I tried to anticipate how others would react to my challenge, hoping, of course, that reactions would be positive. For the most part, they have been. There’s one response, however, that I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t see coming. I’m glad a friend had the courage to speak-up.
“A consumer fast,” she said. “That’s interesting.”
She went on to describe how ‘choosing not to buy’ is, for some, not a question of values but a question of survival. It is as much a choice as choosing whether or not to sleep inside, feed dinner to your family, or send your kid to school in shoes.
“I understand where you’re coming from,” she said, “but for me, the idea of selective consumer fasting … well, it stirs up some emotions.”
I’m sure she’s not alone.
Her feelings are similar to criticisms I’ve heard of Occupy Christmas or, more generally, the movement towards home-made gifts and the sharing of time rather than stuff. It’s a criticism of elitism that essentially boils down to:
How insensitive to choose a lifestyle that many live by necessity and to claim ownership of that lifestyle as if you were the first to live it.
If this criticism in any way reflects how you feel about The Fasting Consumer, I’m sorry. I don’t pretend to have an answer. (And definitely not one that will change the way people feel.) I will attempt, however, to speak to this criticism as best as I can.
Let me begin by disclosing a bit about my family. We rent our house (a two-bedroom, semi-detached bungalow). Our biggest material asset is my antique piano (currently at my mom’s house because it would never fit in ours). We funded our own business. I paid for much of my education, and, on the lucrative salary of a sandwich artist, my husband paid for all of his.
Having said this, I have never known hunger (nor even the threat of it).
Though I was raised knowing that life is about choices and was never given All That I Wanted (thank goodness!), I don’t know poverty.
But I still think it will do something.
My little family of four’s decision to buy nothing for one year isn’t going to end poverty. It won’t even allow us to relate to what it means to be poor. Still, it is my hope that in some small way, it will contribute to a larger voice–one that is saying,
“There must be a better way.”
We live in a world of constant desire. Whether we can afford $10 for Christmas presents or $10 000, we wish it were more.
Empty tummies forces some to buy nothing but groceries, but then, they are faced with a deeper emptiness–the thought that somehow, this is not okay. The thought that somehow, they are failures because they have not managed to buy more. More clothes. More cars. A new phone. A bigger TV. A better couch. A house to fit it all. (And a storage unit for the rest.)
This challenge will do nothing to directly feed empty tummies (though it will free-up more money to donate to ‘worthy causes’), but this challenge might do something to diminish the emptiness of desire.
If the Western world were full of people choosing to renounce materialism, choosing to spend $10 (and a whole lot of love) on Christmas, and choosing to value people over profit, would not those who are forced to spend and own little, feel a bit better about the world they live in?
I can’t answer that question. I don’t know if anyone can.
But, if nothing else, would not a society that values community, sharing, creating, and being thankful for what we have rather than sacrificing all in the pursuit of what we don’t have, possess the means to provide a better life for all?
I hope so.
For this reason, I’m choosing a different way — at least for 2014, and hopefully forever.
Perhaps this challenge will only change my own family–which is totally fine. But if, throughout this process, I can learn from the thoughts and feelings of others, if I can listen, reflect, and respond, perhaps it could do a little bit more?
What do you think? I’m listening.