THE BLOG
11/26/2013 03:21 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Black Friday: The Animal Instinct of Consumerism

Though we might spend Thanksgiving day cooking, eating, and generally being grateful for the blessings in our lives, for some, it's a day to fuel up for what's coming next: Black Friday. Every year, thousands flock to retail stores to get their hands on a fantastic deal. The lines between need and want blur away as the shopping lists are checked off, check-out lines grow longer and longer, people get angrier, and retail staff try to stay out of the fray.

Technically speaking, Black Friday hasn't ever been referred to as a good day. As this Marketplace article points out, "In the 1950s, some factory managers referred to the day after Thanksgiving as 'black Friday' because so many workers called in sick. The day, noted one industrial magazine, was 'a disease second only to the bubonic plague' in its effects on employees." It goes on to say that in the 1960s, Philadelphia police referred to Black Friday as such because of the large shopping crowds. And eventually, retailers turned a positive spin on the black in Black Friday, noting that the Friday after Thanksgiving began to move their profits from the red into black.

This year, with sales starting as early as a week ahead of Black Friday, perhaps the day will lose its impact, though that is highly doubtful. Apparently there are six fewer days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we've got to start early to satisfy our appetite for shopping and crowds and all else that the shopping season offers.

Though it's true that shopping and consumer spending keeps our economy growing and moving, it simultaneously draws a wider wedge amongst us, in more ways than one. First, it targets our competitive nature, allowing us to trample over each other to get to the shelf with the Elmo dolls, PlayStations, or the newest toasters before someone else does. All of a sudden, it's like a football game inside a store, but with no rules, or at least no rules that simmering crowds are inclined to follow. Black Friday stampedes are not new and, unfortunately, have resulted in violence and at least one death.

Second, it targets our perspective and reinforces a sense of material wealth. We want things and that somehow turns into we need things, and getting these things (and on sale, no less!) will bring us great happiness. Until of course next year, when we want more things and different things. It's perfectly reasonable to complain about how disappointing it is for the same items to be on sale from one Black Friday to the next.

There is some psychology behind our attachment to material objects and how factors such as loneliness and social isolation play into our material attachments. But those attachments allow us to forget about the fact that 16 percent of our country, or 49.7 million people, were living in poverty in 2012, or that 344,000 new people filed for unemployment insurance between November 2nd and November 9th, a one week period. Or that there is actually a Walmart in Canton, Ohio, holding a food drive for its own employees, preferring to do that than to pay them enough to buy sustenance.

None of this is meant to make anyone feel guilty about their shopping extravaganzas but merely to serve as a reminder that in all our hullabaloo of shopping and holiday fervor, we should try to keep our humanity intact. Understand that while we are trying to get our deals in, so is everyone else, and the hard-working store clerks who don't get Black Friday off, or Thanksgiving for that matter, are simply trying to make a living.

As one redditor demonstrated by asking others to share Black Friday stories, the day can truly bring out the worst in some people. The following were some people describing their best and worst Black Friday stories:

[-]eddiemarsattacks
A lady called 911 because we wouldn't price match with best buy. The police came and arrested her for misusing the emergency service.

[-]pandacoot
Today, one of our male customers hit another male customer upside the head with a crock pot. What were they fighting over? The crock pot. Both customers had to be dragged out of the store by the police.

[-]DorotheaDix
I watched 2 grown men have a fist fight over hot wheel cars. Cops were called for that one.

But of course, even in times of chaos, not everyone is narrowly focused on snagging the latest whatever:

[-]jfrizzera
Was working at a clothing store and we were slammed all day, a customer overheard my manager say I couldn't take lunch and to, "Work through it."
She came back with sandwiches for me and my coworkers, plus drinks.

Here's to a happy, humane, and safe Black Friday. And just remember, if you miss a deal on Friday, there's always Cyber Monday. Because we really just don't have enough days or reasons for sales to buy all the things we want.