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Yesterday in my other blog I posted about a thread I started on Facebook that took off like wildfire. I thought that people expecting to get something for nothing from creative people was the problem, but after speaking with the plumbers who replaced our well pump yesterday who also get regularly nickle and dimed by friends and family members, I realized this was a deeper problem. It wasn't just that creative people were being rampantly undervalued, the fact is, everyone wants something for nothing and if you're willing to give it to them, they'll gladly take it. We've been so conditioned to get it all super cheap and super fast that we're reticent to pay more or wait for anything. Of course we'll stand on our soap boxes and preach about buying handmade and buying American and then turn around and look for a super sale or hit the local corporate chain store in search of dollar items and bargain bin scores without a second thought about the deeper implications.
Earth Day is today and after a particularly fruitful visit to a local thrift store I mentioned to my husband that if more people bought second hand and re-purposed these items, the world would be a better place. In my twenties everything I owned came from thrift stores-my clothes, my shoes, my decor, my furniture...everything but my food! The grease pencil prices on the bottom of my shoes were a family joke, but I was the one laughing because I knew how much those vintage shoes were worth! I didn't have a car and the thrift stores were in walking distance, plus I loved vintage and it was plentiful back in the 80s in the Bay Area. I'm determined to master my sewing machine so that I can whip up my own fabulous clothing from vintage fabric and patterns and stop contributing to the mass consumer culture. Yet I, too, bend to the siren song of that fabulous and super cheap dress at Forever 21 or H&M.
The fact is, if it's cheap, someone didn't get paid fairly. Chances are that someone lives in a third world country, they work in sweatshop conditions and might even be trapped in a lifetime of indentured servitude. When we created laws to protect the worker in this country, it was a very good thing. Unfortunately as time progressed the manufacturers took their business elsewhere so they could get cheap labor again. Fact is, that cheap thing we covet isn't cheap at all. It's quite expensive, only someone else has paid the price so we can get it cheap.
A good friend of mine told me a story once that haunts me still. He was in China visiting a factory when a worker on the floor had a sudden heart attack and died. My friend expressed his concern and the tour guide responded, "Don't worry, we can get you another worker."
When my husband and I had a bead shop and Fair Trade gallery we struggled daily with the unfortunate dichotomy of beautiful fair trade handicrafts being sold opposite beads that I knew were being made by people who were dying of silicosis from breathing the dust produced in carving and drilling gemstones and created by people working in sweatshop style factories. Though we also sold beautiful handcrafted beads and vintage Swarovski crystal, people mostly wanted the cheap strands. Eventually we took the beads home and it felt right to do it. No one really wants to think about why things are so cheap. They may give lip service to supporting the small business owner and making this country great again, but most of them don't put their money where their mouths are. Then when an independent guy or gal asks to be paid fairly for their work, people balk. What? How much? I can get that at Target for a dollar!
I am guilty too, so this isn't a sermon.
How do we shift our way of thinking? How do we let go of this need to have so much and get it cheap? What will it take for people to realize that we all deserve a living wage and to be fairly compensated for our hard work? I wonder. I think that moving the factories overseas has disconnected us from reality, just like we've lost a connection to the food we eat. It's also killed our economy, but that's another topic for another day. We live in a time when we are more connected than we've ever been and yet more disconnected than we've ever been. We're busy, busy in our little bubbles of cell phones and social networking sites and TV programs, it's so easy to get whatever we want whenever we want it and get it cheap...we're losing the basic milk of human kindness. That's a mighty expensive scenario when you think about what we've lost.