COMMENTARY | Now that Black Friday has come and gone we Americans settle into the Christmas shopping season, complete with Salvation Army bells in front of many stores. We drop in coins, perhaps a few bills, typically doing so less often than we would like to admit. Such is life for the average consumer: We feel the guilt but don’t do much. We shake our heads grimly about working-class wage-earners being forced to work Thanksgiving and Black Friday…but rush for the doorbusters anyway.
In a suburb of Salt Lake City a Mormon bishop decided to see firsthand his flock’s response to witnessing abject poverty and need. Enlisting the help of a professional makeup artist, the church leader transformed himself into a “scruffy” homeless man, reports NBC. Before the service the bishop panhandled in front of his own chapel, going unrecognized by parishioners. Some gave change and food while others requested that he leave the property. Later, during the service itself, the bishop revealed his true identity, stunning his flock. Many became emotional and vowed to give more to the needy. The bishop was struck, however, by how many of his congregants had tried to ignore the homeless man in front of the church.
It is important for us to be reminded that poverty and homelessness can strike anyone and that we are all in this economy together. Poverty and homelessness do not occur to “other people.” As a college graduate who finished his M.A. in 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession, I know how quickly bad luck can strike a model citizen. Mounting debt, no jobs, and personal tragedies can combine to turn any one of “us” into one of “them” – the individuals we try to ignore when we see them appealing for help. We don’t like to think what could have led to the cardboard signs, unkempt appearances, and tattered clothing. It’s just safer and quicker to assume that we are immune from such occurrences.
The bishop’s hard-hitting reminder that any of us could become a bearer of cardboard sign, haggard face, unwashed hair, and worn clothing is important in an era when it’s easier to go for the quick buck than examine the underlying problems with society. It’s easier to buy stock in corporations than examine how they keep making such high profits (hint: paying workers less). It’s easier to keep championing feel-good phrases like “support our troops” and “everyone should go to college” than to examine whether citizens are being sold a raw deal on exorbitant defense and higher education costs.
I, for one, vow to no longer give in to the lure of Black Friday. My wife and I hope to consciously ignore the rampant consumerism of the season and, next year, we want to “take back” Thanksgiving. I plan to put more money in those Salvation Army collection buckets. I plan to be better.