Won’t Catch Me Dead in a Wal-mart

Already the countdown to Christmas has started—at least on Facebook. And one headline today is that ASDA—Wal-mart in the UK—is getting complaints for selling Christmas stuff already. Those people should come over here where Christmas merchandizing starts in July.

You won’t catch me EVER in a Wal-mart, by the way.

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That might seem a bit rash but it’s a decision borne out of facts and experience, versus as some might guess, a quest for good taste. When I worked in a financial counseling office, two employees of different Wal-mart stores needed to file a Form W-5 to be able to collect Advanced Earned Income Credit. Both stores refused to file this IRS form. Both of their personnel offices gave me a ration of it when I called to explain that they needed to accept and file this form for their employees. The experience gave me an extremely bad taste in my mouth. I’ve transcribed Wal-mart focus groups and all I can say, due to my confidentiality agreement, is they know their consumer demographic. My skin starts to crawl when I enter the store and it’s not because of my fellow shoppers.

Beyond what a single Wal-mart store will do to a local economy, does anybody really think those prices come without a cost? Just because it’s a price you’re not paying the simple truth is this: There are NO $4 shirts, folks. Someone in the supply chain—be it underpaid seamstresses, truck drivers who are paid too little and worked too much (how would you like 11-hour days and 34-hour “weekends”?) for what they’re responsible for, the folks in your community who work at your local store, your local retailers who loose their businesses when a Wallie’s comes town, or even yourself when you get lured into store for the shirt and end up walking out with heaven-knows-what-all-else—someone’s paying. Wal-mart customers even financed a $2 million (yes, $2,000,000) legal battle over a $7,000 OSHA fine levied when an employee was trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede at a New York store in 2008. (I guess Wal-mart doesn’t like to pay the cheaper price?) I mean, really?

While not always being upfront about their legal problems, you have to hand it to the Walton family for marketing brilliance, though. Even though any connection or ties are solidly disavowed, let’s look at the timelines for the Wal-mart stores and the television program “The Waltons.”

  • Spencer’s Mountain, written by Earl Hamner in 1961, is the story of the Spencer family in Appalachian Virginia; the first true Walton’s store opened in 1962 by Sam Walton who opened his first store in 1950 as a 5-10 (Five and Dime for those of you too young to remember—kind of like dollar stores now) in a small town in Arkansas. The movie, Spencer’s Mountain, came out in 1963, now set in Wyoming.
  • Walmart incorporated on October 31, 1969; the show aired from 1971-1981 starting with the first Walton family movie—The Homecoming, a Christmas Story, which aired December 19, 1971. The family name is now Walton and are back in Hamner’s Virginia, though in a fictitious town and county. Walmart went public in 1972.
  • The Walton’s TV series ends, 1981; Sam Walton was Forbes’ Richest Man in the U.S., 1982 (to 1988).

The television Waltons are the most squeaky-clean, quintessential American family that was ever conceived of. George H.W. Bush even quipped (1992) that he wanted “to make American families more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.” Uh-huh. You go first, George. The rest of us are real people.

Coincidence? Maybe. But, in spite of how roundly the connection is denied, why on earth did they change the name from the Spencers of no fixed address to the Waltons of Walton’s Mountain?

GIGO

A principle of computer programming exists that says, essentially, that the computer is only as good as the stuff humans put into it. Everyone’s heard the phrase: Garbage in, garbage out. Makes a lot of sense, really. Recently, with smart phones and all, I don’t even know is this axiom is still true. It does seem that our computers have minds of their own, if not sentience. But, for now, we’ll assume it’s still true.

A couple of ways to think about this idea are, first, that if you put garbage in, you may expect garbage out. This is probably how most people think about it—what you sow is what you reap. But a second way to consider this is that if you’re getting garbage out, obviously there’s garbage having gone in at some point. This is the mindset of a troubleshooter, the one who’s going to figure out why your computer screen is displaying purple aliens…or not displaying anything at all. To make this more simple, you can’t correctly solve 2+3 if you state it as 2-3, 2*3 or 2+2. Your output is not what you want? Look at your inputs.

It’s this reverse engineering model I want to examine. Reverse engineering is used quite a lot in programming and is sort of related to what Stephen Covey stated: “Begin with the end in mind” only it’s working backward from the end to determine the beginning. The computer geek starts at the unwanted end and discovers what programming bug or glitch is responsible. Reverse engineering is also being used as a tool in patent infringement on both side by figuring out how something works, tweaking it and coming out with a similar product, or by reverse engineering a product to see if someone has done RE with YOUR product.

So how am I thinking about this today? Well, we’re winding down to the autumn months of 2012 here in a few days. The very air is rife with speculation about the end times, the Mayan calendar, civil unrest, personal insecurity. We’re also here in North American heading into another winter of “recession” while more and more people are suffering from the terminal economy. More and more soothsayers predicting things like polar shift, unleashed global warming, bio-terror—the news is pretty much all bad. If you watch the nightly news (which I haven’t since 1984) your head is filled with horror and gloom. Here’s a video to watch if you’d like to become frightened and dismayed by what’s going on.[This isn’t the most terrifying on the Web by a long shot. I refuse to search for that and put it out here.] We all know about the stress of modern life. It’s well-documented, if not well “managed.”

So, if we reverse engineer a world clearly careening to hell in a handcart, and you believe as I do that thoughts are things—when we resolve the “things” around us into thought, we come up with so many people thinking about murders, swindles, lies, and even hatred. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we even pay to have our heads fill with terror when we watch so-called “action” movies and TV shows. With a mental diet such as this, is it any wonder that there is an ever-escalating incidence of stuff to be fearful and worried about?

We say we want peace but how much time do we each individually spend on a daily basis do we spend thinking out, envisioning and loving peace, especially as compared to the time we spend contemplating its opposite. We say we want peace—and this is on one level so true. We are in want of peace. And even when we pray, we pray “for peace” instead of praying peace. The first implies its absence; the latter creates the reality. Praying peace or rain or health or anything else, is the contemplation of the place that quality has in your life and “real”-izing it.

So garbage in—the “terrors of the night” filling our minds and hearts, while outwardly we spiral into a fire pit oblivion. Any coincidence there? I think so. Resist?—heaven’s no! That keeps the terrors in front of you. You’ll be constantly thinking about what you’re resisting, instead of the goal of peace and contentment. You say you want peace—here’s the instruction manual:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. ~Philippians 4:8-9

It’s doesn’t get much more clear than that. What a promise!