It is easy to scoff at Black Friday madness and condemn its materialism. All those people spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need in a frenzy of commercialism! We can distance ourselves from it by resolving not to take part and supporting Buy Nothing Friday instead, can’t we? Whichever course we take, however, has its difficulties.
If we have enough money to be able to buy most of the things we need, and many of the things we want, without having to worry about discounts and bargains, then Black Friday is merely an invitation to greed, our greed. We exteriorise that by condemning the companies that pander to our greed with tempting offers of this or that. We often go further by condemning those who rush out and buy — not actively perhaps, but with our slightly superior smile and a more or less smug assurance that we won’t be buying anything on Black Friday. After all, where’s the need? We can buy on Thursday or Saturday or whenever we choose. It can be painful to admit that there are people who can only afford certain things because they are heavily discounted. We may not approve of their buying choices, but before we condemn them, perhaps we could reflect that we enjoy a material freedom others don’t simply because we have more money at our disposal. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one pound or a million: we have more. We are able to choose.
Then there is the counterblast, Buy Nothing Friday. The problem with that is that it can be an empty gesture, mere virtue signalling. If we are to give it any real meaning, we need to dig deeper and think about our use of material things in general, not just money; and that is where it all gets rather tricky. One of the good things about being a nun is that other people will often say what they think we should or should not have in the way of material goods. It can be tedious, but it can also be a healthy check on any tendency to luxury or self-indulgence. Lay people have to work it out for themselves, and that is much harder in a society where having things is not only perceived as a measure of one’s success in life but often portrayed as the way to achieve success in life. And, at this time of year, what parent or grandparent can be immune to that persuasive ‘Everybody else has . . .’? The pester power of children merely reinforces our desire to give the best of everything to those we love.
I think myself that the best way of redeeming Black Friday is to use commonsense and humility. If something one intends to buy is heavily discounted today, why not buy it and give what one has ‘saved’ to charity? Just don’t boast about the bargain or pretend that one isn’t really taking part in Black Friday commercialism. Then I’d want to go further and use this day as a way of reflecting on how to prepare for Advent and the simplicities it should encourage in our lives. I have written about that every year so won’t repeat myself: last year’s the post is here. Our use of material goods shouldn’t be unreflecting or automatic, but we don’t need to tie ourselves up in ethical knots about it. As St Paul says, we are free to use everything, although not everything may be helpful in itself. That means, we can use pretty much anything to help us focus on what really matters — even Black Friday.