Sunday, September 20, 2009

Consumerism And Interpersonal Relationships (By HF)

I recently had an epiphany while interacting with the public I serve. We live in a free market democracy. Each generation has it seemingly "better" economically, then the generation that preceded it. The teenagers and college age students that I work with nightly are notably different than their grand parents.

I grew up a military brat (Navy) and, understandably, that military tradition and core set of values was instilled in me at a very young age. We grew up in what you would call middle class in an upper middle class world. My father was a "mustang officer," in the navy. He started as an enlisted man and worked his way to a commission. He made me work for everything I got and at times I hated him for it. I hated that my friends seemed to get whatever they wanted. When I turned sixteen, I got to drive the Ford Taurus station wagon, but I had to pay for gas, insurance and take over the transport duties of driving my younger brother and sister to their various after school activities. From the time I was old enough to legally work in the state I grew up in, I had at least one job. Most of the time I had two or three. Before that I did endless amounts of ridiculous yard work for my father. My wife and I put ourselves through college, and afterwards, the police academy training I recently completed. We both understand the value of work and see life from those eyes.

As I said earlier, many of today's emerging teens and 20 somethings are economically better off than many of us and preceding generations. Over time we as a society have focused on the price of just about everything. We have adopted a consumer mindset, obsessed with saving money and getting the best deals on everything. When an item stops working, we are more inclined to throw it away and just buy a new one. Not only a new one, but a better version of the old one. And better versions of everything we have come out in an endless stream almost daily. The advent of new digital technology has perpetuated and accelerated this consumer mindset. The Internet has enabled sellers to slash their overhead and consumers to more quickly find the best deals over a broader scope of available resellers. The Internet has also eliminated much of the personal interaction that used to be involved with buying and selling goods. It is now possible to get everything you need without leaving the comfort of your own home.

It could be said that finding the best deal for the best product or service has become a type of obsession. And this obsession has spread to some people's interpersonal relationships. I see people acting with a total lack of respect for others based on a consumer mindset of "what can this person do for me?" or "What can I get out of this relationship?" We as a culture have even adopted this consumer attitude into our common language. We discuss relationships in terms of "cutting our losses."

I find myself interacting with people who are viewing me as a police officer through these eyes. They "know the price of everything and the value of nothing." Because of this consumer mindset, basic economic principles will tell you that having a cop stop you, more often than not, is not going to be good for your wallet. As a result, the way they look at me is poor and that is reflected in the level of disrespect displayed. These kids that I interact with tend to have no situational awareness and don't see the value of being "nice." They only see me as a thing that's going to stand in the way of their sense of entitlement that they have grown up with their entire lives.

I believe that this consumer approach towards interpersonal relationships and the related sense of entitlement both causes and is used, albeit fruitlessly, to fill a void in people; a void consisting of deep and unmet needs. I have seen people treat others like broken products, discarding them without hesitation and moving on to the next bigger and better relationship that they think will give them what they want. Fewer and fewer people are thinking about responsibilities. Fewer and fewer ask what they can contribute to a relationship to make it last or give it value.

I realize that this is in no way the end all be all of why people break the law and then subsequently treat law enforcement badly. But I do think that this idea of attaching a consumer mindset to our interpersonal interactions is a problem that we as law enforcement officers and citizens are going to see much more of in the future.


Wifey said...

Very insightful, but disheartening.

It's interesting how you tie consumerism into the "all-about-me generation".

Let me start by sticking up for my generation (the 20 somethings). There are a few of us who do value hard work, who recognize that you must start at the bottom and work your way up, and who don't believe we are entitled to anything.

With that being said, a frightful majority of my peers are clueless. They truly believe that things will just be handed to them and that the world just revolves around them. There was a study that showed the majority of teens believed they would get rich in their lifetime either through the lottery or through a settlement from a lawsuit. This is HORRIFYING.

The problem I find is that it is easy to point fingers at this generation of self-serving brats, but we really need to look at the people who raised them to be this way. The generation who grew up in the 60's and 70's and 80's has created children whose worlds revolve around themselves.

I will agree that the consumerist point of view may have played a big part in this. Specifically, when we saw a huge shift in both parents working in the 70's, 80's,90's, and 2000's. The more parents worked the guiltier they felt. To make up for long days of daycare, before/after school care, and nannies... parents began buying their children more and more things rather than spending time with them. Time was too precious and therefore things replaced quality personal interaction.

I understand that 2 working parents is often a necessity. My parents both worked, but I also saw how hard they worked, how hard they struggled, and how they put education first for my brother and me. Because of this, I have a level of maturity that I'm sorry to say my peers often lack.

As for people's interaction with officers, my opinion is that it is a learned response. People too often break the laws. They think that laws to don't apply to them or that the laws are just trying to "limit their freedoms". When parents are trying to get away with breaking the laws... they set an example for their children and it is passed on from generation to generation.

No one's "rights" are truly guaranteed. People want peace without war. People want things without work. People want fairness when life isn't fair. Nothing is guaranteed and people somehow forgot about this. They forgot about the men and women who have given up their lives and continue to do so in order to protect our freedoms and "rights".

Thank you for your post. And thank you for letting me vent.

Paula said...

It is not just the youths attitude toward law enforcement that sucks....that is their ATTITUDE period. I am an RN working in a long term care facility and we hire quite a few (in fact most of our staff is less than 30) and that is the way they treat everyone. It is a ME generation...

copswife said...

I'm not sure if I belong to this generation or not, I'm mid 30s. I notice it in my generation too. My theory is that parents mistakenly think that they should supply their children's every want for all the things they didn't get or had to work for as kids. The result: a generation that thinks they should start out independent life with a cushy supervisory job, a two bedroom perfectly decorated home and a new car. When I was born my parents lived in a one room shack on the farm, literally, and I survived!

ps word verification untaste. hehe

Slamdunk said...

Lots of food for thought--good post. Being raised in a military family as well, I hope to pass along the missing values that you discuss to my crew--though competition from their peers and society already works against me.

Natalie said...

Very interesting (and very true!). I always blamed media on the callous actions of the youth. They're constantly getting "bailouts" in the form of not having to pay for their products which therefore deems them void of responsibility for their actions. Or so the mindset is.

It's extremely noticeable in the public schools as well.