Friday, June 4, 2010

Mindful Consumption

Since my husband’s at-work injury in March and the subsequent hit our personal finances have taken due to his claim having been initially denied (and still making its way through the legal system), I’ve been hypersensitive about scrutinizing our consumption of everything from entertainment to food and necessities. That is, I’m counting every fucking penny. It’s been stressful, however having been forced to examine our habits has been eye opening, and at times I’ve found myself lured into a moral conundrum as to whether or not I should compromise my beliefs and shop at places like Wal-Mart, all in the name of saving a dime.

I’m ashamed to say I have turned a blind eye to my moral compass several times over the last few months, and I’m disgusted that I’ve done so. Wal-Mart was the first company I placed on my list of entities I refuse to support, and they’ve been on the list since I worked there as a teenager. It was the first time I saw some really fucked up shit come from an employer; randomly cutting employees’ hours at the end of a term so they couldn’t qualify as a “full-time employee” and receive healthcare benefits and gross discrimination against women (for which I’m actually part of a class-action lawsuit), just to  name a few. At first I didn’t know I had a list – I thought I just hated Wal-Mart, a former employer – but over the years as I learned more disturbing facts about more businesses my list eventually grew. Then, I suppose I developed another unwritten mental list – this time a list of places I should support because I like what they do or because they’re a local alternative to otherwise big business, so they support my local economy. I think I’ve taken for granted my list-making skills, because not everyone seems to have these lists.

Earlier this week I noticed a fellow patron at Dunkin Donuts. His gross obesity combined with the selection of his “regular” – a black coffee and 2 old fashioned – is what initially got my attention. Was he trying to kill himself, I thought. As I watched him struggle to fit back into his car, I wondered if I should have said something, but decided I’d look like an asshole no matter how compassionate my intent. As I pulled up to the 4-way intersection outside the Dunkin Donuts, I noticed a BP station, and I wondered who still gets gas from them after their big fuckup?! Low and behold, Mr. 2 Old Fashioned is at the BP station pumping gas while simultaneously choking himself on a donut. Had the light not turned green as I noticed him, I envisioned myself yelling out the window, “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” Then I realized he wasn’t. Surely, no one at the BP station was thinking – especially not when 2 of the other 3 corners of the intersection are populated by other gas stations that could just as easily be patronized (and who actually had lower-priced gas!).

No one thinks. It’s an epidemic! Yet, I’m not surprised. We’re conditioned from a young age to not think, to not question, and to not rock the boat. Honor your father and mother. Mind your elders. Regurgitate what’s been said to you by teachers in order to keep moving forward in your education. Do what your boss tells you to do. Follow the rules. Well, you know what? Sometimes the rules are ridiculous. Sometimes what others tell you to do is harmful. Sometimes your apathy indirectly supports measures you’re against, like higher taxes or the abuse of our financial system by big banking institutions (do you shop… do you bank at a national bank or a local one?).

If there’s one thing I could impart to you today is to start living your life with true integrity. Wake up and realize the potential consequences of your actions. Think before you act. Remove the veil of selfishness and greed and see how the world really works. It’s disturbing – frightening even – but if you turn a blind eye to your participation in that which you hate, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Although this examination of the impact you have on people and things is useful in all areas of your life, it’s particularly useful with regards to consumption, which is why I recommend you start your practice of mindfulness there. Unfortunately in our society – in our world – money is power. If we can control the revenue stream to divert money from those entities who have a negative impact to other entities who have a positive impact we actually can control our futures. But, we have to do this on a massive scale, which is why it’s important to teach others to think and question the motivation behind that which they’ve been told to do.

But what about those people who don’t have the best interest of others in mind and who use mindfulness for selfish reasons? I can’t help but think about BP and Halliburton and the shortcuts and poor planning they implemented just to get those oil rigs up and running, so the cash flow could start sooner. Their greed-driven satisfaction that this could “never happen” and their not having an actual disaster plan in place is commonplace in many areas of business. I imagine someone at BP having been told by their boss when the rigs were being built that they must meet the build deadline to meet the quarter’s sales projections. That person’s individual willingness to turn a blind eye and accept the contractor’s notion that an explosion could never happen is absurd, but even more absurd is that BP allowed that person to make that decision. Looking back, I wonder if the money they made by speeding up the timeline to pump that first gallon of oil and make that first buck quicker makes up for the costs they will incur by the cleanup. They might have still actually made money off their decision to be reckless even after the cleanup is said and done, but their stock has plummeted and hopefully people will stop choking their thoughts with donuts, wake up, and stop patronizing BP all together.

The oil has been gushing relentlessly since April 20, but the greed has been gushing relentlessly for a long while before then. Next time you go to pay for anything, think about the implications of what you’re supporting through making that purchase. Not every company kills puppies or destroys wildlife, but everyone has an agenda. If you don’t know what it is, research it, and next time you go to make a purchase consciously decide if you’re willing to support that agenda. You owe it to yourself to consider what you’re funding, because like it or not there are very real implications for your actions, and sometimes they even affect you.