It’s been a long time since I set foot in a shopping mall. I tend to avoid them because I feel out of place there. I experience a mixture of discomfort and sadness as I find myself overconsuming everywhere. Products that are harmful to nature, to people and to the very individual who consumes them. An environment designed to lure the consumer into a frenzy of shopping for, probably, unnecessary items. Products of more than questionable quality for the mere purpose of encouraging their replacement in the shortest possible time, faithfully following the legacy of programmed obsolescence, introduced in the middle of the 20th century. Quantity is encouraged and quality is disregarded.
QUESTIONING THE REAL REASON FOR OUR PURCHASES
What distresses me most is that the little humanity these places have is disappearing. The lack of human interaction is sought to increase the ever improving and insatiable productivity. The little awareness that consumption can bring us is through human warmth and closeness. If this disappears, we will be nothing more than robots drifting out of our pockets. But it is worth it, since it is for the good of the business – they can tell us. For the sake of an economy that promises us everything, even a near social and ecological catastrophe – we can argue. But there is always time to buy, even in circumstances of deep crisis. Although this addiction may not be as evident as others, its purpose ends up being the same: to calm our restless souls by a vacuum that has only been able to be filled in this way, by buying.
I observe the people who come to use. They carry two, three, four bags full of new items. How long will the euphoria of new possessions last them? The very act of buying has become a speedy transaction that makes us feel, for a moment, powerful. We like to think that we can afford that amount of clothing, that new electronic product, that decorative object for our home, even if we don’t need any of it. After all, we’ve worked hard and we deserve the occasional treat. With that we console ourselves, we feel good for a few moments. One ends up not knowing how to differentiate whether we really consume the product or whether we consume the emotions behind its purchase.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN TIES IN OUR LIVES
The stores are perfectly designed so that the consumer spends as much time as possible in them. So that he or she can buy as many items as possible. It is almost impossible not to be attracted by the many offers, colours and options on display around us. But it is also important that the consumer feels that he is self-sufficient, that he has the control to make his own decisions. What is the use of sharing some uncomfortable and unnecessary phrases with the worker on duty when you can stand on your own two feet? Businesses are slowly trying to embrace technology and desperately get rid of as many employees as possible. Now in many places the person in charge of the cash register is no longer paid. You pay a machine and it gives you back the change. Why have human time, quality conversations? The fullness of time and the value of human interactions do not matter. Few people miss them. Rather, they tend to be annoying. Things must be done quickly and efficiently, for the sake of business, for the sake of the country, for the sake of the economy. There is no time to get to know the wonderful human being behind it. In a world that only understands economic benefit, ties have taken a back seat.
THE IMPACT ON OTHERS AND THE WORLD BY CREATING WITH LOVE
Do you remember the beautiful feeling of paying with your heart to a person or a business that has offered you a splendid service, so much so that the memory of the experience remains imbued in your mind forever? Can that have a price? If we set out to look, how many people can still say that they work with their heart? How many beyond money pretend to help and transmit value to others, to the world? “It was done with love” – we say when we taste an exquisite home-made dish, when we buy a beautifully embroidered garment, when we hear someone sing with passion. Whatever the product is, if it has been made with love, it shows. Because it transcends matter itself until it becomes a vector of emotions. You can feel the pampering, the effort and the love of that which has given it life. And that is valued, it is valued! Because all that is time, and all time is life. In the end, we are the lucky heirs of the materialized time of other people’s lives. But, if the greatest goal is economic, is there any room left to create and receive with love?
TO TAKE CONSCIENTIOUS CARE OF MATERIAL POSSESSIONS
We can fall into the error of thinking that all responsibility of the consumer ceases after buying something, even if it is unconsciously. But if we investigate the relationship we establish with the objects we acquire, we discover new fronts to exercise our conscience. A short time ago I read a book that explained a Japanese belief that assures that divinity is also contained in material objects. It is an elegant way to remind us of the value of things, to have respect for their existence even if we continue to consider them our possessions. How threatened the consumerist spirit would feel if we had the courage to fall in love with everything we have! Personally, I have not naturally taken care of my things as I should have. I have had to learn little by little and I am still adjusting the habit in my mind. One trick I apply to be more present and treat them with more attention and love is to imagine that they have great emotional value for me, as if they were made by hand by those closest to me. Changing our relationship with our material possessions is a gift for our soul and for the planet. In this way we honor the lives of those people who have participated in its creation and we feel grateful and joyful with what we have here and now. Without asking anything more from nature, without expecting anything more from the world.
TO APOLOGISE AND ACT RESPONSIBLY FOR OUR PRIVILEGES
And here I am back at the mall. I find it hard to recognize my old self, when I went shopping driven by impulses I was hardly aware of. I’m not the same person. Now something is writhing in my chest when I walk into a clothing store. While the person I accompany looks at clothes and makes choices, I spend my time reading labels. Once again, I confirm that the names of the same countries of origin are written on them. I wonder what the life of the hands that created this cheap summer shirt is like. I wonder how much they will be entitled to if the price is so insultingly affordable. I wonder how much time they will spend working, in what conditions they are doing it, if they have ever been happy. I wonder if they have time to enjoy themselves with their families. I wonder what their childhood dreams were, before they became cheap labour for the world’s insatiable consumption. I wonder what would have become of them if this had not been their destiny, if they had had the opportunity to express the immense human value they carry within them.
I wish I could tell them that I’m sorry, that I fell for it too, but somehow I’ve started to realize it. I would like to tell them that I think about them and that I try to honor their lives with my values and my day-to-day actions. I would like to tell them from the bottom of my heart that I will do everything I can so that their suffering will not have been in vain. I would like to tell them that the people who favor their enslavement by buying these products are not evil. I would tell them not to judge them, because they are not aware of what they are doing. I would tell them never to lose faith in others, because we all have the potential to open our eyes and make the world a better place. I would end by telling them that there are many people out there who are thinking of them and fighting with enthusiasm to do things right. That suffering is very evident, but the light, though hidden from untrained eyes, grows around them day by day. It is only necessary to have enough faith to be able to see.
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to go to a mall and relive these emotions. I’ve never felt comfortable running away, even from pain. Turning my back on reality is not going to help me create the change in myself that I want to wake up to. Facing it inspires me to keep believing in my way of dreaming the world and directing my steps towards it. That is my most sincere desire, to be better and more humane in order to contribute to creating a beautiful reality for everyone. Let’s keep imagining it until we confuse it with our dreams.