Exercising the virtue of thrift can have unintended consequences…both good and bad. Consider a scenario. When shopping at the popular value priced grocery store, Aldi, consumers are met with a gadget on the shopping carts that requires a $.25 cent deposit to use the cart. This is one way Aldi keeps their prices low because they don’t have to hire people to manage carts on the parking lot and the carts last longer placed neatly back in the corral after each use. Surprisingly, that little coin mechanism produces a bit of virtue magic.
There is a friendly banter that routinely emerges between customers that can seem a rarity in our culture today. “I’ll take that cart for you dear,” says the elderly gentleman to the young mom managing three kids as she loads her bags into her trunk. Another customer smiles and says, “Pay it forward.” as she encourages the next person to use her cart with her quarter still in tow. I’v experienced and observed this happening among people of all races and all ages. People shop at Aldi because they want to get the best deals on quality foods, but the opportunity to experience routine habits of kindness practiced on the parking lot is the freshest gift with purchase. This is the miracle of generosity that can flourish within the virtue of THRIFT.
Each virtuous habit, like thrift, typically has not one but two vices that compete for the light and life it offers. In the case of thrift, the greedy selfish absence of it is demonstrated in the reckless spending of those who indulge in each tasty, shiny or popular temptation that seems impossible to resist. We all can recognize the devastating effects of compulsive shopping, gambling and the like.
But far more insidious is the subtle distortion of thrift that feels like a prudent path but traps us in a different kind of vice. We’ve all been there. Shopping on-line and looking for a good deal. Right? But, shopping habitually to get the best deals on ever increasing amounts of stuff is just, sorry to say, greediness dressed in virtuous clothing. We are ever more tempted, and often able to afford, whatever is new, fun and beautiful because it is so cheap. Often with that irresistible bonus of free shipping to boot.
But just like the goodness that happens on the parking lot of ALDI, our choices often have unintended consequences. As an author and a virtuous media promoter, I’m very sensitized to the way publishing is effected by such effects. As we shop with a smile with an on-line behemoth so we can get more, better, cheaper, and quicker books, movies and more, it is a great feeling. But choosing to do business with that behemoth also enables them to publish and pump thousands of new, deeply disturbed violent, occult, and erotica titles into the marketplace DAILY. We don’t realize that our shopping is involved with all the seedy darkness because our shopping preferences are carefully monitored on line. If we walked into a brick-and-mortar store featuring so much filth we might consider shopping elsewhere and tell our friends to consider other options too.
We often wonder what we can do to keep virtues and values from disappearing in society. The answer might be as simple as shopping more often at a retailer that requires driving a car and taking some time, and then interacting with real people. That action will slow down our impulse purchasing. It also allows us to consider the values of the company we are shopping with so that we patronize folks who actually choose NOT to sell certain kinds of things. Perhaps we can find an Amazing Catholic Store that will offer us reading and viewing options that might cost us a little bit more, but will offer deeper and richer value. The bonus is that when we patronize actual family owned local businesses, we are helping our communities to thrive.
The reality is that on-line shopping is here to stay. The convenience is irresistible, but perhaps we can be intentional about looking for more options to slow down the pace of our “I must have it because it is such a good deal” hidden greed shopping. Being responsible with our money can also mean spending it on value and values at the same time. That’s thrifty shopping with a true smile inside.
Virtues always involve hundreds of tiny choices that over time become internal muscle memory. Let’s choose choices that are good for us on the inside and good for everyone else around us too.
Author, Editor, Educator and VIRTUE WORKS MEDIA Ministry founder, Cathy Gilmore is pioneering an entirely new way to look at both print and visual media. Through the lens of virtue. This is the start of a movement in which Catholics can have clear rubrics and a dynamic platform that enables us to think about and recommend quality entertainment that offers soul satisfying content that is worth our time. You can find Cathy on twitter @PowerofParable or follow this blog at www.CatherineCGilmore.com. Contact Cathy at VirtueWorksMedia@outlook.com .
Cathy believes the God can use the power of parable to reshape culture and renew the face of the earth. Look for the Good. Offer it to everyone.