Every Day is Election Day

It is an often repeated conversation with my wife — she hates shopping and I enjoy it. There seem to be a number of reasons for this breaking of gender stereotypes. My wife was the second oldest of six kids and had fewer luxuries growing up than I did — shopping was a painful exercise in stretching a dollar to cover three times as many kids as my family had to.

Certainly during my very early childhood, I have memories of my folks struggling with money as every young couple does, and while they’ve never been rich, much of my childhood passed with a remarkable lack of ‘want.’ In addition, I was almost 5 years younger than my sister and I have a great many memories of just my mom and me going shopping together – my dad at work, and my sister doing whatever the heck she was doing. Most times it was for just grocery shopping, but there were lots of trips to the local mall and other stores.

So from an early age, I had no real reason to dislike shopping, while my wife experienced the exact opposite. But I think it goes deeper than that, and while my mom took me on the most shopping trips, I think my Dad can claim credit for some of why I enjoy it.

First, for those who don’t know my father, he is a man of very strong ideas and ideals (completely unlike me, obviously). At various times, from various sources, I believe I’ve heard him called ‘tenacious,’ ‘tough,’ and ‘pushy.’ — Adjectives by the way, that have been applied to both my parents, sometimes in my daily newspaper. Anyway, while I got my taste and my aesthetic sense from my mother, I got a big dose of my sense of justice from my father.

Wait — “justice” — what does that have to do with shopping? Well, it’s like this — every day is Election Day. When I don’t shop at Safeway, its not just because I think they have lousy produce or high prices, it’s because they actively keep their workers from organizing into unions. Why did I grow up shopping at Giant? Because they were a locally-owned family business that was union-friendly (oh, those were the days!). Levi Strauss, Apple, McDonalds — good! Wal-Mart, Coors, and foreign cars — bad!

I was in college before I realized that everyone didn’t shop like this (though I did have a girlfriend in college who made me look like an unthinking greedy, grasping zombie consumer, but that’s another story). And this is what I learned from both my parents, but mostly my father — decisions matter, even (or maybe especially) the small ones.

Do I ever buy or not buy something completely based on some political litmus test? No, not really. But it does play a large role in my decision making process, and there are some stores (I’m looking at you, certain Arkansas-based mega retailer), that I’ve been forced to step foot in when I was with others, but they’ve never received a dime of my money and they never will until their corporate behavior changes.

So how does this tie into my love and my wife’s loathing of shopping? Well, I think in part, it is due to the fact that when I’m shopping, I believe what I’m doing matters. Part of that is just the simple is-this-good-for-/me/my family/my wallet/ decision tree that most people use in one form or another, but I add on a /my planet/ to that. Not necessarily in a ‘green’ way, though that does play a part, but more in a “these are the things I care about and how does this jibe with that?” way.

People will contribute to political or advocacy groups, run in charity races, and stick bumper stickers on their cars, and then turn around and buy products from companies that work actively against what they believe in.  The same people who buy organic produce at their local farmer’s market because it’s “good for the planet” will drive that produce home in a foreign car that is produced in a country without basic labor or environmental standards, sipping coffee from a mega-retailer that, no matter how hard they try, by their very existence and business model do harm to the environment.To me, at least, that seems a form a insanity.

Am I somehow perfect in this respect? No, not even close and no one really can be. But I generally am at least aware of the compromises I’ve made when making a particular purchase.

My father probably doesn’t even think of what he’s doing as a “way” of doing anything and he’ll probably think its silly that I’m calling attention to it. But both my parents seemed to have been very much in agreement over the years on what or where to buy. And while there were some things that one or the other might have liked, they kept each other ‘honest’ in a way, and by doing so they both impressed on me the true “value of a dollar.” Not just as a means of economic exchange, but as a tool to shape the world.

And believe it or not, when I go out and I’m walking down an aisle at the grocery store, that’s one of the things I’m doing — I’m shaping the world. And as I always ask my wife, who doesn’t enjoy that?

This is hardly a new idea obviously, but in this country where consumerism is nearly a national and sacred sport, it almost never gets applied to this area of our lives. Perhaps a small Indian gentleman with impeccable taste in loincloths put it best:

Be the change that you want to see in the world.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

And I think he would have agreed that should be true whether you’re deciding how to vote on Election Day or deciding how to buy a new TV.