhones, or Netflix, or restaurants. I’m still doing all kind of consumer type things… I’m just trying to do them more conscientiously.
That’s the thing that’s happening to me. I’m becoming a consumer with a conscience…which really sucks, but in a good way.
Not gonna lie, using your consumer power wisely is a costly endeavor. It will cost you time, it will cost you money, and it may cost you a little bit of your pride, but I’m just gonna come out and say this, you can afford it. You can afford to do the research before you buy, you can afford to pay a little more, you can afford to shave off a smidge of that fat ego in exchange for the health and wellbeing of a person on the other side of the world. Or the other side of your country. Or the other side of the street. Our consumer dollars are a powerful thing, we shouldn’t waste them!
Every day this week, I’m featuring organizations that agree with this simple concept of conscious consumerism. These companies are helping us exercise our purchase power in the name of empowerment and advancement for the poor, marginalized, at-risk, and rescued – locally and globally.
With FOUR way to enter the odds are stacked in your favor!
I think that’s how it works.
…….. …….. ……..
What are your thoughts on our crazy consumer ways? Please chime in…