I’m writing this on Sunday morning, a couple of days after a few tragic incidents on “Black Friday.”
(I’m really not. This is the 2014 update of a piece I originally wrote in 2011. But…keep going. It’s worth your reading time.)
For those of you not in the United States, this is the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday when many stores offer sales with deeply discounted items.
These sales have become a phenomenon over the past few years, with stores opening at 5:00 am and people lining up the night before to buy a very limited quantity of deeply discounted items.
In New York a Walmart employee was trampled to death by the oncoming crowd as the doors opened. And in California a customer shot and killed two people in an apparent rage about some item that was in high demand.
Many people are prepared to take these two incidents and use them as a symbol of everything that is going wrong in the world.
I’d like to offer a completely different perspective: I think this is a time to recognize just how essentially right things really are.
These are sad events, but not unprecedented. As I was telling a friend of mine, I can imagine an out of control crowd rushing to get scarce loaves of bread, or medicine, or any number of things that were once considered necessities for survival.
So the fact that the rush was on for electronics or toys, things that are nice but not necessary is a sign of increased prosperity.
Indeed, this was a case of manufactured scarcity. Collectively, we decide to assign importance to certain items that really has nothing to do with our actual survival. We will continue to breathe in and out whether we have that new computer or not.
Our children will love us whether they get the hot new toy or not.
A deliberate condition of scarcity was engineered and created by the stores themselves, to entice people to come in and act out of fear. The media bought into it, with stories about the Black Friday sales and people lining up days before.
I remember attending one of these a couple of years ago. We were at a Best Buy store in Connecticut at 5:00 am, thinking we’d be among the first to be there. We were greeted by multiple police cars, dogs, television news trucks, and thousands of customers who arrived before we did.
That was the end of our Black Friday shopping excursions. Never again.
As I said, the retailers and media co-created the conditions that contributed to these deaths – along with us. Those who lined up outside the doors participated in the frenzy. We have choices in how we think, how we act and what we allow into our consciousness.
So with that, let me leave you with a few pieces of good news….
1. I predict a change in the way these sales are administered, and they may even disappear altogether. The retailers and the media don’t just create public opinion. They respond to it as well. Walmart is no doubt reeling from bad publicity surrounding this event. Black Friday sales are now associated with corporate and consumer greed. No business wants that connection.
2. For every act of chaos, greed and desperation that occurred on Black Friday, there were hundreds, even thousands of acts of civility, kindness and generosity. These weren’t reported in the media.
Doors were held open for senior citizens and children.
Children’s eyes lit up when parents bought special presents for them, and parents hearts melted with the reactions of their kids.
Strangers bonded in a shared sense of humor of the absurdity of the circumstances they were in.
Spouses had hot breakfasts waiting for their partners when they returned home.
Some minimum wage retail workers found a sense of dignity and personal empowerment in being assertive towards large groups of people. Some of these same workers received more money than usual based on the volume of sales they processed.
And some of these workers experienced something unpleasant enough, it inspired them to ask for more out of their lives. Somewhere on Friday a decision was made by a Walmart or Radio Shack worker to go back to college.
It really is a matter of where you choose to put your focus.
Three lives taken and an attitude of greed.
Or a self-correcting marketplace and many acts of compassion and grace.
I know where I’m choosing to focus!
2014 Update: Ferguson, Missouri had most of its infrastructure ripped apart for the second time in the past few months. Black Friday is going to look really different in that part of the country.
I don’t know enough about the circumstances to assign blame. The cop was right, the cop was trigger happy.
I don’t know. And neither do you.
We all come in with an opinion…based on our own history, our own prejudice, our own narrative.
40 years ago, in Hebrew school they taught me justice must co-exist with mercy. Too much of one or the other and everything falls apart.
We can all line up behind that.
So whatever else you’re going to buy this year, take a moment and see the best in the people you meet.
Especially when they aren’t showing it.
And if you’re out during Black Friday, it’s a safe bet you’ll see some weirdness.
The Hidden Beauty.
Shine a light on it!
Got any Black Friday stories or thoughts to share?
Let them rip!