“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” – The Buddha

Consumer Definition

By Joleen David

Having spent 41 years in the advertising business, I have read, heard and used the term “consumer” to describe human beings too many times to count. But if, as the Buddha suggested, we are what we think, then maybe even once was one time too many.

With apologies to insects, “consumer” has always brought to mind a line of ants, mindlessly marching toward their goal of nonstop consumption. That’s not how I like to think of myself, my clients or their customers.

The very definition of the word can give one pause. Depending on which dictionary you consult (and which definition you use), a “consumer” is either “a person who purchases goods and services for personal use” – or “a thing that eats or uses something” – or worse, “an organism requiring complex organic compounds for food which it obtains by preying on other organisms or by eating particles of organic matter.”

That last one alone may explain why I’ve never heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to be a consumer.”

What’s more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the word describes an activity (purchasing/using goods or services) on which we spend maybe an hour a day, on average. That leaves about 23 hours for other, potentially nobler pursuits, including working, educational activities, caring for household members, civic and religious activities – and unavoidable tasks like sleeping.

So why define ourselves by something we spend one-twenty-fourth of our day doing? More importantly, why should we not?

Because, despite the old “it’s not personal, it’s business” chestnut, all business is, in fact, an activity conducted between, and on behalf of, people. That makes it personal. It was ever so; it is even more so in the age of real-time human interaction through digital devices. Building any business requires building trusting relationships between human beings; and building trusting relationships demands that we treat and address each other as living, breathing, thinking and, especially, feeling individuals. Not “things that eat or use something.”

In a world where all business is personal, I propose that we do business with each other as people: colleagues, customers, friends.

Anything but ants.

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