As I read about this year’s “Black Friday” aftermath I was sadly reminded of just how short the distance is between decency and desperation. For those of you who missed the blemished moment of mankind, allow me to sum it up for you. You have one scenario in which a group of shoppers suddenly felt entitled to not only enter a store at a certain time, but to also flee with armfuls of goods. This occurred in Manhattan in which a crowd of “shoppers” stood in line in front of a moderately upscale store, Hollister. It was the opinion of these shoppers that if they were to stand in line, ready to purchase the Black Friday deals which Hollister advertised, that the store should open at midnight on Thursday and allow them to do so—after all, several other Hollister stores were opening at that time. When Hollister’s did not open these shoppers transformed into criminals, forcing their way through the doors and security of Hollister’s.
I shook my head in dismay when I read the Hollister story. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that transformed this group of people from raving fans and shoppers into common criminals?
Apparently the zombie sightings were not exclusive to Manhattan. Allow me to summarize for you the mass of other shining examples of humanity which took place across our nation this past Friday. We have nearly two dozen Wal-Mart shoppers, including children, who suffered injuries from being pepper-sprayed by a female shopper—a proud mother of three children which she had in tow at the time—just so that she could get better access to the deals on the X-box 360. This was in Los Angeles, CA. I’m kind of out of the loop on these techno things nowadays. Does the X-box 360 suck 100 extra pounds off of a person overnight or is it some kind of a miracle permanent hair color that truly does cover the grey hair and lasts through 360 shampoos?
Apparently someone got a great deal on something fabulous at a Wal-Mart in San Leandro, CA, because what he bought was a big enough deal that he was shot at 1:45 a.m. in the parking lot by a couple of armed men. Really? I had no idea that Wal-Mart was now selling items that were worthy of homicide! Apparently the big-box discount retailer has really kicked up their game because two of their female shoppers in South Carolina were also held up at gun point in the parking lot as they were loading their goodies in their car. Well, it was Hilton Head, SC, so maybe it’s possible that these shoppers got some kind of a doorbuster-worthy deal on Percocet or Ritilan—you know, something actually worthy of a holdup at gunpoint? Then of course there’s the 61 year-old man who collapsed on the floor of a Target in West Virginia and was completely ignored by shoppers who were devoutly focused on the Christmas Spirit and spreading good cheer. He died in the electronics department; I doubt that was his dream exit. Then of course we have the story of the multiple gunshots fired near the food court entrance at a shopping mall in Fayetteville, NC, which caused many of the stores to close their doors.
Apparently pepper-spray was the preferred sample of the day at Wal-Marts all across the country because in Kinston, NC I read of a group of trained law enforcement officers--off-duty and acting as Wal-Mart security—who elected to shoot pepper spray at a “rowdy” crowd—not a criminal crowd—outside of the store when the pallets of $200 cell phones that were marked down to $35 came into view.
The absolute worst affront to me was the story of a 54 year-old Grandpa who was slammed to the ground by a gung-ho police officer in front of his wife and 5 year-old grandson because they thought he was trying to steal two video games when all he was really doing was trying to carry it AND protect his grandson who had already been nearly trampled on their way to the Wal-Mart register. This LEO bloodied the man’s face with the body slam—over a couple of $20 items! (I would post a link to the video footage, but the customers were so outraged by the police brutality that there are some serious expletives repeatedly uttered).
Continuing on, a teenager was trampled during the rush of wacked out Wal-Mart shoppers in the electronics department, resulting in a trip to the local ER; a man was arrested for scuffling with another man over a piece of jewelry at a Wal-Mart jewelry counter—a fist fight over some of the worst cubic zirconia ever sold! Two other grown men were punching each other over a Barbie Doll—does anyone else find that ironic? And oh yeah, let’s not forget the three Wal-Mart stores across the country that had bomb threats called in. A 55 year-old woman was shot at 2:00 a.m. in the parking lot of a Myrtle Beach, SC Wal-Mart as two men stole her purse (she remains in critical condition). There were three separate instances of fisticuffs at an Oregon Wal-Mart, one of which was over some $1.88 bath towels—these were grown men fighting over the towels, mind you—apparently one of them was desperate for new ones because he didn’t want to have to pay the $2 required to clean his old ones at the laundry mat. O.K. Yeah. I made up that last bit. But look at this. These types of instances are so common that we’ve even got a high-powered Boston law firm that’s specifically advertising for clients who are willing to sue the stores where such crowding and mayhem occured due to supposed OSHA violations of crowd control!
Is it just me or does this read like some kind of melodramatic dime-store novel with a setting in a third-world nation? So, other than “STOP SHOPPING on BLACK Friday—ESPECIALLY AT WAL-MART” what am I anxious that you learn from all of this? Clearly, there’s a thin line between desperation and decency on both sides of the law, even in a nation of privilege, abundance, and freedom.
Actually, I’m motivated to write this story because of a particular comment that was made several weeks ago when I wrote an article entitled “What Desperation Looks Like”. In this article I provided some present day scenarios in the financial world and then showed how those situations could very likely lead to sad acts of desperation in our future. I then attempted to educate on the merits of being prepared in various areas of our lives so that we don’t have to subject ourselves to such acts of desperation which are the unfortunate companions in trying times.
While there were passionate comments made on that article covering a wide range of opinions, I found myself stunned by a comment from one of my readers who felt that my suggestions of potential acts of desperation were unfathomable, unprofessional, and lacking veracity. So upset was this person with my portrayal of what desperation looks like, even among us prosperous nations, that he went so far as to attempt to unveil me as a fraudulent preparedness persona. My first reaction to his comments was nothing short of being stunned by his ardent unbelief that such desperate acts were truly possible among our neighbors. Clearly the behavior of our neighbors this past Friday serve as a perfect “Exhibit A”, showing that mankind has an itchy trigger finger, so to speak.
More and more we’re seeing nowadays that it takes very few set of circumstances to create the “perfect storm” of horrible behavior. Keep in mind that all of these stories took place among crowds of people who were ostensibly trying to give more at Christmas. Can’t you just hear the story around the crackling fire on Christmas morning? “Yes children, Mommy even used pepper spray and injured 20 adults and children just because she loves you so much and wanted you to be able to enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.” These violent, desperate acts were taking place solely because people wanted to save a few dollars on stuff—non-essential stuff. We’re not talking about fighting over the last vial of insulin, gallon of gasoline, or the last bag of rice. In most of these instances we’re actually talking about the cheap stuff from Wal-Mart for crying out loud—you know, the same stuff that probably makes up 90% of all of the items at every garage sale in the nation each year before it passes on to the landfills. (Yes, I made up that statistic, but wouldn't it seem to be likely?) Unfortunately, this kind of irrational behavior isn’t limited to just one day a year. Our headlines are full of regular folks being transforming from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, fueled by their unfounded sense of entitlement, a dearth of any real life coping skills, and nothing more than a black hole where common courtesy and decency used to dwell.
Unfortunately, the news of this year’s Black Friday events only strengthen my position—that there is a very short distance between desperate acts and decency. More importantly, when I witness the thin line that separates so many from unrecognizable acts of criminality, hurtful mischief, and deception, I more firmly believe that the best way to insure against you or I ever becoming one of those desperate headlines is that we do all we can to live more self-reliant lives now. The greater extent of our self-reliance translates into the greater the distance we have between decent and desperate. Last Friday the whole world witnessed 152 million people who are living so close to the line between decency and desperation that they were willing to sacrifice time away from their families on the most family-oriented holiday of the year. The extent that some people went to just so that they could surrender their safety, comfort, and ultimately their decency just to save a few bucks is very telling of just how rough things WILL be if something more serious were to happen to our daily routine such as an earthquake, unemployment skyrocketing to 30%, a famine, or a financial collapse.
Ironically, the reader who took such great exception to my article on desperation actually provided evidence of the very theory I submitted to my readers. It only took a couple of e-mail exchanges with me before he transformed his identity from being a reader of this blog and a proactive “prepper” into showing his Mr. Hyde fangs as he literally swore an oath to put a stop to my preparedness nonsense. Among those crowds of people who trampled, robbed, fought, bloodied, shot, and demeaned their neighbor last week, I doubt that any of them left their homes on Thanksgiving with the intent to become a criminal by the end of the day. I don’t believe that many people in this world fantasize about changing their behavior from law-abiding, paying and productive citizens, to becoming another statistic in an over-crowded prison somewhere—especially for the sake of acquiring an insignificant piece of STUFF. But ultimately, the difference between you and those people who find themselves with a whole new set of problems is that YOU are willing to pay the price now in order to create a vast canyon in your life between decency and desperation. I believe firmly that diligent efforts of preparedness now will protect each of us from easily transforming into desperate people. The more self-reliant and ready we are for any possible circumstances, the more peace we are armed with. It's that peace that takes us far away from that thin line. Preparedness doesn’t just escort peace into our lives amidst great trials; in many instances it actually protects us from ever having to face the trials—and even better—it protects us from ever becoming one of those ugly trials in someone else’s life.
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