With the holidays so recently behind us, the familiar Christmas tidings may still be ringing in our ears: “Peace on Earth, good will to men.”
Sometimes you see these words with a space included between the ‘good’ and the ‘will,’ and sometimes without. Those of us who have spent far too much time singing in mixed choirs (okay, only me, then?) will easily call to mind the Latin equivalent: Et in terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis. There are some extremely beautiful musical settings of this text, including one from Herbert Howells’ Mass in the Dorian Mode (1912) that I sang in college and will never forget…
But I digress.
What brought the term ‘goodwill’ to mind was a recent trip to my neighborhood Goodwill store, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself and should have begun with this preliminary announcement:
I do, from time to time, frequent Goodwill… and occasionally even shop there.
I don’t actually remember exactly how it all began. It must have had something to do with a high school pep rally or spirit week, when the student senate decided in its infinite wisdom that all of the sophomores would wear hot pink on Tuesday, or some such thing. No doubt I spent most of Monday night wondering what was the point of sophomores wearing pink (and, frankly, high school in general) before finally coming to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be the only one not wearing pink.
Ah, high school…
This realization necessitated begging one of my parents to take me to the local Goodwill, which must have been the only place I figured I could track down a hot pink article of clothing (barring, of course, the inexcusable indignity of asking one of my sisters). In the subsequent rush through the store’s aisles, it must have registered that in fact there were a number of nice things in that store.
And there are!
In recent years, I have discovered BCBG and Ralph Lauren dress shirts, Brooks Brothers neckties, and even Dockers luggage, all in pristine condition. Many items had just come from the dry-cleaners, and nearly every article of clothing costs $5.00 or less.
Once, while on tour in San Francisco, I dragged several of my friends out of the way to investigate a Goodwill near Nob Hill. I came across a book by Ronald Dworkin that I had been interested in finding for months, and I wasn’t the only one to leave the store satisfied that day.
I’m writing about it now, but I wasn’t always comfortable admitting to others that I shopped at Goodwill. Going to an Ivy League college didn’t help much with that, but at some point I decided that shame ought to be left for things done wrong, not things done thriftily. If you can find the same clothes hanging on the racks of designer stores in New York, Paris, and Beverly Hills, why not walk out with them for a fraction of the price? There’s no denying that a certain set of people take pride in spending far more money than necessary on a shirt or tie simply because they can, but I can’t afford to run with that crowd at the moment and am not sure I’d want to even if I could.
What’s more, the Goodwill project doesn’t just serve as a bargain basement for savvy shoppers. It gives consumption-sodden Americans an opportunity to contribute to a cycle of recycling and revaluation of goods that might otherwise be thrown away, and the funding generated by this cycle is used to employ individuals who otherwise might be unable to find a steady job. In some states, donations to Goodwill can even be written off as a tax deduction.
Really, as a social welfare program, it’s got everything going for it: privately operated, funded by freely donated public surplus, expansive in outreach, minimal in costs, and (astoundingly) maintained without any federal control—all for more than one hundred years.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture: the next time you drive by a Goodwill outlet or one of their many donation bins, consider how you might contribute to and benefit from this system. If you’re shy about shopping there, I guarantee that no one will know unless you tell them.
On the other hand, you might consider telling everyone you know.