Coupons and Discounted People

CC BY-NC, SamPac, Flickr

CC BY-NC, SamPac, Flickr

My first real job was at a drugstore during my high school years. It was formative for me in many ways, but there is a small, simple lesson I learned there that I want to share with you.

People were always eager for weekly sales, and some items required a coupon to receive the discounted price. But when shoppers didn’t have the required coupon, I would have to deny them their deal because the clipping was…policy (queue music: duhn, Duhn, DUHNN!)

Of course, they hated it and soon I hated it, too—their dissatisfaction and appeals for the manager. But the lesson became bigger than a mere bottle of shampoo or 12-pack of Coke. It was about people…everywhere, particularly the disenfranchised.

The coupon incident let me see a larger group of folk with a host of needs who find themselves in a big business nation that often turns them away with not much more than a Sorry-that’s-policy attitude.

Do you tire of news stories about people going bankrupt and losing their homes because they get sick? I’m shocked that the top tenth of the top one percent of rich Americans control half of the entire nation’s wealth. And I’m beyond maxed with the cavalcade of contests and reality shows that lure and exploit people in the name of money and status.

Those missing coupons did something for me. They sharpened my vision of hurting people, not any wealth I might chance to have. They taught me that if you wish to help others, just do it—don’t make them jump through hoops for what you can freely and simply offer them. Be good to people and make life easier for them with your capital, not always for it.

This approach will also put an end to fundamental but needless questions, like “Do successful people have an obligation to give back?” and “Should athletes be role models?” Those questions always miss the point. Giving back is not a burden; it’s a privilege.

There’s enough wealth in America for each of us to live comfortably as middle-class citizens, but there is little hope of the people who most need that wealth ever seeing it. Moreover, our systems are broken. But what can happen within each of us is sensitivity to other’s needs and the compassion that motivates us to give of ourselves and our substance, expecting nothing in return.

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