Over the last nine (million) months since we’ve been living in this pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of advertising attempting to tap into our basic goodness and drive to help one another. These often appear touching to me at first and may even cause me to tear up a bit! But these ads always come down to the same message: buying something will fulfill our drive to be of service to one another.
In one example, we see a girl whose ballet recital was cancelled, presumably due to the pandemic. Her neighbors rally to support her, purchasing flashlights from Amazon to use as spotlights so she can perform. And in a series of ads, Google shows local businesses how to change their listings and availabilities so customers can quickly know if they’re open. They also encourage customers to support their local economies by spending more money at local businesses.
We barely need to scratch the surface of these ads to see the manipulation hanging out just below the heartwarming veneer. The touching part of the Amazon commercial has nothing to do with buying flashlights and everything to do with being in relationship with our neighbors. And, ironically, a quick Google search will inform you that Google has lost significant ad revenue this year and pivoted towards smaller, under-exploited local markets.
As the infamous “Black Friday” approaches, and we’re inundated with more and more ads, we might stop noticing or caring about the impact these ads have on us and what they’re pointing to. Commercials like these can easily lull us into a false sense that the act of buying and the practice of accumulation will somehow contribute to the creation of thriving communities. We can start to become convinced that the best thing we can do to help one another is engage with capitalism by both working and spending more. These commercials contribute to a story we tell ourselves about the way the world works. This story says that more productivity is better, making more money is better, and spending more money is better. It tells us we can place a monetary value on everything and before we know it, we start to think of our very lives as quantifiable. We now have an economy built on so much consumption that even our “spare”, i.e. non-work, time is monetized with countless tech companies making money off of our attention. When constant growth is the hero of the story, the rest of our lives service the plot of capitalism. But we can put the book down.
Buying stuff on Friday will not, in any sustainable way, help my community. It will, instead, help to perpetuate the systems that are designed to maximize profit, usually at the expense of our individual and collective health and well-being. To actually contribute to my friends, family, and community, I need to pause and reflect. What can I safely contribute that will be of service? What are my gifts to offer? What do I need to do to be in a good relationship with myself and the folks around me? And unlike shopping, taking time to reflect with these questions and the answers that come with them is a generative, rather than extractive practice. When I give gifts in this way I become restored, rather than depleted, and I have a better sense of the natural abundance that exists all around me.
This Friday, November 27, I’d love if you’d celebrate Buy Nothing Day with me. I won’t be visiting stores online or in person, and I’ll also take a break from social media. Let’s plan to do something that will feed our spirits and communities because this type of feeding is life-giving. When we take time to deeply restore ourselves and tend to our relationships we’re more able to bring our whole selves and our true gifts to the world. And the world truly needs our gifts right now, none of which can be purchased.
If you’ll be participating in Buy Nothing Day, will you let us know? And let us know what, if any, restorative or giving practice you might do instead. Here’s a link to join with us: https://forms.gle/AnbRgNdEHgCY9ZYr7