It’s Not That Simple

walmartGenerally speaking, I dislike Walmart.

I’m not a fan of the labor practices that they seem to represent. If I’m able to buy a shirt or a pair of pants for $7.00 – after everyone along the distribution chain has taken their cut – what did the poor person in the 3rd world get paid to make it? As someone who sews, I think about these things.

I’m not a fan of the people they attract as regular customers. I’ve rarely been in one when there wasn’t some hillbilly hassle taking place between the “typical” WalMart shopper and their kids/spouse/other shoppers. As someone who’s not a reality TV fan, I’ll just pass on that.

I’m not a fan of the Walton’s being gazillionaires while we (the taxpayers) subsidize their workers through Medicaid, food stamps and other. For the record I’m not anti-helping the poor; I just believe that the gazillionaires should take better care of the employees that are helping them stay so rich.

I’m not crazy about the way that their buying power can hurt local businesses and it often seems that when Walmart moves in,…there goes the neighborhood. The large symbol of “us” versus “them”; we the scrubbed and polished elites and them – the unwashed and uneducated masses who shop in droves at a company that got rich on “cheap because it’s NOT Made in America

But I need to be careful because it’s very easy to be smug and indignant when I can afford to buy my clothes where I choose; when I don’t have to pinch pennies at the grocery store or worry if I can feed my family between paydays. It’s easy to dislike Walmart when you’re as fortunate as I am and can choose when and where to dislike Walmart.

It’s easy to hold my nose about Walmart as I shop for groceries or clothes, or home goods but here’s what happens when we draw those indignant lines in the sand. There comes that time when we realize that we are grateful that there’s a Walmart in town.

This was the case for me just last night. I was sitting in my home office working on an important project and crash! My 8-year old computer printer crashed. It’s the night before Thanksgiving, so what do I do? I log on to Amazon to see if they’re going to drone-carrier me one over the Thanksgiving holiday (yes, we could/should talk about that changing paradigm, too).

Amazon couldn’t promise me one until Saturday. It was Wednesday night and Best Buy was already closed,…and then I remembered (key ominous music): Walmart was open 24-hours!

I went on their website and found what I needed and that it was indeed available at the local store. I grabbed my coat and hopped into my Jeep and in 15 minutes I was in the Electronics section of Walmart.

It was as disheveled as the rest of the store with boxes misaligned with the listed prices, requiring some critical reading and attention to detail to cipher which was which, but the offerings were the same as on Amazon – all brand names and the best part? This elitist was going to take home an HP printer with the change in the bottom of her purse.

OK, I’m exaggerating a little bit. The price, however was insignificant compared to what I was expecting to pay and in less than an hour, I was back in business; printing away.

Driving home I thought about the complexities of the position I generally take on Walmart. I realized that the issues in the recent election were similarly complex (I refer here to the voters – not the candidates) . We see things through often binary lenses: good vs. evil; right vs. wrong; dumb vs. smart; like-me vs. not-like-me, but the truth is much more nuanced and complex.

I am certain that many of the people who have little choice but to shop at Walmart – whose families and lives have suffered greatly as the manufacturing base in this country has eroded and income inequality has soared – think about that awful tradeoff it represents at times, but we do what we need to do in this moment. We feed our families; we buy the clothes we can afford; we shop where we can.

In the truest sense, I didn’t really NEED that printer. But I wanted it, so I shopped at “that store I dislike” because it met my needs/wants at the time. I had to look in the mirror and realize that disliking Walmart may be a convenient even elitist option for me, because I can afford to dislike them,… until there’s something that they have that I need or want. It means I need to step back and look at the lines I draw in the sand about “right” and “wrong” and soften my view.

This does not mean that I am ready to start family feuds in a loud voice in Aisle 23, or build a wardrobe from the clearance rack; but it does mean that I need to be careful about judging the choices that others make because their motivations may not be that far away from my own.

And who knows? If we could all take a step in the direction of seeing the “others” we are so angry at right now as not being that different than we are,…this country – heck, this world might have a real chance to heal and move forward.



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