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Can’t We Just Agree Marketers are Evil and Be Done With It?

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Here's a little part two from yesterday's post because on first blush it might appear that this was simply a "beware of evil marketers" rant. If it were only that easy, but first things first.

Is marketing, in and of itself, evil?

While it is no secret that I think marketing is a very tricky business and fraught with ne'er-do-wells and evil masterminds, let me give you a larger perspective.

We all market. I went to a seminar once where the presenter said, "Marketing is simply the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another." Excellently stated and I agree.

Some people share their enthusiasm because they are focused on service and the betterment of those around them and some share their enthusiasm because they are focused on their own needs and profit margin. Enthusiasm does not assume the enthusiasm is noble, just that it can be infectious.

And there are some things that it is simply not good to be infected by. Like ads for Triple Whoppers and shows that force you to witness multiple brutal images rapid fire for no good reason unless CSI is trying to make some philosophical statement about man's inhumanity to man, but I'm thinking they just know sex, gore, and voyeurism sell and they want to ride the wave.

I don't blame them. Money can be fun!

You mean we can't blame marketers for manipulating consumers into overspending or becoming hooked on things that ultimately leave them dissatisfied or, worse, with health problems, massive credit card debt, and the like?

No, my issue extends far beyond this. I'll admit, I'm a little disgusted right now with everyone in the chain right down to the concept people who proposed things like Triple Whoppers be created in the first place. It angers me to see the wave of stuff that is harmful to us as humans and that uses up resources for dead ends being rolled out in such an endless stream. There is a long line of people in the chain of production of useless crap and garbage that is just placed before you for someone else's gain with not a care given to you at all.

I saw someone selling ghosts recently, for Halloween. Don't open that paper bag because you may let it out! It's a cute idea, but then again, think about that. We'll buy anything even if that anything is literally nothing!

Ah! So I can blame the people who come up with the ideas! The marketers are only the message bearers, I get it!

Not so fast, Buckaroo. That long line of people includes you and me. In the end, the responsibility rests entirely on your shoulders as a consumer to decide what it is that you love, respect, and value and to bring your actions, including pulling out that piece of plastic which opens all these doors to fleeting happiness (and not so fleeting interest charges) into alignment with those values.

Wait. Buying a Triple Whopper is a values decision? I suppose you wear Birkenstocks too, right?

Guilty as charged, but only when I'm not going barefoot. But hear me out. If you are like 95% of the folks I know, you are working your ass off for your money and trading a lot of valuable time and energy for the privilege. And, for that very reason, you may feel inclined to treat yourself with Dove bars, a fabulous dinner out, a new superfine pair of shoes far sexier than my Birkies. And of course you have a right to do that. But recognize a Band Aid when you buy one. And recognize that slippery slope of earn til you drop, medicate to keep going, oops that debt is growing, fight to make that bonus you have come to require to make ends come close to meeting and buy even more expensive material medication to numb yourself from realizing you are on one hell of a big hamster wheel and you have no idea how to get off of it. (And a strong suspicion that even if you want to your family may object.)

Values are not abstract concepts. They are the very foundation of your life. Those purchasing decisions you make already are reflecting your values, the ones you actually live by. You may buy that Whopper because you value easy and fast rather than healthy and homemade. No harm in that single decision but if you scan back and look at larger patterns in your life, you may or may not like what you see. What you say you value and what your life reveals may be terrible disconnected.

Can you give me an example?

Sure. Let's take health insurance.

We all want it and we want to be able to afford it. On the surface, one might assume it's because in the end, we do value our health. But is that really true? Is this because we really want health or is it because we don't want to face the consequences of our actions and the pain of realizing we can't 'do over' the damage we do when we neglect and abuse ourselves? I can't tell you how many people I have heard since my dad's bypass talk about this being routine now going so far as to say it isn't a big deal and if you do have cardiac problems due to diet, they can easily be reversed. I heard this a lot!

So get the triple Whopper and toss in a shake and some fries because that's what makes the meal complete and, after all, modern medicine has really got that bypass thing down. It's increasingly hard to find consequences for poor lifestyle choices that someone can't fix for you if you have the means to pay for it. Demand the right to the means to pay and you've suddenly given yourself permission to ignore your health, and businesses the permission to invent health harming goodies for you and marketers permission to gussie this all up for you so that you are tempted successfully into making the purchase.

Okay, I see the link, but this is just the way the world is at this point! You don't really think you can change an entire culture do you? Come on, you have health insurance, admit it.

You are right. I have insurance and if I have a need, I do believe I will use it and if I have something life threatening I think I will want treatment but I'm starting to question some of this.

This is my point. I'm not saying you should become a renunciate or start a revolt or sell your home and live in a yurt. I'm purely talking about consciousness here. I just want you back in the driver's seat as much as possible. I don't care what road you drive and I'm not trying to sell you on my value system. Of course, that's not entirely true. I value people being in charge of their lives and I value conscious choice so if this is where we part ways, I'll deal wth it.

But if you are still with me what I am asking you to do is really quite simple. Just scratch the surface a little and challenge a few assumptions you make about what you want, need and demand be provided to you. What are the beliefs and values that lie blissfully out of conscious awareness in issues that are so common we never think about them twice?

Here are some of mine when I look at health care insurance and medical issues: How long am I supposed to live? What will I allow myself to die from? Am I really committed to my health or just wanting someone else to fix me if I'm too lazy or uninterested in doing the work of maintaining it?

Say I lead a healthy life but I end up with cancer because of the effects of pollution on me. I'm not directly responsible so should I be punished by lack of health care? No. But then again, if we are putting all our energy into finding Band Aids to hide the real, underlying problems, are we really changing anything except extending our little individual lives that we somehow have come to see as the be all and end all?

It's true If I had a choice between preserving my life or dying in an epidemic that led people on a large scale to really start to look with sincerity into what we are doing to each other and if they made changes on that level, I'd drop today for that.

(Sweet Jesus, here she goes all Silkwood/Erin Brokovich on us.)

Yeah, I am so freaking idealistic sometimes it scares me, too. Like I said, I'm not getting rid of my insurance, but I do think about things on that level and these decisions really are this serious, if not for ourselves, then for those generations coming up behind us.

This kind of thinking doesn't make me morose or anti-social. It just opens my eyes more so that when I make a decision about things (and I don't do this with every decision) I am more confident that I am putting my money where my mouth is (or heart, more accurately).

If this is so logical and easy to do, then why are you assuming we aren't consciously chosing what is bad for us? Maybe we are happy the way things are and you are simply trying to convince us that we shouldn't be. Maybe we've been making conscious choices all along and you just don't like them because you are an elitist homemade granola eating snob.

You know, I almost wish that were the case but I talk to too many people to be able to buy that argument. Those of us who work in the personal development field, like Steve Pavlina and myself, see mounting evidence that people are tired of struggling and are increasingly ready to make significant changes to improve their lives in very core ways, not just materially.

We appreciate how powerful the forces are that have gotten folks stuck to begin with. Lots of antidepressants being consumed out there. Lots of people seriously stressing about their futures, financially, career-wise. I'm middle aged so lot of my friends and acquaintances are too and their parents are starting to die off or get hit by health issues. Mortality is less of an abstract concept. Mid-life crisis is a real phenomenon and the young people coming behind us are telling me that we look like a bunch of whack jobs. Kids are failing to launch, in large part because we've made adult life look like one of Dante's layers of Hell. Ask any young person to name five adults he thinks are really having fun in their life. Ask a young woman who her older models of healthy, passionate aging are. They don't see many!

Okay, Miss Smarty Pants, what do you suggest?

I'll elaborate on that in a future post. First, let's make sure we are on the same page where the nature of the problem is concerned so you'll understand where I come from with suggestions I'll make. Part of the problem, as I discussed yesterday, is that we have become numb. Numbed to our appetites, numb to ourselves. We don't know what we need, only what we have a craving for and we give in to it. A coaching client of mine said an excellent thing to me a couple days ago when we were talking about some of the habits he is in that steal away his life. He wants more out of life than he is getting but he had these habits that take up hours even when he's not intending for them to. One is his reflexively turning on the computer. I asked if he could turn it off.

"Sure! Turning if off is easy. Living with it off is the hard part."

Another client admitted admitted that what she was trying to convince herself was happiness was really just justification of staying off everyone's radar screen because she is afraid of failing. She stays at home and continues to go to a job that leaves her feeling dull and drained because at the end of the day, it's a safe place to be. A nicely decorated jail cell is still a jail cell.

Most of my clients are in this boat, trapped in habits that keep them from getting what they say they really want and the 'dread' (their word, not mine) of doing the work of breaking that habit, whatever it is, is absolutely daunting. And they come by this honestly, and I don't think they are that different from a lot of people out there. In this land of quick fixes for pretty much everything, we do not deal with discomfort and the unsatified craving well at all, at least in the U.S.

We are creatures of habit so many of our actions become reflexive. Coffee and cigarettes. Burgers and fries. Waking up and turning on the computer. Crabby kids in the car and stopping at McDonalds. Driving and talking on the phone. Some things just go together for us. They are just habits and a satisfied habit drops the tension level down and stress relief sometimes feels like reward enough. The problem is, we've become so numbed to ourselves that we don't realize, often, just how bad the consequences of our actions have been until very late.

And the consequences may be for other people. Allow me a little road rant, but it is relevant…

In Toronto, I saw a woman lose control of her bike in a stream of oncoming traffic when her wheel caught a street car track.

She was talking on her hand held cell phone at the time.

I passed a woman yesterday holding her cell phone in one hand while hanging her other hand with a cigarette out her driver's side window. She was driving 50 mph at 5 pm with no hands on the wheel.

In stopped highway traffic this weekend, cars were zooming past us in the right side shoulder one after the other. Racing smack into the blocked exit ahead where the car causing the traffic jam was laying entirely flipped over onto its roof.

And don't even try to drive the speed limit. About a year ago I got a ticket in a little town here for going too fast. Been years since I've gotten one and I didn't remember them being quite this expensive. I drive the speed limit now in town. I can't even tell you how mad people get at me. I was flipped off by a soccer mom in a van with kids recently and I was going 5 mph over the limit. I've been sworn at by men and women and had people ride my bumper so close it has made me feel unsafe. So, what do I do? Give in to all this pressure and hope I don't get another ticket? Obey the law? Just buy some Zantac and hope I don't get an ulcer? Flip them off right back? Slam on my brakes and cause an accident to teach them a lesson?

This is one of the consequences of not paying attention. If you were the only one to experience the effects of your actions, I probably would never write this article. But you aren't. None of us can guarantee that our actions won't harm someone else.

The world is violent out there and we each are capable of contributing to that when we don't slow down and look at ourselves. Soccer moms should not be flipping off other women riding Bugs on a small town street. No one likes being on the receiving end of that. I could "justify" acting in kind, especially near a big city where everyone drives like a nut. But where does that end?

Here's how I see it: Numbness leads to selfishness. Selfishness leads to violence in the form of rampant disregard for the needs of anyone else (everyone on the highway needs to get somewhere, not just you). As a society we suffer from an inability to be patient and to tolerate frustration of any kind. Our focus on the self leads to a sense of entitlement and demands that someone else be responsible for the end results of our actions when things don't turn out the way we wanted them to. All of this is violence. All of it harms you and it harms me.

In future posts, I'll be talking about what to do about this, and how to cultivate change if you recognize yourself being caught in a cycle like this that you sincerely want to break.

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About Laura Young