Sunday, July 10, 2016

A No-Shop Independence Day and the Golden Rule

Having worked in retail for over 5 years now, I’m well acquainted with the following line from customers on holidays on which I am required to work:

“Oh, it sucks you guys have to be here today.”

For the real quote, just replace “today” with “on the Fourth of July” or “Christmas Eve,” what have you.

Luckily, I did not hear that on Monday, Independence Day, because I only had to work two hours before I was offered an early exit.  Despite having to leave a family gathering to drive to work, I was thankful because being able to leave work at 815pm or so meant that I was able to rejoin my son and husband for baby’s first fireworks.  I had worked late on the days before and it was my only real chance to see them.

What I really wanted to discuss in bringing this up, however, is a principle by which I often judge my own actions and that I’ve found helpful in determining my own behavior: I think about what would happen if everyone else was to behave as I do.  Put another way, I try to act as I would like other people to act. 

This is not very far from the classic “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from Luke 6:31 or Matthew 7:12, among other holy texts in other traditions.  The reason I like to rephrase it is to make it more broad, to encompass not just actions that directly affect other people, but ones that indirectly affect others as well.

For example, the person who shops on the Fourth of July may not feel like he or she is doing harm to the employees helping her buy a patio set.  Supporting a particular business can be a good thing and ideally, profits translate into more good jobs.  Let’s say the customer was polite, signed up for the store card and the transaction went beautifully.  While it “sucks” that the employee has to work on a holiday, the store is open anyway and it’s better to give them something to do, right?  The problem with this is that it takes away any personal responsibility for causing the employee to have to work on that particular day.

I’m not really that bitter about having to work on holidays, but I do wish things were different in our country.  At this point, I can’t really launch into a different line of work because of my schedule requirements.  Working weekends has long since ceased to bother me.  The thing is, there will always be someone working on the holidays when there are people in the store shopping.  Even if I got a different job, someone else would be working it.  I know that July 4th is over and that I will surely fail to reach anyone who truly doesn’t care that people work on the holidays, but for anyone who has ever thought, “gee, that sucks for them” and shopped anyway, this is for you.

It is true that one shopper is not making or breaking a store’s decision to stay open on a major holiday, but each individual shopper makes an impact on that decision.  If no one busted down the doors on Thanksgiving for deals on electronics, the stores would not be opening.  You, the individual consumer, do matter.  Imagine if everyone acted the same as you – would the result be how you would want things? 

If people did their shopping for grills or patio sets or whatever was on sale even just the night before, the doors would be closed on the holiday and the holiday would be enjoyed by more people.  Employees would benefit from being with their families and would-be customers would be able to turn their attention back to their families for the day.  Now that I think of it, I’m actually not sure which is worse, working retail or shopping on a major holiday.

I understand of course that we would have to exclude essential emergency workers, due to the important jobs they do (thank you, by the way.)  Let me assure you: a sale on charcoal is not an emergency.  While it is sometimes possible for people to be granted a different holiday, for the majority of people working in retail and fast food, it is not always possible to just reschedule family plans or see different fireworks.

It’s also no secret that our celebrations sometimes do not match up with the holidays themselves.  I don’t imagine that everyone should read the Declaration of Independence in their living room, dressed up like our founding fathers, on July 4th, but I do think people deserve to spend the holidays with their loved ones and their community. 

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think John Adams had clearance prices on mulch or riding lawn mowers in mind when he envisioned the excitement of the day.  A checkout line is not a parade.  What is truly important is the celebration of our community as Americans, and the significance of the holiday should reach every citizen, regardless of our differences in religion, age, gender, military status, and so on.  At certain times, we celebrate these differences.

The problem is obviously not unique to July 4th.  On Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, our veterans working in retail are there with the rest of us.  There is also something very sad about a country who cannot offer a veteran quality health care but who will give him 10% off a new refrigerator.  Too often, that same veteran would have trouble putting food in it if she could even afford to buy it. 

As a parallel, some of us laud businesses that stay closed on Sundays, like Chick-fil-A, but then give our business to other establishments the same day.  We cannot have it both ways and we must act as if we are personally responsible for how things are in society.

After the fireworks, I considered going to Burger King.  The baby was tired, we were hungry and other places were closed.  But then I thought about it.  I wouldn’t want other people to shop for anything on the Fourth of July and it would be hypocritical to do the same.  The person manning the drive through at the local Burger King may have also wanted to go to the fireworks that night, but perhaps was unable to, because they had to work.  If I went to Burger King, then I would have personally caused the store to be open and the people in it to work.  I don’t think this is an exaggeration.  It was an easy decision.  We went straight home.

I am not very hopeful that the trend in the US will be reversed and suddenly national holidays will become what they were meant to be, but I think this version of the Golden Rule will be helpful in the days to come, especially with a presidential election on the horizon.  This election, will you vote for someone in order to keep someone else out of office, or will you consider voting for someone you actually want to see in office, even if they are a third party candidate?  What would happen if everyone voted like you? 

Will you vote with your money by shopping at places of business that behave as you would, if you ran the business?  And will you please stay home on the holidays with your family so that we can shut the doors on shopping once in a while?  I promise you, there will still be things to buy the next day.

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