I consume, therefore I am
The newspapers recently reported that a man in Italy was suing the rail network for “existential damage”. He claims its failure to run trains on time has forced him to live with constant uncertainty. The uncertainty forces him at times to doubt if his life has any value or meaning. In other words, he says being treated as insignificant by a large corporation is affecting his sense of self.
Now apparently Italian courts have identified ‘existential damage’ as a real thing. And they’re right: it is real. Consumers feel disempowered and insignificant when they are treated like sh—by service providers and retailers. Humans judge the estimation in which they are held by the actions of the other party toward them. Oily words do not count. So when your actions say: “We consider you to be unimportant and disposable…” the consumer naturally resents the attack on their self image. This is why they are so impassioned when they react – like a spurned lover. The average person has only a limited grip on their self-concept. (Psychologists call it ‘differentiation’ or ‘individuation’. It means the ability to stand alone, free of emotional struts and supports propping up the individual’s stability.) The average person doesn’t like themselves. Even supermodels suffer from self loathing. Few people like what they see in the mirror.
Consumers treated like sh—react strongly not because they disagree with the message sent by the actions. Quite the opposite. It’s because they agree. “You remind me that I am sh—and I hate you for it…” This is existential damage. And this should be actionable at law… because the greatest damage you can do a person is to rob them of their integrity as a human being. Their existential anchor. Their answer to the question “who am I?” On one side of the line lies stability and security. On the other lies madness.