This is at least attempt #3 to write this post over the past 12 months. I keep starting it, writing a few hundred words, and deleting it all again. Because this is a tough topic – how to live a socially conscious life. And I am going to start by saying, we all probably doing it wrong.
That is really the conclusion on the manners of it that I’ve come to. It might be possible to live a truly “socially conscious” life, but not everyone can manage it. Because it isn’t easy.
Beginning: Defining the Problem
Let me begin by defining “socially conscious life.” This entire post was inspired about a year ago when my LBGTQ friends began (again) to boycott Chick-fil-A. Hell, SCOTUS just heard oral arguments to determine whether LBGTQ employment will be protected or not. It’s not like we got marriage equality and suddenly all the issues LBGTQ people face were magically solved.
As a straight person, I don’t face the same fears of losing my job or my friends or my housing due to my sexual orientation. But I have friends in these groups – and they do live with that fear. So I want to be an ally. I want to support them. I will walk with them in marches. I will write to my representatives and tell him/her I support their rights and I expect laws written to protect them – since you know, we apparently have to tell people to treat others with respect.
Socially conscious can include (but is not limited to!):
- Shopping locally because I want to avoid mega-corporations
- Buying organic because I want to avoid GMO’s
- Not buying clothes from companies known to use child labor or sweat-shops
- Protesting Apple because of human rights violations in the manufacturers of parts for the iPhone (these are often the same manufacturers for Samsung and others, but Apple is getting the flack)
- Boycotting Taco Bell when they mistreat tomato farmers
- Refusing to shop at Walmart because of employee abuses like under-paying and refusing to allow full-time employment to frontline employees while executives make thousands-per-hour
- Boycotting Chick-fil-A because their founder (though he is no longer part of the company) is a bigot and they have donated to anti-LBGTQ organizations
- Boycotting Chick-fil-A because they give to Christian-based organizations either accused of or absolutely anti-LBGTQ behaviors/practices/spending.
- Using reusable bags instead of the store’s plastic bags because I want to be more environmental
- Composting kitchen scraps so I’m not putting it in the landfill
- Being a vegetarian because of ethical or environmental issues with cattle/meat production
These are just examples. There are probably hundreds or thousands of choices people make because they live in a society and they want to be a better member of that society. The derogatory term is often called “social justice warriors” – and I will grant, there are people who sometimes approach these issues with a militant attitude. PETA is my go-to example of “social justice gone too far” although I will grant PETA’s leadership tries to distance themselves from that visual – they have some members who take it too far.
Middle: The Problem with the Problem
So why is this so hard? Well, when you want to be “woke” or socially conscious – what do you do when you fail…
- My hands were utterly full with baby when I left the house and I forgot my reusable grocery bags
- I’m struggling to get enough iron in my diet and beef is delicious. So is bacon
- I really like my smartphone; the phone, the brand, whatever
- Chick-fil-A treats their employees really well – like really well and I do want other organizations (specifically fast-food in this case) to treat their hourly employees well
- Walmart is the most affordable option
- Walmart put a damn good sale on this item I really want/need
It’s hard on multiple levels. Taco Bell buys tomatoes from a distributor who buys from farms who abuse workers… this is three levels removed from me-the-consumer. When a company buys parts for their car, computer, phone, whatever and the gold mined to make those parts hires child labor… I might not know! When I do know is it enough to tell the company I’m disappointed in them for not looking into the parts manufacturer? Is that fair to the company?
This happened recently with Fairlife milk – a farm providing about 5% of their total milk was abusing animals and people lost their shit over it. I’m not saying people were wrong either to be upset about this either. This was horrific and needed to be addressed. But if 95% of their farms are not abusive is it any better to abuse the company because of a 5% supplier? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s so easy as black-and-white or wrong-and-right.
The End: Manners
This is exactly where grace is important. When someone doesn’t use reusable grocery bags don’t jump on them as “lazy” and “selfish.” You have no idea why they might not use reusable bags. Maybe they use plastic bags to clean the kitty litter every day. And they have to use the low-dust-no-scent kitty litter (which is not necessarily as ‘environmental’ as some of the options out there) because they have emphysema and the dust irritates their breathing. You don’t know.
Now, it’s an entirely different matter if you and a friend are discussing where you want to eat and your friend says “I choose not to eat at Chick-fil-A to stand in support with my LBGTQ friends.” THEN, it is good manners for you to never suggest it again. Respect the choices this person has made and which thing(s) they can support. Don’t think they are a hypocrite if they choose to eat at McDonald’s despite McD’s terrible employee-treatment-record. They might just be choosing which battles they CAN fight.
This includes companies. I brought up Fairlife because when I did even the most basic research – most of their cattle farms are held to a much-higher-than-minimum standard of care for their cattle. How long do I “punish” them for a potentially-perfectly-human mistake? Is it right to “punish” them at all since they were really fast to address it when it was brought up?
On the other hand, if you know someone else is fighting-a-fight (being vegan because of abuse of animals is probably my favorite example because of PETA), you might ask them if they’d be willing to share their alternatives. How do they “make it work” and maintain sanity? Incorporate what you can where you can. I’ve learned a LOT about non-meat options from my vegetarian friends and although I’ll never be entirely vegan/vegetarian, I can cook for them beyond just providing a salad option.
You also should never demand someone explain themselves. You may ask about it. Respect is the key word here. Being demanded to explain why I am a feminist a thousand times in a day (I’ve had the days where that feels like a thing), by 622 I’m snappish and by 971 I’m downright rude/mean. And then person 971 goes “damn, what a bitch” without considering that they aren’t the first I’ve had to explain this to and I’m sick of repeating myself (or worse, repeating what they can Google for themselves).
Respecting boundaries is hard. If you want to have good manners, sometimes that means you give people more grace than you think they deserve because they actually do deserve it and you just don’t have all the information to see it.
You are also allowed to put distance between yourself and someone who continues to actively support someone/something you abhor. If someone intentionally rubs their support of anti-LBGTQ groups in your face, you are entirely within your rights to choose not to associate with them. Don’t feel like you need to invite them to your BBQ-and-Swim day in your apartment just because you are inviting a lot of mutual friends.
If a friend asks “Why didn’t you invite So-and-So?” provide grace but set the boundary, “You know, I know they want to support youth in athletics, but I’m just not comfortable with how much time they volunteer with an organization that believes in conversion therapy.” I do NOT recommend lying, even a gentle lie of “I forgot them.” eventually will feel insincere (probably because it IS).
Even more important
Tiny but organized efforts are more effective than individual action (I’m quoting my sister on that one, because she said it and I’m adopting it). The Methodist Church (UMC) banded with other organizations to pressure Taco Bell to be better to their farmers. Did MY extremely minor refusal to eat Taco Bell (which wasn’t exactly a place high on my “eat here” list anyway) really help? Maybe not, but my standing with the UMC in that effort did because it gave them the numbers to say, “we have X million members with us.” that Taco Bell had to pay attention. And even if only 3 million (of their ~12 million) members (out of a US population of +300 million) actually avoid Taco Bell and boycott…. It made the difference. Taco Bell met with their farmers and negotiated.
I try to put in my part, but it’s the organized efforts of everyone that will make a difference. Fast food providing alternatives to plastic straws (such as paper which is biodegradable!); grocery stores not providing plastic bags (Aldi’s doesn’t and when I forget mine you know what? I manage); governments providing curb-side recycling as well as trash pickup to make it as easy as possible (single stream recycling even better);
Some of my stances:
Here’s the thing, I know I’m not consistent and you know what? I’ve decided I’m going to forgive myself too. Where do I have the emotional energy to fight and where do I need to cave? I’m not consistent. I try to be consistent and I try to get better and better.
- I won’t eat at Jimmy John’s because the owner is a big-game hunter because there is always another/better option.
- I try to reduce my meat (specifically beef) consumption because the science says beef requires a lot more resources and produces a lot more environmental harm than other meats.
- I won’t post on social media about Chick-fil-A’s cow day (or tell people about it) if I know about it, even suggest it to my LBGTQ friends, or bring in a platter of Chick-fil-A mini’s to share with co-workers.
- I can’t say I will 100% avoid them, if I am going for fast food/drive-thru breakfast they are the only option that isn’t just a bagel in my opinion. Starbucks is improving, but they are still a coffee place NOT food.
- I avoid Walmart unless I’m truly desperate and that includes Sam’s Club since it’s owned by Walmart.
- I try to use at least one reusable bag when I go to the grocery store, but if I end up with half-plastic-half-reusable I’ll make sure to either use them for other uses (*cough* kitty litter *cough*) or recycle them.
- I needed a larger car (you know, kid!) and so I spent my money on a KIA instead of the Tesla I would have loved to own (different argument whether “pollution of producing electricity & batteries” offsets the “pollution of gas-powered cars” and I do NOT have the training to make that assessment!).
- I don’t bother trying to “only buy local produce” even though I KNOW Georgia is a great place to find most of the veggies I like; getting to that produce is too intensive right now.
- I LOVE the Dekalb farmer’s market, but it is virtually impossible for me to get to during the week and ridiculously crowded and awful on weekends
- I did a “deliver to my house” co-op for awhile, but planning meals around the randomness in the box was difficult and so I gave up… I’d LIKE to do this. I TRIED to do this. I failed. I threw away about ½ of 3 boxes in a row and cancelled it.
- I keep a phone a minimum of 2 years and I aim for 5 (I only hit that once with a cell phone, but it’s my GOAL; I’m hard on phones and when I DO upgrade it’s usually because I’m having catastrophic failures – not “I just wanted the new shiny dodad”).
I will keep trying to be a good member of society, but I’m no warrior standing tall. I feel like I’m clinging to a mountainside with my fingernails and no climbing gear. But I will keep climbing.