Thoughts on Black Friday

So there’s a lovely fearmongering site going around the Interwebs today on the subject of Black Friday. It hosts a cumulative death toll of Black Friday shoppers since 2006, and seems geared to remind us just how afraid we should be of yet one more thing.

The problem is that anything sounds scary when you put it into the right statistics.

7 people in the U.S. alone have been killed during Black Friday shopping since 2006. I’ll admit, as would anyone who values human life, that that’s 7 people too many.

But hold on a minute: let’s look at the statistics a little closer:

Number of Americans killed since 2006 during Black Friday shopping: 7 (1 per year).
Assuming an American population of 300 million, the odds of being killed in a given year by Black Friday shopping: ~1 in 300 million
Odds of being killed in a given year by a direct hit from a meteor: 5 times more likely
Odds of being killed in a given year by a falling coconut: 7 times more likely.
Odds of being killed in a given year by a lightning strike: 69 times more likely
Odds of being killed in a given year just by falling out of bed: 441 times more likely

If you have anti-consumer reasons not to participate in Black Friday, that’s super. Good for you (though does that mean you’d rather give MORE money to big corporations on a different day for the same products?)

But if you’re part of the doomsaying culture of fear, stow it. If you’re avoiding the sales like I did because they’re irritating or because you don’t like to be goaded or manipulated into spending by greedy corporate hullabaloo, that’s fine. But if you’re genuinely too in fear for your life over this holiday to go out, God help you if you step outside your door without some kind of helmet to protect you from meteors. Ditch that bed frame, too, and sleep with your mattress right at ground level. There are too many people who care about you and depend on you to take foolish chances like that.

I wonder if anyone’s done a tally into how many stupidity-related deaths happen in American malls and chain stores on ANY day of the year. I guess that kind of story wouldn’t sell on any day but today. The best-selling stories are the ones that milk our culture of fear for all it’s worth.

I’m pretty judgmental of the shameless consumerism that drives Black Friday, because it too is founded on fear. The fear of Not Having Stuff. The fear that you Need More Stuff. The media and the corporations do all they can to stir up hype and hysteria, and get people’s fight-or-flight responses involved in their purchasing decisions. The same thing is going to happen on Boxing Day.

That said, part of being a mindful consumer is making the most intelligent decisions possible about how you spend your money. The smartest consumers are those who wait for days like this, keep their reptile brain in check, and take advantage of the occasion to be more efficient with the purchases they were going to make anyway.

Buying things BECAUSE it’s Black Friday is pretty stupid. But buying things you need (or things that reside significantly high on your quality-of-life checklist) at the best possible price point doesn’t seem like you’re acting like a slave to consumerism. Quite the contrary: the factory workers who build Sony TVs still earn $2 an hour no matter what we pay (or don’t) for the TV. If you happen to need a TV anyway, sale-day shopping ensures less money, not more, goes to the corporation. The only challenge is to resist the temptation to over-consume, which is how the corporations make back the money they are losing to savvy consumers on days like this.

Whatever you do with this “holiday” (what’s holy, exactly, about Black Friday? To whom is it holy?), make sure you do it mindfully and with caution–but not with fear that someone else feels should dictate your actions. Fear is a very powerful and specific emotion, well-suited to helping us overcome certain problems in life, from sabre-toothed tigers to workplace shootings. But leave it where it belongs: most of us don’t confront the kind of problems, on a day-to-day basis, for which fear has any practical use at all.

Save it for when you need it. Don’t let pro-Black Friday (or anti-Black Friday) fearmongers tell you when and when not to be afraid.

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