This post is from Ron Kaufman’s upcoming new book, The Joy of Service.

The Evolution from Consumer to Contributor

Read Part One now…

Every time you consume something, you have an opportunity to connect and contribute to someone else’s experience of life. The extent or degree of connection—and its effect on the other person—is entirely up to you. Do you only take, or do you also give back? Do you experience each consumer transaction as one more moment for “me” or as another experience to create and contribute to “we”?

Here’s what this might look like:

  • You are dining at a restaurant where you heard the food is good. But rather than focusing intently on the food, you focus more inclusively on the food and on contributing to the spirit of the waiter. You ask her which items on the menu she recommends and why. Perhaps you even compliment her on the way she explains your choices. Your constructive attention raises her energy and raises her game. She enjoys serving you more, and you enjoy dining more.
  • A salesperson brings several sizes of shoes for you to try on. Instead of immediately slipping a shoe onto your foot, you pause and give the salesperson a warm smile and a sincere “thank you.” The salesperson smiles back and you are connected. Your whole experience of trying on and selecting new shoes is transformed.
  • After you usher a repairman into your home to make a repair, you notice that he looks exhausted. Instead of observing silently as he goes to work, you offer to bring him a glass of cold water and engage in a moment of friendly conversation. Suddenly the repairman in your home is not a rude intrusion, but an opportunity for mutual appreciation.
  • You overhear the customer ahead of you in the grocery checkout line responding rudely when the cashier explains that some of their coupons have expired. The cashier cringes at the outburst but says nothing more. When your turn comes, you tell the cashier that you admire how she operates with integrity. Your cashier’s dignity is restored and she serves you with greater pride and pleasure.

In each of these scenarios, you found a way to pass acknowledgement and appreciation to the people from whom you were consuming, instead of treating them as a mere means to an end. That’s what conscious and connected contribution looks like in action. It doesn’t have to be big or flashy or grandiose, but it is a two-way street.

Consumption Beyond the “Stuff”

Consumption isn’t limited to things you buy. Sometimes, we can act like consumers in our personal and professional lives as well by taking a lot without giving much back.

Usually, we don’t set out to hurt other people by acting like consumers in our relationships—it’s just a consequence of losing ourselves in a “me-me-me” focused culture. On a shallow level, it feels good to behave as though the world revolves around us, but in the long run this attitude can be isolating and destructive.

For example, you might take for granted some of the things your spouse or partner does, like preparing meals, doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, or taking the kids wherever they need to go. But at the same time, you complain about all the things you are dissatisfied with in the relationship.

Perhaps you know someone else who is a consumer of your time, energy, and goodwill. Activities and events are always on their timetable. The topic of conversation revolves around what’s going on in their life. They don’t seem to ask, or really care, about how you doing.

Consumer attitudes can be found in the workplace, too. We’ve all encountered team members who contribute with as little effort as possible yet gladly accept praise for the group’s accomplishments.

Each of these situations can be resolved for the better. At home, at work, and in the community, the key is shifting your perspective from “me” to “we”, transforming “What can I get out of this relationship?” to “How can I make this relationship richer and more meaningful for all of us?”

Reducing Consumption Increases Contribution

Most of us will not stop being consumers in the usual sense of the word or in the course of our daily lives. Whether we consume mindlessly, however, is up to us each day. Mindless consumption breeds more mindless consumption. How many objects are gathering dust inside your closet? Why are storage facilities one of the fastest growing industries?

Take a close look at what you are consuming and ask yourself: Do I really need all this stuff? Why am I really buying it? What am I going to do with it once I own it? Will I still be glad I bought it in a week, a month, a year?

When you become a conscious consumer you will naturally acquire what truly meets your needs. You’ll end up with more time, energy, and money that you can use to live a life of joyful service. And best of all, you will discover that consumption and contribution have an inverse relationship: the more meaningfully you connect with others, the less you’ll feel driven to consume.

Will you consume mindlessly or contribute meaningfully? Will you primarily “take” for yourself, or will you “give” to the experience you share with others?

How do you want to live today? Unconscious and compulsive consumer or conscious and connected contributor? You choose.

Are you becoming a more connected contributor? Please share your ideas and experience here.

14 replies
  1. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Wow. This is so insightful into us as people and the choices that we have before us. It is well stated and beautifully written.

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Thank you, Joanne. I enjoyed writing this very much. So much of what we face today is easy to choose from the perspective of “for we”, and so endlessly empty from the perspective of “only me”. All the best to you, and through you, Ron

  2. Rich
    Rich says:

    Ron, a very insightful perspective and well written. I love article and will be sharing it with the kids and family. Thinking of you from the US!

  3. Barrett Hazeltine
    Barrett Hazeltine says:

    Very wise. I am glad you are writing in this vein to a wide audience.

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Dean Hazeltine, Your patient and positive care for students at Brown University, your persistent commitment to our well-being, was an early role model for my views today on “giving for better living”. Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do in your own life and through all the students you have served.

  4. Jose Caraball
    Jose Caraball says:

    Thank you for this great piece of wisdom an awareness.
    While reading I felt touched several times when I recognize myself being the consumer, but also happy to see that connecting with others is something that I also do. The key is choosing. Your words inspire me to choose the “we”, that by the way is a lot more fun and less expensive. Would you give me permission to translate this to Spanish and share it with my people? Of course giving you all the credit.
    Be well!

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Hello Jose, Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, you may translate this blog post into Spanish. Thanks for attributing with a link for those interested back to Te deseo lo mejor!

  5. Marialex Machado
    Marialex Machado says:

    I agree that service is both ways and when being in the consumer´s role, we can uplift the energy of our interaction by appreciating the person behind the counter. I loved the way you described it in this article, thanks for sharing it!!

  6. Gary Gifford
    Gary Gifford says:

    Hi Ron,
    Great article! One of the best I’ve ever read. Would you mind if I shared it with the local church? I know it would be a real eye-opener to the community; it certainly was for me.
    Note that I signed up to see you on August 31st at STERIS, in Mentor, Ohio. I look very much forward to meeting you. Take care, and many thanks for the insight.

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Gary, You are welcome to share this in your spiritual community. Uplifting our spirits is the very highest game we can play together.

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Hi Gary, Glad you like the article. You are welcome to share it with your local church, as well as any others in your wider community of contribution and care. I look forward to meeting you, too!

  7. Horst
    Horst says:

    Hi Ron,
    to this day I have known you as a professional promoting better service to customers. Now, your text reminded me very much to pay more attention to the moment and to the people around us. Thus bringing enjoyment to those who ´serve us´ and to ourselves. True, money can buy a lot, but not ultimate satisfaction and happiness.

    • Ron Kaufman
      Ron Kaufman says:

      Dear Horst, Thanks for your kind note. I have always thought that service is a “two-way street”; that both sides can take action to make a service transaction better. Now I see that service is omni-directional and happening all the time. Every effort by any of us to uplift someone else – to care, contribute, enable, or support – makes our shared experience of living better, and better, and better.

  8. Susila
    Susila says:

    Hi Ron
    Thanks for a well-written piece which shows the connection and relationship that the consumer builds with the service staff. Any affirmation by way of a smile or comment energises the other person. It’s so simple and yet people struggle with this.

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