To be a consumer (as we’re all told we are these days) is to look at the world with ever-judging eyes. Too hot, or too cold, not fast enough, or productive enough, helpful enough, entertaining enough, loving enough, committed enough, or rewarding enough… We come to look at our relationships, our employees, our colleagues, our every experience of life as if framed always by potential disappointment. This is what a consumer, in the end, is – the one who reserves the right to complain or withdraw at any moment.
It only takes a little thought about this to see how inappropriate a consumer orientation is for most of what’s important in life. In friendship, in intimate relationships, in a marriage and in a family being ‘consumer’ reduces us to an endless stream of demands and the thinly disguised threat that if we’re not pleased any more we’ll leave and look for something better. It’s perhaps harder to see that a consumer orientation to the people who work with us (in which they are only ever really ok if delivering to the targets and standards upon which we’ve insisted) is equally limited. The problem in all these cases is that being a consumer means replacing commitment with a demand. We stay in relationship only as long as we feel satisfied, a stand which seriously undermines the very trust upon which all meaningful relationship rests.
Our encounter with just about everything else in the world can be similarly compromised by being a consumer. We stop experiencing the inherent wonders of nature, technology, art and relate not to the thing in itself but to our own momentary like or dislike of what we’re experiencing.
What possibilities we can open when we look at life, and all it brings, with much bigger eyes than this. And what would we discover if we were willing to see beyond our like and dislike, our demand that every experience and every person do something for us, and appreciate each part of our lives – people, objects and all – simply for its own sake?