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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Personal Best

Sometimes ideas get under my skin, and they itch there until I puzzle them out.

There's one particular itch that I've been puzzling since high school. And I just can't seem to satisfy it.

The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh was a shock to the system of consumers, but the story itself wasn't new. This fight to bring safer, more equitable working conditions to overseas employees of our consumer goods has been raging off and on since the 90s. As far as we know, other than leading to the creation of more ethical brands, not much has been achieved.

When I learned of the human rights abuses in Nike factories, I swore off Nike products at 14 years old. Gradually, more and more companies got added to the list. With the Rana collapse last year, that list made shopping at the mall (or Joe Fresh) basically impossible.

Instead, as much as I can, I try to shop ethically. It makes me smile when I can meet my needs while knowing that my money is being well spent. Whether it's buying used (which keeps the products out of the landfill and supports charity), fair trade (which offers higher wages for workers) or hand-made (which directly profits the creator), I try to make choices that help rather than harm.

But there are times when it's almost impossible to find an ethical option for a need. I try not to get bogged down by those. At other times the options are not ideal, and it's then that the itch starts to burn. I am forced to make a choice between the possibility that my purchase is funding questionable corporate activities, or going with the less desirable option, and supporting something good. For me, the conundrum usually leads to weeks or months of inaction before I can make a decision.

I'm in such a conundrum right now, over a pair of tennis shoes. The choice in this case is a questionable manufacturing process vs. a less appealing style with a higher price tag.

I was talking to my mom about the situation, and explaining how I hate that I feel guilty about so much of what I buy.

"You can't feel guilty about everything Meg," she said.

"I know...and I know I'm only one person, but if everyone continues to fund these companies, then they will never change."

"That's true. But everyone has to just do their best," she replied.

Right now, financially I'm not sure what my best is. The reality is that sometimes buying ethically costs- and I can't always afford it. Student loans for degrees in Social Justice and Peace are just the same as the ones for business degrees.

For my tennis shoes, this leads to other questions, like why is that style of sneaker so important to me? What does this say about my own personal, but also our cultural vanity? What does it say about me as a follower of Christ that I esteem such importance to the style and make of my footwear, when he commanded his disciples to spread his love with just one pair of sandals? Why can't I just be like Shane Claiborne and wear hemp and live communally?

I'm committed to doing my personal best, for the health of the planet and the people who live here. I just have to figure out what that is.

1 comment:

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