I was hungry and you bought a cool t-shirt: Part 1
Why consumerism and charity don't mix
Probably going to alienate both the people who read this blog with this one, but here goes...
Seems like the latest thing is using the clothes and accessories we wear to send a message about our commitment to justice and the poor.
I was just sent an email from a charity-linked organization with the image above left.
"Someone is happy with less than what you have. Everytime you wear this watercolor design you'll be inspired to be content with what you have."
Seriously? Black is now white. Wrong is now right.
And consumerism is now contentment?
Amaitai Etzioni does a great job of explaining the difference between consumerism and consumption. Check out that link if you're confused about the difference.
In a nutshell though, if we're meeting those basic needs for food, chocolate, clothing and shelter then we're probably sweet. But if our purchases are driven by a desire to impress the cool kids we may be part of the problem.
As Marshall McLuhan puts it, the medium IS the message.
If your message is, "I care about the poor. I care about injustice. I am committed to a just lifestyle." Then the medium of Consuming Luxury Brands conflicts with the original intent.
Is there a link between our affluent Western lifestyles of accumulation, discontent and consumerism and the ecological and social devastation that results in the "developing world"?
I think so. And so it is worth considering whether the best thing we can do for the poor is give directly to effective charities (or purchase justly made products and services from them) and reduce our overall consumption.
Here's the problem...
When we consume unnecessarily, even for Charity, we are making things worse for the very folks we supposedly care about.
Helping the poor with one hand while hurting them with the other is just not cool (even if you put an instagram filter on it.)
I struggle with this too - that chocolate brownie I wolfed down today was definitely unnecessary consumption! That's why it seems to me that increasingly...
the big challenge is to find contentment outside of consumerism.
In Part 2 of this blog post, I will suggest a quick way to evaluate whether that t-shirt or other charity product is actually a good idea for helping the poor or simply a money-spinner for a corporation or a mixture of both.
But for now, go grab yourself a hot steaming cup of fair trade coffee.