Some of you may have read my blogs and realised that I work at World Vision. It may come as a surprise that I haven’t written much about that since there is so much to write about. Part of my reluctance is a hesitancy to poverty bash since you are probably reading this on your iphone or computer just as I am writing this on my own beloved iPad. I am still struggling myself to make sense of it all but after 2 years of being surrounded by clever people at World Vision, I am finally starting to get it.
I love stuff, I love stuff that is intuitive, smart design and has features that I keep discovering. The element of surprise keeps me from the abyss of boredom – pathetic! I am unfortunately the typical consumerist that will get sucked in with the right kind of ad campaign. If I don’t hand over my dollars, I hand over my time in big slabs as I justify the need to ‘research’ the product just in case I can afford it at some point and my wife gives me the nod.
When I first started at World Vision my boss sent me on a trip to India which I reluctantly agreed to. My conscience was appeased by the thought of working at an aid organisation, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to witness debilitating poverty and put a real face to what was only a concept – probably in fear that somehow my problems would take a back step and I would be perilously forced to acknowledge my problems aren’t that bad. I like to wallow in my struggle at times – very therapeutic.
No surprise to you that my experience was life changing and I will never be the same.
Since then I have looked at my own consumerism through a new lens. I lived in the USA for almost 5 years and stuff is cheap, I mean really cheap. Behind SOME of the cheap stuff is no doubt child labour or at least opportunism from rich people making poor people poorer. I wish I never saw what I saw because now I can’t enjoy stuff as much as I used to – ignorance is splendidly bliss.
When I was a kid I didn’t have a whole lot and I got really good at fixing things. My toys eventually took on their own quirks as they got more and more modified by my attempts to make them last longer. The longer I kept them in service, the more it meant to me. These days it is much easier to just throw something away and buy a new one and I have to work really hard to suppress the temptation. I used to convince myself that it was more economical to buy new things instead of fixing old things supported by the logic that my time was worth a certain amount so it was more expensive for me to fix it – but then I would happily waste that ‘valuable’ time on tv.
Now, I am pretty crap at avoiding the temptation of my purchasing power and I don’t expect my self-righteous sermon to move you in the way I am haunted by my own experiences witnessing physical poverty (that is my personal journey)….I have had the disturbing confrontation of seeing the humanitarian expense on the poor so the rich can remain rich. Now my decision to waste is at the expense of denying my conviction and the people I met who are at the receiving end of my obsession to find a bargain.
These days my first (or second) reflexive reaction to something broken in our house is to fix it. It has brought about a few benefits that I didn’t expect. Firstly there is the financial one, every time I fix something we save and we don’t add to the already littered planet we live on. Secondly I have been pleasantly surprised how interested my kids are in fixing things. In fact, when something is broken my kids are chuffed because it means they spend time with me and get to use my sacred tools (oh the pain). ThirdIy I get more satisfaction by fixing something than buying it – a sense of pride every time I see the toy or goods functioning again. The post elation from buying something only lasts a few hours, fixing something gives a much more satisfying high.
My wife claims that ‘retail therapy’ helps her survive the challenges of life….hmmmm…. actually she has a Dutch streak and buys things on a thread, it can sometimes annoy me a little – can you see the fine balance we have to walk in our house??? But she too enjoys the fun we all have trying to fix something (except when I try and fix something that wasn’t broken – she really hates that!)
At the expense of stereo typing the male species, I’d have to say that we guys intuitively like to fix things. If it isn’t practical things it is trying to fix your wife or kids problems with 3 easy steps. Trust me, it is safer to fix things than your wife…they hate it when you bring a spanner or a hammer to an emotional problem. Apparently emotional problems aren’t meant to be fixed anyway….simply acknowledged and squared off with a supportive hug – too easy (but very hard to understand).
So my suggestion is put that intuitive fixaholic tendency to better use. Fix your kids toys, learn how to fix the car, make things last longer. Your time is not worth more than the effort it takes to fix something, there are too many side benefits to ignore. The combination of fixing things, buying less and paying more for an ethical product will begin to directly impact debilitating poverty and pollution, that has to be good!
Obviously not everything that is cheap has child labour behind it, you can find out by asking the supplier or going online. One thing I can assure you of is those who say that child labour gives some income to their families and taking away our purchasing power can only have a negative impact, is misinformed – i have seen it and it is evil. The truth is using child labour to make cheap stuff is insidious and doesn’t give anyone a chance to get out of poverty, the demand just feeds the practice. It is a trap and makes things worse, much worse.
But we can do something about it…Men, stop trying to fix your wives and fix your kids toys instead, or even better teach them how to fix things and enjoy the fun, buy less stuff and buy ethically, you can’t lose!