Tag Archives: justice

What Price?

Who would think to  link a cheap pair of blue jeans at a local mall with a chemical spill near the Chinese city of Handan? It’s not likely that most consumers would give such a possibility a first thought, much less a second one.

Yet that is exactly what happened recently, and NYU professor and author Dan Fagin wrote about the chemical spill that  polluted the Zhouzhang River, Handan’s major water source. He also provides a brief history of how consumers and manufacturers add potential carcinogens to the cost of the goods we purchase. You can click here to read Fagin’s op-ed piece in its entirety.

We live in a complex global society, and yet we are inextricably linked with our sisters and brothers around the world by something as simple as the fabric of the gloriously colored cheap jeans on the shelves of retailers at our malls and big box stores. Someone’s health–perhaps even life–is a terrible price to pay for a pair of jeans that likely won’t last a couple of years.

How in the world do consumers decide whether a purchase is sustainable and just? What premium should one expect to pay? How in the world can a consumer who lives on a fixed income or who struggles to put food on the table even begin to add these cost calculations to the shopping cart? These are good questions and fair ones to ask. Unfortunately, the answers are not simple ones either.

This factory in Dongguan pays workers US$2 per day, including mandatory overtime. By Chinese standards this is a good wage.

Click here for a brief 2010 American Public Media Marketplace Business interview with Steve Chiotakas and Adrienne Hill about whether consumers will purchase sustainable fashion. According to Hill it’s tough to determine whether an article is truly sustainable fashion or a marketer’s green-washing. Sustainable fashion also faces the question of how to overcome its tree-hugger hippie-type image.

All of us can make a difference by understanding the true price of the clothing we purchase. We can make informed decisions that reflect our values and lifestyle. We can raise awareness without being judgmental. We can share ideas and resources, and we can work for a better future for all people by thinking about the clothes we choose to wear.

Beginning Points:

  • Think about your values. What motivates your purchases? What really matters to you? What core principles drive your life and decisions? Outline these values and principles and apply them to all future purchases.
  • Ask yourself whether you really need a new item. Can you make do with what you have? Can you trade items with a friend or have a clothing swap party? Can you refashion an article of clothing into something “new”?
  • Identify what role shopping plays in your life. Do you shop for recreation? Does shopping fill a need in your life? Do you simply enjoy the thrill of finding a bargain? Do you only shop when absolutely necessary? Do you find the whole idea of shopping challenging? If you shop purely for recreation, think of other ways that can fill your time and your need for fun.
  • Can you minimize your wardrobe to a few key mix and match items and bright accessories? Do you really need a walk-in closet full of garments, or a hundred pair of shoes? There is great joy and liberation in paring down your possessions to the things you actually use and love.
  • Can you buy “new to you”? Check out vintage stores, consignment shops, thrift shops, and charity stores. You might find older items of better quality or gently used items at a greatly reduced price. This option helps keep new merchandise out of the consumer stream and ensures existing garments will continue to be useful. Virtually all of my shopping is done this way, and I’ve found some amazing articles of clothing that I could never afford (nor would purchase) new.
  • If you must buy new, are you willing to do the difficult work of researching and paying the extra cost for sustainable, fairly traded items? Are you willing to buck consumer trends and high fashion vision for comfort and clarity of mind and purpose?
  • Check out companies like People Tree, Maggie’s Organics, Global Girlfriend, prAna, who are among a new breed of manufacturers and producers striving to provide quality clothing that makes a difference. Are they perfect? No. Are they an improvement over other options? I believe so.
  • Consider making this statement your consumption “mantra”: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. (Thanks, Katy Wolk Stanley!)

Photos by lifecreations and Ed-meister. Thanks!

 

Be Kind

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? — Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. — Martin Luther King, Jr. 1968

Today, November 13, is World Kindness Day. Click here to learn more about the movement’s history and intent. I am thankful for this timely reminder about the importance of kindness in our world–on all  levels.

If you live in the United States, and unless you are completely off-grid and out-of-touch, you’ve heard some of the shrill cries and seen the petty accusations being hurled cavalierly about in cyberspace and in the media. It never fails to amaze me how absolutely awfully we can treat one another in our quest to be “right.”

I have seen some of the ugliest, mean-spirited, vitriolic memes and posts on Facebook in the past weeks and months, not to be outdone, of course, by some terribly toxic tweets. Good and faithful folk were sputtering and clattering like pressure cookers about to blow. Most assuredly it would seem that our country is headed straight off a real (not just fiscal) cliff in a metaphorical hand basket accompanied by the cranked-up strains of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

Thankfully, things are never as dire as the pundits and extremists would have us believe, and I strongly believe that the powers of good will always prevail. Sure, there’s trouble in River City–and just about everywhere else–but there’s a lot of really good stuff happening, too. You just have to look for it because you probably will not see it on the evening news.

All major world religions stress kindness as an attribute to which adherents should aspire. It may be expressed in different words or ways, but the message is clear. We are to treat one another with lovingkindness. We are to love our neighbors–both those we agree with and those we find abhorrent. I’ve included one of my favorite passages of scripture and a favorite quote. Yes, the arc of the moral universe does indeed bend toward justice, and kindness is the weight that helps us bend toward justice and a better world for all.

When we are kind to one another, we see each other through more compassionate eyes. We are more willing to listen, and not just listen but really hear and empathize with one another. When we are kind, we see a fellow human, a beloved child of the Creator, and one whose journey is equally as valid as our own rather than an opponent who is to be squashed like a stink bug.

So, dear reader, how have you practiced kindness today? What one small thing can you do to reach across a divide and make a difference? How can you accomplish one small thing to help heal this beautiful yet broken world?

Blessings on your continued thanks-living journey!

PS: Don’t forget to comment if you want to have your own copy of I’ve got Some Lovin’ to Do, Volume One of The Doris Diaries, edited by Julia Park Tracey.

Photos by ~maja*majika and sweetonveg. Thanks!

None of the Above

I made the mistake of answering the phone for a number I did not recognize today. It was a pleasant-sounding voice by the name of “Karen” conducting “market research.” Boy did she dial the wrong number!

The first question concerned where I get my news. My options were 1) newspapers, 2) television, 3) Internet, and 4) radio. My answer was 3) Internet. It’s here that I watch video, read newspapers, and enjoy the perspectives of several reputable news outlets including (but certainly not limited to) the BBC, NPR, Daily Good, Sojourners, UTNE Reader, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times.

The second question concerned advertising. The bile began to rise in my throat at this query. “Do you watch television advertisements,” “Karen” the voice purred? “No,” I responded flatly. “We don’t watch TV. We have a television, but we use it only for movies and Netflix.”

Uh, oh. I was not thrilled with the way this conversation was headed. She asked a few more banal advertising/marketing preference questions to which I was a lackluster respondent due to my disinterest in consumption in general and my lack of current advertising content knowledge. I don’t even get excited about Super Bowl ads,but I do adore Adbusters.

The real clinker came when she said, “We like to thank our survey participants by giving them a choice of one of three gifts–a $25 WalMart gift card, a $25 Target gift card, or a set of steak knives. Since I’m a functional vegetarian (only eating meat when it is a social necessity) and a person who avoids big box stores, I responded, “None of the above, thank you.” And that was that.

It feels good to be able to say “none of the above” and mean it, to joyfully opt out of consumption and walk another path. Had she asked me about supporting local businesses and family farmers, I could have waxed eloquent. Had she inquired about whether I prefer to purchase fair trade and/or recycled goods or whether I do my personal shopping at Goodwill and the Rescue Mission, we could have had a lovely conversation. Alas, I was simply one of “Karen” the voice’s more disappointing responses for the day.

That said, I’m quite comfortable in my un-consumer, non-conformist skin. Being a “None of the Above” kind of person allows me to live a rich life that focuses on relationships, creativity, faith, and justice. I am grateful for every breath and moment. Less stuff means more freedom, and that dear friends, is a very good thing.

How about you? Do you fall into the “None of the Above” category? If so, what do you think marketers most need to know about us? What do you enjoy most about the lifestyle you are living or aspire to live?

Photos by Marc Lagneau, cogdogblog, and Berto Garcia. Thanks!

Of Hoodies, Hurt, and Hope

Photo by juxtapose^esopatxuj

I guess you would have to be living under a rock–or at least without digital media–to not know about the tragedy that unfolded in Florida last week that left an innocent young man dead, a neighborhood and town in confusion, and people dismayed and hurting in all corners of this country. Trayvon Martin was on his way home from a convenience store with a bag of candy in his pocket, talking on his cell phone to another teen. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he didn’t “blend in with the scenery,” and it cost him his life at the hands of George Zimmerman, part of a neighborhood watch patrol.

As tragic as this unnecessary death was, even more horrifying is the state of affairs Trayvon’s murder points to: we are still held captive by fear and ignorance. One person uses stereotyping to size up another, and the result is a devastating chain of preventable events ending in loss of life, ruined lives, and increased tensions and hostilities. Click here to read a poem written about the subject.

We humans are fearful, or at least suspicious, of folks who don’t look like us, talk like us, dress like us, or think like us. Don’t think so? Have you ever crossed the street, or picked up your speed, or taken a different route, or looked away to avoid eye contact with a person who fits your own mental profile of someone who might potentially cause you harm?

A friend of mine once shared a “biker story” with me. A prominent business and civic leader, he and a group of friends (all highly respected leaders in their professions) took regular weekend road trips on their Harleys. One time they were out and saw an elderly couple stranded on the side of the highway. They stopped to help. My friend remembered clearly the frightened look incouple’s eyes when a half dozen men in leathers came toward them. Fear and ignorance had helped the couple concoct an impression they never would have dreamed had they seen the same men in their suits and lab coats during the week.

For Trayvon, the trigger was both the clothes (a hoodie) and the color of his skin that triggered the fear and ignorance. I’m wearing a hand-me-up-hoodie that used to belong to my daughter as I write this blog post, but because I’m a middle-aged white woman no one would think a second thought about me in the same situation.

In The House on Mango Street, author Sandra Cisneros chronicles the life of a Latina teen, Esperanza Cordero. Her story is told through a series of prose poems, and Trayvon’s story brought one to mind entitled “Those Who Don’t.” It begins “Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake.”

Esperanza recounts how she and her friends feel safe in their own neighborhood, and she describes some of the people who live there. However, at the end, her tone changes when she contemplates the converse situation, saying “All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes (28).”

Will we continue to let this be “how it goes and goes,” or will we choose to give thanks for our neighbor and look for the good, for the common ground, in one another? When will we be good Samaritans instead of fearful, turf-tending folk?  How long, O Lord, before we stop stereotyping one another and hating that which we don’t know and understand?

What happened to Trayvon Martin is one more inexcusable death, and it will take time to process the pain, anger, grief, and disbelief. The hurt is real and must be honored. Yet even in the midst of our pain, we can reach out and take the time to look each other in the eye–whether we are old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal, Christian, Jew, Muslim, or any other “human-defined” category–and see not a label or a stereotype but a beloved child of God. If we can do this one simple thing there is hope. And where there is hope, love may take root and grow.

May God be with and comfort all who are mourning this young man’s death, with those whose lives have been forever altered and whose decisions and choices have caused suffering, and indeed with all of us. Give us hope, Lord, so that we may love one another and You.

Today I give thanks for all people who seek to see others not as stereotypes but as fellow beings of worth, value, and potential. Thank you.

For further Consideration:

Click here to read a startling article about racism playing out in response to The Hunger Games, the blockbuster movie released last weekend that is based on the fantasy trilogy by Suzanne Collins.