Friday, 30 April 2010

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems impossible to turn on the news without seeing a story bemoaning the decline of some institution or another. From local shops, to community groups, to companies, there is never a shortage of members of the public prepared to whinge about how things are changing. The typical interview is so common and frequent that it has become a cliche; “Oh it’s terrible that < insert institution here > is closing”. However what most of the interviewees seem ignorant of, is that in a majority of cases they - and people like them - are the ones causing the decline.

I will never forget an interview for a news report on the decline of local shops. The reporter stopped a woman outside a new supermarket and asked her what she thought about the loss of local shops. Of course the woman spoke at length about how awful it was that high street shops were closing and that local jobs were being lost. Finally the reporter asked her whether she would continue to shop at the supermarket. To which the woman replied; “Of course, it is more convenient, cheaper and there is better parking”. She showed no inkling that there was a complete disconnect between what she claimed to believe and her actions.

The bottom line is that - as in the example above - there is normally a good reason for the change. Supermarkets take business away from local shops because they have everything under one roof, they are cheaper and they have more space for parking. Community groups break up because people aren’t prepared to put effort in to maintaining them. Steel mills close because they are more expensive than their rivals and customers demand the lowest prices regardless of where the money goes. Complaining about changes is not going to reverse them, only action will and it seems as though a lot of people are not prepared to back up their words with actions.

If someone is not prepared to put their money where their mouth is, then they should lose the right to complain.
I try to put my money where my mouth is. A recent example of this is the Art Space Tokyo project. I might not know much about art, or plan to go to Tokyo any time soon, but I was still prepared to spend $100 to back the project. I believe in the publishing model, I believe in high quality books and I believe in supporting people who provide excellent free information online. A couple of years ago The Flashbulb offered their latest album for download on a bit torrent website, but asked that you buy the CD if you enjoyed the music. I downloaded the album, enjoyed the music and bought the CD. I paid for something I could have had for free because I believe that people should pay for content they enjoy, even if they can get it for free. In both instances it would have been easy to avoid spending money, but I would have felt like a hypocrite for not acting in line with my beliefs. Last week I was tempted to complain that a book shop had gone out of business. Then I realised that if I had cared about it that much, I would have shopped there more and in reality it was not that big a loss. In that instance I changed a belief because the evidence showed that the belief was incorrect.

I urge you to look at your beliefs and ask yourself; am i prepared to put my money where my mouth is? Maybe you are unhappy about the decline of newspapers, but don’t buy newspapers regularly. Maybe you hate the boring hollywood blockbusters that monopolise cinema screens, but don’t go to see independent films when they are shown. Maybe you claim to support local music, but only go to see international bands. If your actions don’t reflect your beliefs, then you either need to change your actions or your beliefs. In an age when most non-essential needs can be met for free or very cheaply, it is important to put your money where your mouth is and support good ideas, even if they aren't perfect.

Like democracy, a small contribution to what you believe in might not make a difference alone. But if enough people put their money where their mouth is and actively support what they believe in, the things that really matter to society will be improved.

[750 Words]
Image by danielle bigtooth. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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