When I was in my 30s, my best friend volunteered with the American Cancer Society, where I worked. Having lost her mother to cancer, Gail had skin in the game.
Then she met Tom. He was smart, gregarious and generous; he made her happy. He also made his living promoting cigarettes.
Gail married Tom, and eventually left behind her volunteer work and her friends. None of us had objected to him-he really did seem to make her happy-but surely there was some dissonance between her new role as this advertising executive's wife and most everything else in her life.
Did Gail choose happiness over principle? Would she have been an idiot not to? Was she truly happy with a partner who didn't share her values? I don't know. But I have thought about this recently, as the movement for consumers to vote with our pocketbooks gains steam on social media. It seems that every decision or purchase we make, no matter how small, can be a political statement.
A friend of mine recently chided me for using a specific brand of napkins, which are manufactured by a company whose owners donate to political causes I find offensive. I told her it was a free country, that people were allowed to support the candidates of their choice, and that I was not ready to base every single purchase I make on whether I shared the manufacturer's political views. She was horrified.
Wait a minute, I said. You eat "Brand X" ice cream. That company is also owned by someone who not only funds causes you don't like, but has run for office himself on a platform that is contrary to everything you believe in.
Well, she explained, that was only because it was the last local place you could get a decent milk shake.
So how much are we willing to sacrifice to live our values through everything we eat, wear, buy or do?
When Joel and I were considering honeymoon destinations in 1990, we regretfully ruled out beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I didn't want to spend money in a place that flew the Confederate flag. But it was hardly a sacrifice to "settle" for Napa Valley.
Yeah, I am willing to spend more to support smaller, local businesses. And yeah, there are some places I won't shop. But it's easy enough for me to skip one megastore because I don't like the way the company treats its workers; what if it were the only megastore in town? How adamant would I be then?
I don't eat fois gras. I love it, but I don't eat it, because I believe that if the laws of Kashrut were handed down today, fois gras would be traif. But as the delicacy pops up on more and more menus, how long will I maintain my resolve?
A number of years ago, when Joel and I bought our current car, we first looked at a hybrid. At the time, we decided that the most environmentally responsible decision was too expensive. Were we being selfish or sensible? Perhaps both.
Like so much in life, I suppose this is a balancing act, weighing costs and benefits, responsibility to community vs. self, and deciding at what point you can still look in the mirror.
I'm not sure where the line in the sand is for me. I guess it lies somewhere between buying napkins and selling cigarettes.