No Shopping on Thanksgiving: Changing the Frame from Greed to Good


I just saw that K-Mart has decided not to open just for a few hours on Thanksgiving but will stay open the entire day, starting at 6 am. Of course, this was inevitable once Wal-Mart broke the Black Friday time barrier in 2012 and opened its’ doors on Thanksgiving. Way to go, Wal-Mart! As if we needed yet another example of how little you value your employees. I guess I should not be surprised that this lesson was lost on a bunch of other retailers. Thus, stores like Sears, JCPenney, Target, and Best Buy (plus many others) are following Wal-Mart’s example and are opening for a few hours on Thanksgiving. They sure have captured the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday: don’t just give thanks, also get cheap stuff!

What is going on with our crazy retailers? The simple answer is “greed” but it’s more complicated than that. I think it has to do with (in anti-consumerismorder of systems) the frame in which we see ourselves as a culture, the decline in the labor movement, and in the lack of empathy for workers.

How we label ourselves does indeed matter and I have to admit that I am puzzled by the frame we hold right now. Regardless of how much people try to deny it, it seems as though we still believe in Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good!” ideal. Thus, stuff is everything and consumerism somehow makes us worthy. This frame explains a lot. It justifies our excessive buying (even as we go into debt to do it), defends our trashing of the environment (despite the long term damage that will bring) and explains why we hold rich people in such high regard (even though the people we say we admire – both spiritual and secular leaders – were purposefully poor). It’s odd and, if you really think about it, morally indefensible.

We didn’t always think this way. Although they are almost a generation lost to us now, our Depression-era relatives believed in the power of making do with what you have and taking care of the workers. After all, it was their pull that led to the rise of the influential labor unions (like the AFL-CIO) in the 1950s. They knew that someone besides management must be allowed to advocate for the workers — especially with regard to wages, benefits and working conditions — because if these decisions left up to the bosses, they will rarely be fair. If you want a great depiction of why unions are necessary and what some people have gone through in order to get them, check out “Norma Rae” and see a tour de force performance by Sally Field.

Unfortunately for us though, the 1980s brought an anti-union atmosphere and their influence has been in decline ever since. Many people appear to be unclear about why unions are needed and workers have been left to sway in the wind. Now we have an expectation of working an incredible amount of hours per week (one of the largest among the industrialized countries), decreasing wages, relatively high unemployment, and some of the worst benefits when compared to our international peers. U.S. workers do not get guaranteed sick leave, parental leave, healthcare or vacations. For those of us who get paid vacations, the amount is sparse. Is it any wonder that stress is among the top reasons for illness and death in our country? Now anxiety is overtaking depression as the top problem I see in my practice.

And if that isn’t enough, it seems as though this decline has brought with it a lack of empathy for workers. I have seen people not only be rude to employees but also refuse to treat them fairly with regard to things they would want for themselves. Where is the identification with people whose only “crime” is working hard? I expect employers like Macey’s and Kroger to not support equal pay for women but I hope that the average person will make them suffer for such a stance. I know that restaurants aren’t always fair about how they pay their servers but I expect the usual diner to give reasonable tips instead of prayers or poor behavior.

And I realize that stores will make their employees work on days they shouldn’t have to but I am keeping my fingers crossed that the American public votes with their feet. Sure, some employees who do not have special plans on Thanksgiving may not mind working on that day (let’s hope they get paid time and a half for it!) but what of the others who do want it off but need the money? Or what of the employees who do not want to work but are forced to do so in order to keep their jobs? Shouldn’t they be allowed the national holiday that the rest of us enjoy?

Americans like to believe in our exceptionalism, that the USA is the best country in which to live. Yet it seems like we get farther away from that ideal every year, especially the more we mistreat our workers. But there are things we can do to turn things around. For starters, we can refuse to shop at all on Thanksgiving. We also can start supporting workers, not just individually but in larger public policies and laws (like those that advocate for collective bargaining!) as well. Maybe we can even start moderating our consumerist frame.

Instead of thinking about what we can buy on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, perhaps we can reframe who we are and consider doing acts of service and building our relationships instead. We can relabel ourselves from consumers to givers or even creative recyclers. Such a twist would not only impact the way business is run but also change society. Eventually we wouldn’t have to work so hard and all the things we want to have time for – you know, things like reading, playing and time spent with friends and loved ones – would be possible. All we have to do is stop shopping and start thinking.

Toward that end, I strongly suggest that we all stay home and do no shopping on Thanksgiving. Instead we can spend the day as it was intended: with family and friends giving thanks for what we have. I’m sure willing to give it a try and I would be thankful if you would join me.

Share Your Thoughts