Black Friday tends to arouse strong feelings in a lot of people, both positive and negative. While many are excited to take advantage of deals and get their holiday shopping done, others feel that this kickoff to the holiday season is a shallow and dangerous tradition. Reports over the last few years have detailed the physical injury that retail employees and other shoppers have sustained at the hands of particularly fervent Black Friday shoppers, the details of which have only fueled this debate further. In fact, the New York Times recently published an article on the psychology behind this phenomenon of Black Friday violence, referring to several studies that have been done on the topic. They suggest that Black Friday shopping can bring out the worst in people- shoving, yelling, taking things from others, fighting, and even trampling one another. The researchers found that this behavior is usually sparked by a sense of unfairness, a reaction to an environment or situation perceived as inequitable. Another predictor of misbehavior is called “consumer competitive arousal,” which prompts people to approach their interactions with others like a zero-sum game. This is usually a reaction to scarcity of a particular product, and the sense of urgency in those seeking it. Needless to say, the accompanying behavior is often immature and violent.
In reaction to consumers’ rising disgust with this holiday over the past few years, some companies have made it their marketing strategy to actively oppose Black Friday and the “creeping” of sales into Thanksgiving afternoon. They’ve put out ads touting their devotion to “family time” and the secular sacredness of the Thanksgiving holiday. Some have made public decisions to shut their doors on Black Friday in protest of the antisocial behavior mentioned earlier and to save their customers the stress of shopping on that day. But one article points out that while this motivation may be authentic, and while it’s always admirable of companies to forgo potential profits, it is likely that these decisions are more of a calculated strategy to capitalize on Black Friday backlash, especially because none of them are likely to lose much money with the increasing popularity of Cyber Monday shopping.
I don’t want to sound preachy, but I’ve never been a fan of Black Friday or Cyber Monday, probably because I don’t really like shopping to begin with- I find it boring and stressful (all except grocery shopping, which for some reason I really enjoy). But I find the Black Friday mix of desperate consumerism and accompanying cynicism particularly exhausting, mostly because it doesn’t really have any meaning. I’d rather spend my money on something that makes me feel good about the world (or food, but that’s beside the point). I’d rather invest in another person in my community than line the pockets of a CEO I’ll never meet. That’s why I’m excited for the day after Cyber Monday- Giving Tuesday. According to the official website, #GivingTuesday is “a global day of giving and a movement that brings together families, students, businesses, and charities in order to strengthen our communities. Millions of people will take this day to support and champion the causes they believe in.” #GivingTuesday kicks off the holiday season by reminding us what’s really important in our lives- taking care of the people around us.
Personally, I have a list of organizations I care about that I’ll be giving to. Most of them have been sending me mailings and emails all year, and I keep telling myself I’m going to give to them, and then life happens and I forget and never get around to doing it. But I’ve marked this day on my calendar as the day I’m going to follow through and support those causes I believe in, even if it’s just 5 or 10 dollars. And (surprise!) one of those organizations happens to be United Way. That’s because I know my donation is going to have an impact- I’ve been on the bus tour, listened to people who are served by our partner agencies, and met some of our board members and volunteers. And I know that the money I give will be used to provide people with dental, pediatric, geriatric and women’s healthcare, safe homes for survivors of domestic abuse, transitional housing for young families, permanent housing for people who need a safe and structured environment, and food for children, adults and seniors at food pantries, community centers, shelters, and after-school programs, not to mention heating assistance, financial assistance, legal services, vocational training- I don’t think I need to go on, but if you’re interested you can find a more complete list here.
To me, giving someone an opportunity to get back on their feet is much more meaningful than a TV or an iPad or even some really fancy cheese. And I feel better about myself when I make a commitment to supporting others. It’s a reminder that life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game or a competition over scarce resources. It can be collaborative. Compassionate. Joyful. And that’s what the holidays are about. So I have one question:
This #GivingTuesday, how will you give?