So, I guess I’m glad yesterday I was too busy to write this piece. If I had written it yesterday, what was on my mind, the words to flow would have been filled with anger…maybe even rage.
Yesterday I received an email from a long-time friend, John Cantrell, and the father to three kids.
As I was walking into the mall with my 3 kids, 13,12, and 10, I noticed this display right at the front of Urban Outfitters. I made very little reference to it as we were on a mission to the Apple Store. As we were leaving, I felt like I could not just let this pass.
After leaving the mall, I told the kids to wait, and went back to take a picture. They wanted to know what I was doing, so I showed them the picture and asked them what was wrong. They immediately could tell, and we talked about doing and saying the right things, and that I felt I needed to do something about it and that’s why I took the picture and was going to at least voice my displeasure with the display.
At first glance, my reaction was somewhat subdued. “Just another silly attempt to sell stuff.” But as my morning went along…I got angry. REALLY angry.
All for a buck. Someone, somewhere, is sitting in a drafting, design room thinking up this stuff. I get it. I was 20 once. I partied. I drank a lot.
But the demographic for Urban Outfitters starts at age 14…my daughter loves their clothes.
Where is the disconnect? The buyer? Who is the buyer? Someone along the chain of getting this from creative to production to purchase to sale had to say “This is okay. Yeah, sure…a majority of our customers are under the age of 21, but that’s okay. Let’s display small liquor flasks with “F..k my Liver” and “I’m not drunk, I’m awesome” right here at the entrance to our store.”
And for the sake of assuming the best here…let’s just pretend that everyone who shopped at Urban Outfitters was over the age of 21, how disconnected is the creator, buyer, clerk from their demographic? Who wants to hurt the people they serve?
But then I realize…somebody buys this stuff. As a matter of fact, I probably would have been THAT somebody. When I was in my early 20′s, drinking was a life style for me. One that unfortunately was so deeply woven into my DNA that at age 32, the alcohol won. I called my sister and threatened to kill myself. I don’t mean to be morbid or dramatic but it’s the truth. Thanks to her and a kind of self-reckoning I woke up the next day to a grace-giving experience that changed my life and would later bear the fruit we call “Girls on the Run.”
I wonder what’s missing here that those folks…the ones in creative, advertising, c-suites and sales…feel so okay with producing products that promote messages, which in essence, demean, diminish and even destroy the very person they are trying to serve. Video games, music, advertising strategies…I can almost bring myself to tears pondering the expansive number of missed opportunities to engage people in something that could, on the other hand, be positive, life-giving and uplifting.
I’ve spent this morning in the stillness of that gap, the WHAT’S missing and I think it comes down to something so simple that it defies my own willingness to believe it.
Could it be that we simply don’t know each other anymore…I mean really know each other anymore?
Let me introduce you to Takeimi Rao. She was fourteen years old. Loved music, well-liked, popular. Last June, she had a few of her best girlfriends over to spend the night. Sometime in the middle of the night, her mother was awakened by what sounded like vomiting. She helped one of the girls get cleaned up…from what appeared to be food poisoning. The next morning, when she went to awaken the girls, all of them woke up, except for her own daughter Takeimi…who was unconscious on her own bed and in her own room from alcohol poisoning. She died.
What might happen if the creators, the buyers, the store owners, the clerks from Urban Outfitters met Takeimi’s mom…or better yet, her friends who were there when their best friend died? What might happen if the songwriters sat down with the kids who listen to their music and talked with them, shared stories and connected in the quiet space of listening, being and understanding.
Instead of looking for the buck, what might happen if we looked for the connection, the opportunity, the WHAT-IS-POSSIBLE when we know each other, seek the big in each other, do what is right and what is good and what is whole.
I only say this things because I’m older now and after years and years of connecting with people through Girls on the Run, at such a deep and beautiful level, I know what is possible. It’s a bit like holding the cure to the world’s greatest disease…and desperately trying to get those with the greatest possible impact to listen, to engage, to know the love that is possible when we connect rather than “just sell.”
And so, I wonder, ask, provoke, push and encourage everyone along the chain of “selling” to invite their consumer into a heartfull dialogue…not about what they want or need, but about what brings them joy, love and a peek into their own greatness. And start there, building products, advertising strategies, store displays that honor THAT space…the one we all really want, need, yearn for at some very deep and some very human level…not just for ourselves, but all of us.