Consumer or Citizen

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Annie Leonard’s piece, How to Be More than a Mindful Consumer, poses an important thought: “ … we must stop thinking of ourselves primarily as consumers and start thinking and acting like citizens.”

Let’s define both consumer and citizen.

According to dictionary.com, consumer can be defined in two scenarios:

  1. a person or organization that uses a commodity or service.

Yes, this makes sense. We use a commodity, or a product, or a service. Therefore, we consume it, and this makes us a consumer.

Let’s look deeper to see what economics means.

Economics is the science that deals with the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, or the material welfare of humankind.

The first part is logical: production, distribution and consumption were all part of my economics subject at university. And the ‘material’ part makes sense. As for the remaining part, I don’t recall learning about the supply and demand of material welfare of humankind. So let’s park it for later.

Back to scenario two for our definition of consumer.

  1. an organism, usually an animal, that feeds on plants or other animals.

Yes, agreed. An organism consuming a plant or another organism.

Where ecology is the branch of biology dealing with the relations and interactions between organisms and their environment, including other organisms.

And this can be further defined to human ecology: the branch of sociology concerned with the spacing and interdependence of people and institutions.

And again, right here in the human definition it becomes interesting, particularly the word interdependence, which is defined as:

the quality or condition of being interdependent, or mutually reliant on each other.

So now let’s consider our two interesting mattes:

Material welfare of humankind

and

The quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other

Annie Leonard discusses Haitian women and a US CEO.

The Haitian women:

  • work 8 hours a day
  • work in 30 degree plus temperatures
  • cannot drink water while doing their job
  • earn at the top tier $15.00 per day

So, this can be defined as a sweatshop.

They are sexually harassed, miss putting their children to bed, and dare not share their story because they will lose their job.

Not cool.

The US CEO:

  • probably works 17 hours a day
  • works in climate controlled offices and aeroplanes
  • probably drinks water and Champagne during some days
  • earns $2,424,000.00 per day*
  • * This is not a typo and no asterisk is required. But if there wasn’t one, this figure would be difficult to fathom for some. No, for most.

Unbelievable.

So how can Not cool + Unbelievable be within the realms of

Material welfare of humankind

and

The quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other

The answer: They cannot

So how does citizen stack up?

noun

1.a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection (distinguished from alien ).

And one of the definitions of alien: a person who has been estranged or excluded.

2.an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges or franchises.

Let’s consider our Haitian women. For allegiance to their country, they’re missing out on their entitlement to protection, and do not enjoy privilege or franchise. Rather, they are excluded.

How about the US CEO? He owes allegiance and enjoys protection, on a global level. He isn’t estranged or excluded, and he’s enjoying privileges and probably owns a few shares in franchises of several profitable, dividend paying global corporations.

How can the difference between citizens be so vast?

The difference comes about because of my consumption and your consumption.

When we consume, we don’t only vote with our feet. We vote with our dollars.

And dollars are powerful.

Dollars dictate how a person is treated. And, dollars influence how we perceive other people. It’s sad, but it’s true.

We’re all born into this world naked. And when we purchase clothes, for ourselves and for our children, we choose how we contribute our money. And we give citizens privileges, or we make them aliens.

Small change for some means a big difference for others. It’s time to be serious about the material welfare of humankind. And the time is now to make your dollars count, for everyone.

Bianca Ross is a writer, researcher and author of the children’s book series, Herbert Peabody,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the Moment

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I’m racing back up the stairs, laptop and hand bags in one hand, keys, apple and the coffee I intended to savour but had to tip into the old, chipped mug, which fits into my car’s cup holder in the other. My blow-dried hair wafts across my face, strands sticking to carefully applied, tinted lip-gloss, ready to smear fine lines of Bamboo Pink across my left cheek.

“WHY can’t I remember if I locked the DOOR?” I lament to myself, as the strap of my laptop bag slips from my shoulder and thuds onto my wrist, ricocheting my handbag towards my perilously gripped coffee. By a stroke of luck, I’ve taken the first gulp, so the knock merely sends a wave through the cup, and my white shirtdress remains as intended as I reach my door, which is locked.

I remember receiving a birthday invitation once, and the last line read: “No gifts allowed. My present is your presence.” Awww, I thought, How sweet. And as I stood at my locked door, it dawned on me: Presence is the ultimate present.

When you’re present, you focus on what is happening around you. You genuinely listen to a friend, style a rocking outfit, watch a sparrow on a tree branch, and lock your front door.

There’s a lot to be said about being mindful: mindful eating, shopping and living. Mindfulness, to me, is about consideration and recognition, and it’s something our society doesn’t seem to want us to have top of mind. We’re told more is more, whether it be experiences, purchases or activities. And at the same time we’re told, Your Time Is NOW! and, Carpe Diem! But is it really?

Do we truly have time to think about our time and seize our day, while our To Do list ever lengthens and becomes more urgent?

We can’t make time, but we can take time to be aware. It’s difficult at first, and I am still learning, but an investment of a second to check myself seems to reap dividends of satisfaction which a bluechip, fully franked company would A1 rate.

Being present gives you time, creates calm and overall, rocks. Let’s give the gift that actually seems to give back, to ourselves. Because, really, who doesn’t like a present?

Bianca Ross is a writer, researcher and enthusiast, with much room for improvement, of being present.

Insight into the Life of a Researcher

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When you think ‘researcher’ the first image that may come to mind is the ‘nerdy professor’ type, who wears glasses and beavers away at a messy, disorganized desk. Or a middle-aged person with a white lab coat, in a sterilized room with a test tube in hand. Whilst I do wear glasses from time to time, I am nothing like these images. I think the last time I held a test tube was in year 10 at school when I took my eyes off the Bunsen burner for too long, causing a miniature fire that nearly burnt the classroom down.

I have spent the past 25 years ‘researching’ and understanding human behaviour. It is one of my passions in life. It all began the day I set foot in one of my first university lectures for psychology on the topic of perception. I can still see that slightly mad professor at the front of the auditorium as he scribbled a diagram in chalk detailing the rationale for being unable to prove we are real. ‘We as humans, are reliant on our senses to understand our existence, therefore we have no proof that we are even real’ he kept saying. Who is to say that blackboard I was watching intently even existed. I was wonderfully ‘mind-f&*^ked’ that day and have been hooked ever since on the wonderment of the human existence and particularly what goes on inside the minds (& hearts) of people.

I still carry that lesson with me to this day with the understanding that our perception as a researcher is only ever that, a perception reliant on our senses. We don’t know what ‘absolute reality’ is. We are kidding ourselves if we claim to ever truly understand anyone completely.

The valuable skill of a researcher as I see it, is to fine tune our individual perception by removing the layers of our selves, our own biases and conditioning if we have any chance of seeing things as they really are. We also need to see beyond the words and what sits on the surface. To dive in as far as we can go in order to tap into the depth of the human psyche and all the wonderful and uncomfortable feelings that come along with that journey.

I am a consumer researcher. My job is to understand what people really want to help align and meet the needs of brands and the people. I have done countless focus groups over the years and have on numerous occasions, been moved to tears by what I have heard. Some of those tears I must admit have been tears of laughter, for example someone thinking biscuits were made from potatoes or that ancient grains are grains that have been left in the bottom of the barrel for too long. Mind you, I don’t ever laugh at people, I will only ever laugh with them.

You can learn a lot about people in a few short hours. A few years ago I was working on a project with a group of middle aged family men, It is fair to say as a general rule, men don’t tend to open up to other men in the way women do so I entered that room with the awareness that it may have been an uphill battle getting them to even talk.

What I discovered that day was that every one of those men, were at some level, hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. That day I heard about money struggles, fractured relationships, the regret of being absent fathers and the insurmountable pressures of work. One man in particular held onto the hope of winning the lottery with the ticket being ‘a little bit of hope in my pocket.’

I wondered if I was learning more about these men than even their wives and close family knew. At one point I had to step out of the room to compose myself as the reality of what I was hearing was deep and it was confronting. I saw men in a whole new light that day and learnt a lot about what goes on behind the brave faces we see walking the streets.

The psychologist in me always triggers into wanting to help resolve. I have learnt over the years that often listening is the biggest gift you can give someone. Just being present to what someone else is saying – without judgment. Each of those men thanked me that day as they left, somehow leaving a little lighter in the reassurance that they were not alone in their struggles.

So whilst I am clear about the role I fulfill for my clients as a researcher, there is an extra layer in there, just for me. It’s about listening, It’s about giving each person that little bit of my time to share something they want to share about themselves. I have no idea what people take out of the sessions but I hope on some level, each person walks away knowing just a little bit more about themselves and more importantly, they walk away feeling heard.

Kellie Tyrrell, is the founder & co-director of innerperspective.com.au. She is a researcher, insights specialist, psychologist and proud mum to twin girls.