If you happen to be in the queue for a store to open at midnight tonight so that you can partake in Black Friday specials, or if you're asleep right now because you're getting up at 4am to make sure you're up and at the mall by 5, don't look for me. I won't be there. But perhaps I could inspire you to think differently about consumption this holiday.
The last month has seen devastation on the East Coast due to Hurricane Sandy, and the resurgence of violence in the Middle East. There are people who need serious help to rebuild their lives. And there are people who need an iPad Mini. If you're one of the people in the latter category, enjoy the lines at the Apple store. I don't begrudge you your technology, or wanting to get the best price, even if you lose a few hours of sleep (or a toe in the stampede). But maybe this is a chance for us to think about how most of our shopping is for things we want, and not things we need.
Most of us are lucky - our shopping habits operate from a place of privilege, a sign that we have enough to survive, we have shelter and food, and can spend additional cash on ways to improve that life with additional decorative, style or entertainment options.
But there are ways that you can help people who really need their basic shelter and sustenance needs met, and ensure that people feel your concern and your care across the miles. Here are five ways - they're options for you to consider, in thinking about how you can help provide to people in need as you go about your shopping business.
1. Stay informed and help however you can. Get updates on the needs of those afflicted by Hurricane Sandy, and help them feel grateful this year. This could include visiting the Niederhoffer Foundation page on Facebook, making a donation through their page on the MJE website, donating to Gift Card Relief, or asking local businesses to participate in Sandy Friday, in which the businesses agree to donate 10% of their profits to Sandy victims. (Do watch out for Sandy relief scams, though - unfortunately there is always someone looking to exploit the weak...)
2. Work the network. Ask your friends if they know of anyone personally who needs help. Some crowdfunding campaigns to raise funds for individuals (friends of friends) have already gone up, for instance this one to help a single mother of five, who is a friend of a friend of mine.
3. What percentage of you cares? Love Black Friday? Then go out and shop to your heart's content. Away for Thanksgiving in another city, dining out lots? Enjoy. And when you get home, total up what you saved on Black Friday or what you spent on your Thanksgiving vacation, and give a portion of that to charity. One source last year reported the national spending over the Thanksgiving weekend as $54 BILLION. Imagine everyone rounding up to the nearest dollar, or adding a dollar to their purchase designated for charity, or giving just one percent of what they spent to a family or charity in need.
4. Create a new holiday, with a different focus, and Tweet widely. Giving Tuesday was proposed by the 92nd Street Y and Mashable is a founding partner - using specific Twitter hashtags or pinning things on Pinterest generates a donation from one of several companies like Aldo and Sony. (Check here for details on how to make sure your tweets generate the donations.)
5. If your heart is in Israel, help. Give to the JFNA Israel Terror Relief Fund. Or help contribute to a campaign to buy toys and games for kids who have to spend hours in bomb shelters. Learn more about Israel's social media outreach in this piece in Tablet.
There's lots to read on the internet, and lots of ways to act. But probably the most important act is a shift in perspective, acknowledging how lucky most of us are, and admitting that it is our responsibility to help others where we can. Once we have a new lens in place, we can see more than ourselves - we can see ourselves in a larger context.
Feel free to share resources or charity efforts that you've found particularly helpful, meaningful, or accessible. Wishing you all the luxury of gratitude, and the awareness of both the imperfections of this world and the fact that it is in our power to make a difference.