Monday, September 28, 2009

Human Priorities

How badly ordered are our priorities? We treat some things as life-and-death issues when they're merely silly things, and then we dismiss or ignore those problems that might actually mean life or death for someone else.

People get upset over a handful of cents. People call, furious that the franchise that operates within our store is doing a promotion that other stores aren't doing. People become angry that my hands are tied when they don't have a receipt.

Are shoes that important to someone that you would be furious you couldn't get multiple pairs at a lower price? If the price you claim the glass dish was is twenty cents less than what rang up, is it really worth fighting over?

But I guess that's our condition. Our priorities are always in the wrong order. We can easily get upset over what personally affects us. We can easily get upset over what we can see or feel.

But we can't get upset so easily when it doesn't personally affect us. The pain and suffering of LGBT people in parts of Africa is far, far removed from American life. The struggles of people wanting to be free are too far away for us to care; we got our independence, so why worry about yours? And what about the people throughout the world who are struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives after seeing how empty the promises of the consumerist economy are?

And we are able to ignore intangible problems. If we can't see it or feel it, it's not much a problem, it seems. In America, everything is a commodity, and religion is now the same way. It has to be made acceptable, innocuous and non-threatening to the consumer. It's now only a "personal" matter, not of much interest to others except those who would sell us a new and improved spirituality. And health care- if I don't have to see the suffering of friends and neighbors struggling to take care of their bodies, then I don't have to worry about it.

I can't say I blame people much for this. As imaginative as we can be, our imagination can only stretch so far. We have to work hard at understanding what's happening beyond our own eyes and ears, and we have to work even harder to care in a way beyond muttering, "What a shame."

Praying for people far away and for the people we don't see or hear is crucial for bringing the problems of the world into our own. I may not be able to do much for them, but at least through prayer we unite ourselves to those we pray for.

But the mulitiple pairs of shoes? I don't think your life will improve that much if you get those fake fur boots with the high heels.


ariel said...

I had a lot of similar thoughts when I worked for Wal-Mart. (Are you at Target? it kinda sounded like it.) What do you recommend people do to help them keep their priorities properly ordered?

mary said...

oh, retail! How disconnected you are from real life. I have recently been considering going back retail because I may have to. (eep) But because it is so sales-driven, I have a hard time thinking of it with any joy.

I mean, if I was selling you something you actually needed, like pants for work, or food...then I could get behind it. But when I was selling an obsessive mother six different sizes of a cute item so her kid could have a brand-new-yet-exactly-the-same outfit as she got older...that was ridiculous.

Country Parson said...

I suspect that the anger you experienced at the retail counter had a lot more to do with the elsewhere in that person's life. You also spoke about the pain in LGBT community as a pain invisible to others. Yes, that is true. We humans can accommodate only so much in our lives and it helps to simplify things by ignoring that which does not directly engage us. When someone tries to force engagement on us (PETA for example), we rebel, become defensive and get very angry. What strange creatures we are.