Buy-Nothing Day

23 Nov

As a person, and now as a teacher, I am constantly trying to “define” myself. Who am I, really? What is important to me?

Today, “Black Friday,” is a big part of who I am. Because, instead of waiting in line at 4 am (or even overnight) in order to get the “best deal” on things I really “need,” I celebrate Buy Nothing Day. The main concept is to pay attention to what is really important. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I think the more you concentrate on what you don’t have, the more you lose sight of what you do have. What I have is amazing friends and family. A roof over my head. Enough to eat, clothes to keep me warm and dry, and a great university program in which I am learning to become the best teacher I can be.

Last year, I worked retail on Black Friday. I got up at 5:45, and worked for 8 hours, selling things to people who had waited in line for hours. I didn’t even have it that bad. Some stores open even earlier, and this year many large stores were open on Thanksgiving night, so people could “get their deals” even earlier. Let’s keep in mind that retail employees usually arrive at work 1-3 hours before a store opens. Which means, if you really need to buy your discounted TV at 8pm on Thanksgiving night, the employee who sold it to you probably missed dinner with his or her family.

Ok, but what does this have to do with education? A lot. As a teacher, I hope to give my students a sense of pride in what they have, what they can do, and who they are. A big-screen TV doesn’t define you, a good deal on the hottest video game doesn’t define you – your actions define you. A grade doesn’t define you, the work you put in to earn that grade does.

I am also well aware that it is likely I will be teaching the children of parents who are expected to give up their Thanksgiving to ensure a good retail turnout. As a teacher, it will be partially in my hands to remind these students that they are important in this world. As William Ayers says in the final chapter of To Teach:

The fundamental message of the teacher is this: You must change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, the teacher invites you to a second chance, another round, perhaps a different conclusion. The teacher posits possibility, openness, and alternative; the teacher points to what could be, but is not yet. The teacher beckons you to change your path. (p 161)

Whoever my students are, I want to be a teacher who helps them to know that they can change their life. And that they can change the world, simply by changing their own path.

I am thankful today for all the people who do have work. The people who gave up their holiday (or the day after) to sell or cook or serve things. The people who don’t have a choice, but who work hard to make sure their families are taken care of.

I am also thankful for the people who choose not to participate in the craziness of the day. It’s a small act, choosing to sit out of this retail madness, but I think it can help define who we are as a culture – are we people who care about others, or do we only care about ourselves? Can money really buy happiness?

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – His Holiness The 14th Dali Lama


3 Responses to “Buy-Nothing Day”

  1. ArtofTeaching November 23, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    What a wonderful, thoughtful post! You gave me so much to think about. I did a little online black Friday shopping this year but you’ve inspired me to really think about my purchases and what I chose to support. For next year, I’ve resolved to either follow by your example and buy nothing on Black Friday, or to support local businesses (which I should be making a point to support year round anyway!).
    I remember working Black Friday at a Borders years ago. I was in the cafe, and we had to open at a ridiculous hour and we had a line out the door for hours… flashbacks!
    Thanks for writing this thoughtful post.

    • teacherbecoming2013 November 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

      I’m glad to hear you’re inspired! One “mainstream” retail holiday I do like to take part in is “Local Business Saturday,” which is tomorrow. As the name implies, it encourages people to buy from local businesses, not national chains.
      Although I understand people’s desire to save money on gifts, Black Friday seems to have gotten out of hand! There are always news stories of people being trampled for a deal on a video game, or something of the sort.
      Aren’t you glad we (hopefully, knock on wood) won’t have to work a retail Black Friday ever again? I will gladly grade papers the day after Thanksgiving, compared to that!

  2. imgettingschooled November 24, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    I enjoyed reading your post. I have gone out Black Friday shopping a couple times in the past. It has been a couple years considering I’ve had to work retail until this year. This year it was a mix of, “Do I really need to go shopping?” and “I can’t afford to go shopping!” I was watching some YouTube videos of people fighting over phones and video games. Biting, hitting, and trampling others in the name of getting a questionable good deal.
    You are right in our impact to students. Though at many times it can be subtle, we can choose to be very intentional in what values we place before our students. I remember in school our teachers pushing Turn off the TV Week and Mix-it-up Day. These were great, but they didn’t leave a lasting impact. There wasn’t much discussion or follow through by the teachers. It felt like more of an inconvenience than a learning experience. Your students are going to be very lucky to have a teacher like you. Impacting their minds as well as their hearts.

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