by Sharon M. Kennedy
Recently I was talking with a writer friend, Jill Brumwell, who spends much of the summer at her home on Drummond Island. She’s one of those gals who has the innate ability to make people laugh without even trying. She cracks me up with some of the things she says. She couldn’t talk long because during the week the USPS had delivered a stack of catalogs she felt obligated to read. I laughed because I knew exactly what she meant.
Although I never thought of thumbing through unwanted catalogs as an “obligation,” I did agree that when a company takes the time and money to send us something, I, too, feel obliged to take a look. Even though I have no intention of purchasing anything, I still give junk mail a glance. Jill and I know we’re not special. We’re one of the thousands who received the same catalog, but we’re old school. If someone writes us a letter, we answer it immediately. If someone sends us a gift, we thank them for their thoughtfulness. It’s only natural that when we receive an unsolicited catalog we look at it prior to tossing it in the recycling bin.
Older gals will understand even if those under the age of 60 do not. We were wired to be obedient. As a majority, few of us got into serious trouble when we were young. Yes, some of us protested the Vietnam War and marched for women’s rights and joined the SDS, but on the whole, we were a fairly subservient group. Now that we’re old, one might think we would have shaken off the shackles of youthful obedience, but that’s not always the case.
For women like Jill and myself, “doing the right thing” is simply a way of life. Even when no one is watching, we cling to the old virtues so it follows that when junk mail arrives, we open it just to please the indifferent sender. I know that sounds crazy, but I’m willing to bet someone reading this does the same thing. We don’t spend hours poring over every item, and we certainly don’t feel guilty if we throw the catalog out the minute it arrives, but admit it. You, too, feel a slight obligation to see what’s inside that large manila envelope or the glossy Lakeside Collection catalog.
As we fan the pages, something might catch our eye. Some silly gadget we didn’t realize we needed until we saw it looking forlorn and begging us to buy it. We sniff at the impertinence of such a nonsensical idea, but when we come to the last page, we turn back. It would be downright cruel to ignore our inner voice repeating the “buy me, buy me” mantra. For the rest of the day we argue with ourselves until eventually, we give in, call the toll-free number and place our order.
That’s the power of obligation. When we feel obligated to someone or something, we blindly plow ahead if for no other reason than to silence our inner voice. It’s understandable when it’s a person we owe allegiance to, but a magazine? A catalog full of plastic junk from China? Another catalog teeming with clothing we’ll never wear? Human nature is an odd thing. It isn’t rational. It’s fed by emotional fuel.
Well, I gotta go. The mailman just made a delivery. There might be something special in the box. Maybe a dozen Christmas catalogs or a notice from Publishers Clearing House informing me I won a car or a million dollars. You never know. This might be my lucky day.