05 Feb Compassionate Capitalism
Compassion & Capitalism. Two words we hear regularly, but I often feel like they are at odds with one another. I live amongst a population that is educated, involved and hard-working and as we get older and earn more, the trend is to buy a bigger house, a nicer car, and more luxury brand clothing. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? We’re the leaders of society now. The weight and future of Capitalist America is on our shoulders and we’re fueling the economy. I went to college to get a degree to get a good job and move up the ladder to earn a good salary to provide a nice life for my family. It’s the American Dream and it’s what everyone around me is doing.
But what if we’ve got it wrong? What if the purpose of a promotion isn’t to upgrade something that’s already more than I need? It’s easy to think that I deserve the upgrade because I worked hard and earned it. But I know my refugee friend works really hard too. Our system would say that’s too bad. She could go to college if she wanted and then get a better job. There’s financial aid – she can apply. I get what’s mine. You get what’s yours (Unless, of course, you’re looking for a tax break, right?).
But what if it’s not all mine? What if my promotion could be used to send her to college instead of upgrading my granite countertops to marble? As I struggle through this, I see that so often my spending and my “pursuit of the American Dream” inhibits my ability to have actionable compassion on others. I don’t have time or money left to have compassion on others because I’ve spent so much of it on myself and my family. I’m not just talking about feeling compassion. I’m talking about compassion that compels action and affects change. Compassion that compels us to downgrade so someone else can upgrade above the poverty line.
Am I suggesting that we all sell everything, give our money to the poor and go live in tents? No. I’m suggesting that capitalism and compassion don’t have to move in opposite directions. They can move toward one another. Compassion needs the resources that our capitalist society produces. And in my opinion, capitalism without a compassionate outlet seems pointless. But are we willing to make the changes necessary to see that happen? Are we willing to spend less on ourselves in order to impact those in need? For me, this has been a long, hard, and humbling journey. “Downgrading” has meant owning my constant desire for more and choosing to buy less. When I do buy, I buy from companies that value the dignity of the people working for them. I haven’t abandoned capitalism. I’m just making sure compassion guides my contribution to it.
This all probably sounds really odd coming from the girl who runs a kids’ clothing company. I mean, I just got done saying we should have less and spend less and you probably received a marketing email from us this week asking you to buy our not-so-cheap clothes. What in the world?!
First, I never want anyone to wonder about where our heart is. I’m happy to share openly about the lessons on this journey (there are LOTS and they’re not always easy). Second – Do I want you to buy a dress every single time we release one? If your kid needs a dress, sure! If she doesn’t, why not tell a friend about us instead then use that money to help someone. I’m more interested in you becoming a conscious consumer than a repeat consumer. (Horrible sales pitch, right?!) But for real…I mean it. Third, for us at Vickery Trading Co., capitalism is our compassion. We use something that people are already buying (clothes) and turn it into opportunity for the marginalized. Our Associates earn fair wages for their hard work while learning job and life skills so they can go pursue the American Dream. We’re empowering them so that they can someday have capacity to empower someone else. That’s compassionate capitalism. It’s hard and it’s costly and it’s beautiful all at the same time.
Photo by: Alexis Marie Photography