We’re all consumes. We buy and sell our stuff, our vision, our ideas and ourselves.We’re all citizens. We belong with responsibility. So “Citizen or Consumer?” is not a question of what we do and don’t do. It’s a question of our primary identity, how we show up to others in our world.
And it makes a difference. When people who are first consumers show up in our world, the world becomes defensive. We act on assumptions of scarcity, power and dependency. We’re more likely to take care of somebody, or expect them to take care of us. The consumer world generates fear, suspicion and shame.
What if we don’t have the intellectual, financial, social, beauty or charismatic currency needed to buy what we believe we can’t live without? What if someone else has more and outbids us? What if no one wants to buy what I’m selling and thinks my version of fun, care or art sucks? When I run out of what makes me attractive enough to get at least some of what I need, will I end up being alone? These are important questions among consumers. Predictability, proof and acquisition govern most choices.
For citizens, we worry about things like how everyone can share in the common good. What’s worthwhile depends on what the outcome might look 100 years from now. Traveling together to destinations that count and getting there with our integrity intact is more important than finding the most expedient path. Creativity that brings joy and meaning to a community or helps it flourish socially, economically and spiritually trumps the idea that brings in the greatest profit in the least amount of time at the lowest cost..These are the concerns of people who show up as citizens first.
Others watching how we show up at a meeting, a party, for work, or on holidays will have a better picture of how we show up than we do about ourselves. The image we try to make in the mirror is never the same as the real thing that others experience. Authenticity may not feel safe because there’s no assurance that who I am will be noticed, accepted or useful.
When we show up as authentic citizens who care about the neighborhood and social networks that give us life, everyone has a better chance of receiving what is needed. We don’t all have the same desires or needs, but then we don’t all have the same gifts or resources, either. Authenticity and commitment to being good citizens reveals the needed gifts each of us have for making the world a better place.
Is there a way we can make genuine citizenship a lasting reality? Can we reduce the negative impact of being consumers above everything else? Can we mitigate the effects of personal ambition, greed, deception, and fear that showing up as consumer breeds in a friendship, work group, congregation or family?
What will it look like when marketing takes is rightful place as servant among us? How can we buy and sell in ways that strengthen friendships, create hope and puts values we proclaim into practice? The role of consumer has been accepted as a necessary norm along with it’s principles, strategies and goals. When we meet next time, let’s come as citizens first and see what happens.
Then we’ll have some guiding stories to a more sustainable, flourishing and peaceful community.