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