Not so WEIRD, please
By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ezlika M. Ghazali, Prof. Dr. Dilip Singh Mutum
Ever heard of the acronym ‘WEIRD’? It’s academic jargon for ‘Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic.’ Basically, it critiques the Western-focused lens often used in studies about how people think and behave, including our shopping habits. But let’s be honest—Malaysia isn’t your typical ‘WEIRD’ country. We’re a melting pot of Islamic traditions and various Eastern philosophies, all of which offer fresh ways to look at modern shopping ethics.
Islamic Perspective: It’s Not Just About Halal
Firstly, Islam isn’t just a religion here; it’s our way of life. Besides telling us what’s Halal or Haram (permissible or forbidden), Islam teaches us to be balanced or moderate—something called ‘Wasatiyyah.’ It nudges us towards a life that’s neither too simple nor too extravagant. Sounds a lot like the modern minimalism trend, doesn’t it? Then there’s ‘Israf,’ which basically means wastefulness. Islam isn’t a fan. In fact, the Quran strongly advises against excessive consumption, emphasising that such habits lead us down a negative path (Quran 17:27). It’s no surprise, then, that these teachings dovetail neatly with today’s focus on environmental sustainability. So, there’s a clear thumbs-down to mindless shopping sprees.
But there’s more. Islam sees us as Earth’s ‘Khalifah,’ or caretakers. Plus, it promotes ‘Tazkiyah,’ or inner cleansing. Put these together and you get a lifestyle that’s not just minimal but also eco-friendly. And let’s not forget ‘Zakat’ and ‘Sadaqah,’ mandatory and voluntary charity practices that not only help the less fortunate but also curb our own shopping excesses, functioning as both social equalisers and constraints against excess.
Confucianism and Taoism: Harmony and Simplicity
Moving on, let’s talk about Confucianism, big on family and social harmony. Ever noticed how buying a family car or even choosing a holiday spot becomes a full-family discussion? That’s Confucianism for you! On the flip side, Taoism is the poster child for ‘less is more.’ It pushes for a simpler, more compassionate lifestyle, giving a big no-no to mindless spending.
Buddhist and Hindu Wisdom
Buddhism tells us to walk the ‘Middle Path,’ warning us that going overboard with material stuff won’t end well. It kind of puts a damper on impulse buys and retail therapy, doesn’t it? Hinduism adds to this dialogue with its own cool concepts—like ‘Dharma’ (righteousness) and ‘Karma’ (consequences), urging us to think before we splurge, especially in our eco-conscious times.
Christianity also offers valuable insights into the ethics of consumption. Rooted in biblical teachings such as ‘love thy neighbour’ and the caution against the ‘sin of gluttony,’ this religious tradition shares common ground with Islamic and Eastern philosophies. The emphasis here is on responsible, balanced and charitable living. It’s not just about avoiding excess but actively promoting generosity. So, whether you’re Christian or not, brands that wear their heart on their sleeve are sure to grab your attention.
WEIRD vs Not-so WEIRD
Western, or WEIRD, perspectives often put the individual front and centre. That’s not a bad thing, but it often overlooks community or spiritual aspects, which are pretty much the bread and butter in our part of the world. So, while the West might champion personal freedom, we lean more towards communal responsibility.
Nowadays, we’re seeing a boom in materialism, especially here in Asia. It’s a real head-scratcher when set against our traditional teachings of moderation and community focus. But don’t fret! Many of us are fusing modern trends with age-old wisdom, opting for brands that not only look good but also do good. It’s a fascinating blend of modern lifestyles with timeless principles. Increasingly, consumers are gravitating towards brands that offer more than just aesthetic appeal or instant gratification; they’re choosing companies that align with ethical practices and social responsibility.
Navigating the Complexity
So, what’s the takeaway for all of us, especially if you’re a marketer in Malaysia? Understanding these different moral landscapes isn’t just some academic game—it’s real-world stuff. And for businesses, it means you’ve got to do your homework if you want to reach into the hearts and wallets of Malaysians. Brands that align with sustainability and social justice principles—such as fair trade, ethical sourcing, or charitable giving—are not only will win hearts but also loyalties. Also, ethically balanced and culturally sensitive advertising isn’t just smart; it’s essential.
The next time you’re contemplating your shopping choices, just know that you’re not only choosing between brands or prices. You’re navigating a rich tapestry of ethical, spiritual and philosophical traditions. And that makes the act of buying anything but simple.
So, here’s to making choices that aren’t just good for you, but also for your community and the world. Until next time, happy shopping or as we say here, ‘Selamat berbelanja!’
Dr. Ezlika M. Ghazali is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaya; Dr. Dilip Singh Mutum is a Professor at the School of Business, Monash University Malaysia.