The Holidays

San Francisco has only one "real" shopping mall. There is a second mall down town, but it's a vertical mall built into the first 3 or 4 floors of Nordstrom's department store around a central core. Not actually a "mall" mall as we think of them spread all over America every few feet. It doesn't even have a 40 screen theater. The real mall doesn't have a theater either, but there is one in the rear just across the parking lot. It only has two screens and is in danger of being swallowed up by one of several groups of developers foaming at the mouth to build a new mall there. San Francisco's anti-mall majority has been giving them a very hard time, even though everyone knows that more is better in America and more stores naturally means America, and in particular San Francisco, will be a better place to live.

Well anyway, we went to the movies last night in the not over crowed but nonetheless comfortable soon to be torn down two screener. We got there early for the 7:45 show and had some extra time so we decided to walk across the parking lot and window shop in Macy's. It was Friday night, two months after 911 and two weeks before Thanksgiving. As we entered the door we were hit by a most amazing display of Christmas dolls and decorations ... everywhere. The store was like an oasis of light and reflective materials that jumped all over one's senses. Santa was everywhere, colorful bow's and striped candy canes and all the "stuff" we associate with Christmas, except of course, religion. We wandered through the home appliance department. Did you know that there are 407 different kinds of coffee makers? And the selection of toaster, pasta machines, pepper grinders, decorative fountains and popcorn makers is limitless. There are 617 different kinds of luggage and there just wasn't enough time to count the different kinds of pot's and pans and kitchen helpers.

Then, when I noticed a clerk nearly asleep at his cash register, we suddenly realized that we were the only people within sight. 27 billion dollars worth of glorious inventory, just for us! What a ego trip! It was at that moment that it hit me. In the light of the events of the past two months I have to wonder if America hasn't changed in ways not yet really visible. One has to wonder why do we need all this stuff? San Francisco only has two malls but every other town with a population of over 50,000 has several plus a Walmart or two, several Targets, Kmart's Home Depot's and Costco's... we have one of each but no Walmart. (This is not to say that we don't have multiple choices just beyond the city limits, however.) The point is, perhaps we have been given the opportunity to see our American life from another perspective, that of the enemy. They have shown us the power of another point of view.

In coaching, viewing a problem from a different perspective is a very powerful tool. I left Macy's last night with what I think is the formation of a new perspective. I have to wonder why we "need" the unlimited options that are forced upon us at every turn. Does the fact that our constitution enables us have the choice of 53 different tea pots in 100 feet of floor space make it necessary to have them? How many Macy's stores do you think there are? 500? 1,000? I travel a lot and everywhere I go I see all the same stores. America has one retail face and it never changes. If you multiply all these stores by the numbers of things and the value they represent in dollars I doubt there are enough zero's to do it justice.

Then, we see the Afghan refugee's and all the other poor people in the world who would give their lives for a loaf of bread. The distance between the have's and the have not's is ever increasing. Perhaps one of the benefits of the times we live in is that we are being given an opportunity to change our perspective on who and what America is and should be.

It is true, of course, that we are in a time of fanaticism and fanatics of any kind are deeply worrisome. But is there such a thing as consumer fanaticism? And is it possible that it is just as cancerous and destructive as religious or political fanaticism? And is America guilty of that? And is it any worse or better than what we see going on in the world around us?

This Christmas season President Bush and the retail world which so governs our daily life wants us to shop early and buy everything we can. Go forth and spend...but consider what another perspective might offer you.

© 2007, Kenneth F. Byers

Other Transition Issues, Books

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A permanent state of transition is man's most noble condition. - Juan Ramon Jimenez

Ken Byers holds a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in Men's Studies, one of the few ever awarded in the U.S. Ken is a full time Certified Professional Life Coach specializing in working with men in any form of transition and an instructor of design at San Francisco State University.

His books, "Man In Transition" and "Who Was That Masked man Anyway" are widely acknowledged as primers for men seeking deeper knowledge of creating awareness and understanding of the masculine way. More information on Ken, his work and/or subscription information to the weekly "Spirit Coach" newsletter which deals with elements of the human spirit in short commentary, check the box at or or or E-Mail You are welcome to share any of Ken's columns with anyone without fee from or to him but please credit to the author. Ken can be reached at: 415.239.6929.

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