November 28, 2008

A Black Friday Letter. ~ via Catherine Fordham.

At 5 am this morning a man was killed, a pregnant woman was pushed over and 4 people were injured by a frenzied mob. No, this was not a political protest, or a club full of crazed drunk 20-somethings—this was the biggest shopping day of the year at a Wal-Mart Store on Long Island, NY.

The Huffington Post is mobbed with comments about their post on this story. All the usual stuff–people are f’ing scary and the Holidays bring out the worst, Wal-Mart is the worse place to spend your money at this time (They pay their employees (who apparently have very dangerous jobs) very little, they stomp out local economies, much of their merchandise is made cheaply in China, etc). There are 16 pages of these comments, and many are spot on (if not a little mean).

But here’s what I find myself thinking today. It’s easy to be disgusted by the people at that Wal-Mart. I picture hungry ghosts desperate for their next fix. I picture small-minded people with large appetites.

But haven’t we all felt that desperation and small mindedness? Living in NYC and constantly being in crowds, I struggle to remember that the people around me are people, and not just in my way. I once almost pushed over a blind man trying to catch a train. Caught up in speed and frustration, I found my self repeating “I hate you” under my breath while walking though a crowded Grand Central Station (indiscriminately, to everyone who crossed my path). I intentionally bump people out of my way walking up 7th avenue at lunch hour.

Being a sane person in the 21st Century is hard. The grip of materialism is like super glue–even for those of us who focus a lot of our lives trying to understand it. It’s an uncertain time in the world economy, and we are bombarded by bad news all day long.

Things are scary. So, while Wal-Mart should do much more to change the conditions that led to this horrible situation, and while we need to do so much work to change this stuff-driven Holiday Season, I want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that I could have been that person at Wal-Mart who pushed someone out of her way to get a bargain.

All of us have been stuck in that mind-set, at one time or another. And we have a lot of work to do, in our own minds and hearts, and in the societies we create, to be kind to the people around us—even in a crowd.

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