On principles

I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart for over three years. It could be more – it’s been so long, I’ve lost count.

Because of a minor feud with Radio Shack, I shunned their doors for over a year.

Until Saturday, it had been 12 years since I had last eaten meat.

All of these things have one thing in common: I boycotted them. And over time, my feelings on the boycott waned. Eventually, the original meaning of the boycott or shunning is forgotten, and the only thing that remains is the principle of having boycotted it in the first place.

I didn’t eat meat because of the principles of it all – I no longer felt the same way I once did, but a kind of principle fueled by momentum kept me vegetarian. I stopped shopping at Radio Shack because they screwed up, and I wouldn’t shop at other Radio Shack stores on principle alone. Wal-Mart? They’re a corporate giant that ultimately does more harm than good to small communities (depending on who you follow, that is). I won’t shop at Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls for this reason.

Most of those original reasons have faded as I’ve grown older. My activism has slackened a bit. I don’t like Wal-Mart, or Radio Shack, but they offer some things that I can’t get elsewhere. So as long as I’m not running to Wal-Mart simply to save a few pennies, what is the point of boycotting the place?

We all have certain things we won’t do on principle. Some of them are good, others extremely petty.

For example I won’t hit a child, kick a dog or cause irreparable emotional damage to someone – not because it’s wrong, but because there are personal principles in place that make those things horribly inappropriate. If kicking dogs was suddenly a legal and acceptable form of discipline, I still wouldn’t do it.

It’s the principle of the thing.

On the other hand, I haven’t shopped at Wal-Mart in a long time. And I poo-poo others when they do. That’s not being helpful or playing from a position of strength – that’s just feeling superior for something that’s as petty as giving someone the silent treatment.

The question is, am I being any more open minded by completely closing off certain sectors of life, whether it be a store or a lifestyle someone else’s personal choice?

Am I really helping anything at all aside from creating a feeling of personal pride – a false image of superiority?

When does a boycott based on principle end up being more petty than its worth?

Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go to Wal-Mart to buy Sierra a pink Twins hat.

This was lovingly handwritten on May 26th, 2008