Today is Black Friday, the pinnacle of the year for bargain hunters. It all started innocently in 2012. Being the day after Thanksgiving Thursday and normally a day off work for most, it was also traditionally the day that Americans did their Christmas shopping. Retailers competed for their attention with reduced prices, filling up their coffers before a lean January.
Sadly whilst Thanksgiving – a celebration of literally giving thanks for our fortune – has not caught on outside North America, Black Friday has gone global, with people around the world going wild for end-of-November bargains and retailers laughing all the way to the bank. Of late, it has been joined by Cyber Monday, which focuses on high tech deals. Marketed as a guaranteed way to save money, we have to stop for a moment and ask what does this manic, unsustainable consumption actually achieve? Do we really need to have so much? Why are we compelled to carry on buying even when we have more than we will ever need? One can’t help but think of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Darlington quip “we know the price of everything but the value of nothing”.
This year will see a 36% increase in the amount South Africans are forecast to spend on 29th November, whilst Britons are predicted to spend over £5 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases. That’s just two countries. The terrible irony is that the people spending this money aren’t even necessarily getting a great deal. A British consumer group found that most products in Black Friday sales are available for the same price or cheaper at other times of the year. We are being sucked in by the buzz and the marketing, buying because we’re told it’s cheap and because we are made to believe we need it. Even worse, the products we buy may quite possibly be used little if at all before being discarded, to be replaced in the Black Friday sales next year – and so the sorry cycle continues.
The focus on consumption to feed the desires of the individual at the expense of all else – planet included – is the ugly face of late capitalism and liberalism. The impact of this level of consumption on the planet is unappreciated: the more stuff we buy, the more of our limited resources we use and the fuller our landfill sites get. Indeed, the French parliament is planning to debate whether Black Friday should be banned on the grounds that it is bad for the planet, promotes overconsumption and flouts laws on sales periods.
Thankfully, there is a movement to counteract Black Friday and all that it represents.
Giving Tuesday is an annual event that takes place on the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It empowers people to give to causes that are important to them, financially or with their time, and is a powerful antidote to consumerism and individualism. It is helping to shift our collective mindset from one of ‘I want’ to a more generous ‘I want to give’.
Giving doesn’t only benefit the recipient: there is much truth in the old adage that it is better to give than to receive. It is well known that those who are most generous and compassionate enjoy reduced stress levels, increased happiness and wellbeing and even increased longevity. Helping others gives us that lasting glow of contentment that another smartphone or car can never provide. What’s more, it’s contagious! The more that we give and help, the more others will see that what we are doing has positive ramifications for both them and their communities – and so it continues.
There is of course an obvious benefit for the planet if you decide to spend your money helping a cause rather than buying more resource-heavy ‘stuff’. In the western world we are all living as if there are several planets: we just have one and giving rather than buying is a bold statement of what you want for the future. By choosing to give and not buy, you are standing with all the young people participating in the #GlobalClimateStrike today and demanding more and better action for the planet.
So this Black Friday, and this season of “thanks-giving”, we implore you to buy only what you actually need – rather than what you want. That in itself is an important step to a more sustainable world. And with the money you have saved, buy yourself that happiness, that glow that comes from giving, and donate to a cause or causes that are important to you.
At Routes to Resilience, we are empowering young people to become the sustainable, compassionate leaders of tomorrow – leaders who will hold the wellbeing of the people and the earth at the heart of important decisions. Our Sygnature Award, developed in collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership in South Africa, develops the literacies, skills, mindset and competencies in young adults so they can drive forward their personal and professional contributions to leadership in sustainability practice. We aim to inform, inspire and ignite young people: to awaken their consciousness, nurture their confidence and encourage intentional citizenship action.
We want to take our programme to as many young people as possible, regardless of their circumstances, because the solutions to environmental and social issues are linked and are found across society.
So please join us this #GivingTuesday and help us to #GiveAFuture – to young people, to society and to our beautiful planet Earth.