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Giving thanks and time

Jackie Mirandola Mullen | Monday, November 23, 2009

Every Thanksgiving, we give thanks for all the good that has happened in our lives. At times when the economy turns down and there may seem to be less to be thankful for, we have a wonderful opportunity to search for the positives in apparently negative situations. Perhaps we can even use this opportunity to shift our habits this holiday season toward sharing a piece of our personal worth with our friends and families instead of part of our consumer worth.

In fact, rather than continue along this vein in vague writer-speak, I’m going to make this column direct: Don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving.

According to numbers from the 2000 U.S. Census, the top three jobs with the largest projected growth from 1999 to 2008 were systems analysts, retail salespersons and cashiers. Cashiers. We buy so much that the third largest growing (and also largest employing) job is one for someone who gets paid to take your money, which simultaneously just raised the price of whatever you just bought to pay that employee.

So why do we continue to support the growth of a sector whose purpose is to clothe us in a way that leaves us “needing” new clothes every season, every year, often by delivering poor-quality clothes manufactured in bulk by small children or grossly underpaid adults in nations where the residents feel they have no other option than to work for oppressive foreign companies?

We have to dig to the root of the issue. It lies, unfortunately, primarily in our insatiable appetite for more. More money, more items, more clothing, more food, more everything. From the 1980s to about 2008, we were unaccountable for many of our actions, content that ever-growing economies and consumer cultures could sustain us for as far as we could see into the future. Actually, maybe that was true and we just weren’t looking far enough.

Now that we have experienced a sobering reality check as to our monetary infallibility, it’s time we realign our values to reflect the fragility of our economic selves. Can we shift the focus away from money? Or at least away from monetary appeals to our loved ones?

Making money is important, undoubtedly. Money makes the world go round, as the often-used, guilt-ridding cliché reminds us. But if you make less money, you have less money to spend on things that you don’t really need. Lower salaries are never good, but perhaps not having a job that makes one part of the “labor force” and instead focusing on pursuing practical crafts — gardening as a supplementary form of food supplies, keeping up a home or contributing to the atmosphere of a local community — could help attribute to one’s sense of accomplishment while valuing a skill over money.

I’m not advocating moving to communes and abandoning the use of the U.S. dollar. Rather, I’m trying to reach the more subtle point that we can value things within our lives, and yes, within our economy, without placing a monetary value on them. Bringing homemade food and wine, rather than something bought in the retail sector, to family over the holidays means you spent less, and spent the time you would have otherwise been shopping in the store cooking at home with family.

Instead of chiding for cheapness, encourage your loved ones not to buy a present. In lieu of a present, make a card, write a song, paint a picture or bake a cake for (or better yet, with) them. Take the stressful time you would spend in the stores and spend it at home, knowing that even that gift of time is one of the most valuable presents you could ever offer your loved ones.

Don’t go shopping the day after Thanksgiving. Find better ways to reach out to your loved ones by sharing yourself instead of waiting in long lines at the store. Shifting the retail business to another sector might not be that bad of a change for our society; if we always argue against societal change on the account of jobs, how are we ever going to progress and solve problems as a nation, as a culture, as a global and material-driven world?

Although tough economic times might seem like occasions for less giving of thanks than usual, perhaps they are occasions for even greater celebration of what is important to us. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy it.


Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a senior history and German major. She can be reached at jmirando@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.