I love the connection the internet has brought me, but inevitably it leaves me feeling brow-beaten at times.
My friends are a very moral, ideology-driven bunch – that’s why I love them – and many of the sites and groups I have ferreted out are dedicated to living simply and responsibly, following a humble path of faith and kindness. This is all fab and beautiful.
Sometimes, though, I do feel a bit backs-to-the-wall.
There have been some wars and earthquakes. A hyper-passionate blogger has been to visit women and kids fleeing in terror from ISIS in Iraq. Some personal friends have been in trouble. All these situations can do with financial help. I don’t do much, but I believe if we all chip in our little bit we can make a difference, so I do what I can.
Meanwhile at home, the media tell me food prices have dropped. Say again? Whose?
Then, my frugal, simple-living, ecologically responsible gang of good friends often post about living on little money (or none!) and buying nothing new. Clothes from Goodwill, food from dumpsters, books from the library.
And my various connections also get in touch asking me to sponsor their walks for charity, or give what I can for the trees, for the badgers, for the persecuted, for the food banks, for clean water in Africa, for individuals to keep the home they may be losing or to adopt a child in dire need or to feed homeless people.
I love the love.
BUT (isn’t there always . . .)
I feel moved to say a word about closing the loop.
Some of the lovely people I’ve met online make modest dresses for a living – beautifully. They work from home, caring for their families, promoting ethical lifestyle. No sweatshop, happy working conditions, the freedom to care for their own children but earn a living at the same time. Likewise, some make headcoverings – for those who wear such for religious reasons or because they are graceful, and for those left bald by chemotherapy. The women who make these dresses and headcoverings are loving, responsible types – the sort who will give sacrificially of their income to rescue and support others.
Sooooo . . . if I buy nothing new, what about their business? How will they feed their families? What will happen to their charitable giving? Uh-oh.
And then, here am I writing books and my husband working as hard and fast as he can every single day to get Christian books into the world. The publishing firm he works for does a grand job, but publishers work with narrow margins – er . . . I mean, financially. We put our money to helping along a number of individuals who struggle, among them a family in Africa. My husband supported Claudine in Africa through school, then through university, and now he helps support her new-born son. She called her son after my husband, with her husband’s blessing. Without the money my husband sent, you see, she – like her classmates – would have had to supplement her income by prostitution to get through college.
If we buy nothing new, if when we want to read a book we get it from the library – just the one copy, that one reader after another can pass around, what do you think will happen? Where will the new books come from, that the library gets in? What writer or publisher will stay in business selling a copy per library? What will happen to Claudine and her new-born son if we sell no books?
It’s not realistic to buy nothing new, live as cheaply as you can, and at the same time hope that the people whose goods you didn’t buy will go on giving to support your good cause. Can’t be done.
As Jesus so succinctly put it, ‘The poor, you will always have with you.’ Quite so. For one reason and another, I know rather a lot of poor people. I don’t know if they are unusual in this (I suspect not), but though I don’t always agree with their personal choices, I notice that every single one of them always does her or his best, gives life all they’ve got, tries their darnedest to survive and keep paying the bills. I am always glad to help those friends out when I can, and I regard their strategies of frugality as inspiring and heroic.
But, if you are one of those who can and does earn a good income, if you have enough for those you love and a bit left over, then I beg you, for God’s sake, don’t just keep it in the bank, don’t just give it to charity, and don’t stop buying new. Please don’t dam the river we all depend on; keep it flowing.
If you don’t approve of cutting down trees to make paper books, buy e-books. If you don’t approve of growing cotton, buy up-cycled clothing. If you don’t approve of commodities, buy the services of someone to clean your house or work in your yard. But buy something, if and when you can. There will always be more dignity, and more people helped, by trade than by aid.