Contribution vs. Consumerism

Found in: School News

By Justin Krause

Our good friends at Wikipedia define ‘Consumerism’ as, “a social and economic order and ideology [that] encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.”

The Miriam Webster online dictionary defines it as follows: “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also...  a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.”

Wherever we look the message of consume, consume, consume is there for us to see. Upgrade your phone, upgrade your car, upgrade your house. Oh, look! Version 10.1.1 comes with a slightly bigger camera or more voice-activated commands!

I know that I sound like my grandparents now, but I remember a time when items were indeed built to last. How is it with the ancient technologies of a few decades ago, engineers knew the ancient mysteries of making a refrigerator, washing machine or kettle last 20 years or more and today, stores will offer to sell us a warranty upgrade from one to two or three years? Yes, we all know well the strategy of planned obsolescence.

Consumerism has reached new heights in recent decades and sadly you and I are victims of and often willing participants in the charade. Now I admit I am not an economist and I will not presume to have those particular answers. However there is nothing about the world economy that leads me to think we have indeed found the Utopian economic dream.

More importantly to me are the dangers of a consumerist attitude as it pertains to our children and their futures and to the danger of us ignoring the costs of consumerism. The wonderful thing about life the universe and everything is that inevitably it all relies on balance. We cannot continue to fool ourselves that our developed world consumerism does not come at a hefty price. We are only able to consume in the vast amounts we do because it is financially accessible. I was blown away when my wife pointed out that our new cordless camping kettle only cost $7 at one of our well known chain stores. What a bargain. However great that may be for my bank balance, how is it possible that such a thing could be possible?

Well truth be told, the only logical conclusion I could draw was that for me to enjoy the low priced goods, a poor family in a third world country must be receiving a wage that by Australian standards must be considered below the poverty line. We cannot convince ourselves that this is a win-win deal. We only need to look closer to home at the cheap milk saga for another example.

Too easily can our young people fall into the trap of measuring their worth by the brand of phone or designer clothing. Too easily can we set them up to revolve in a cycle of never-ending dissatisfaction as the spell of material happiness wears off and they continually look to the next best and latest item of consumerist products to bring a sense of well being and meaning. All the while, the impact on our earth and third world communities is neatly put out of our minds.

We owe it to our children to raise them to see the world through the eyes of a contributor instead of a consumer. Not what can I get, but what can I give and do. The importance of service learning and the charitable and philanthropic endeavours that we expose our children to are more than just Christian niceties, they are essential to teaching and reinforcing the message that there is a world out there that is in need. It is essential in helping them realise that their sense of worth and hope comes not from how much they have and own but from the knowledge that we are all children of God and that he loves us and values us in spite of our short comings. Let us try to more often direct the conversation to what we can contribute instead of what we can consume.