Why You Should Do Things Even When You Feel Insignificant

*collage by me
Last week as I casually browsed the web between e-mails I found a number of articles appearing in all of my news feeds informing me of American Apparel’s decision to fire CEO Dov Charney. It was very good news. Back in college one of my favorite places to shop for basics was American Apparel. Their u-back fitted jersey dress was a perfect complement to my thrifted skirts and beat-up sandals in summer and wonderful layering piece in the fall and winter. The advertisements for the company made me uncomfortable though. Then articles started to surface about the CEO, Dov Charney, and his alleged icki-ness. Bad ads and “ick factor” was one thing, but when actual lawsuits were filed against him by former employees and he infamously confirmed many of the stories in an interview I felt convicted. I went on an American Apparel shopping ban. I didn’t burn my old pieces, but I didn’t buy any new ones from the company unless I stumbled across something at a thrift store.

As a full-time student and part-time cashier the money I had spent at AA had never been much; my ban left the company with maybe $40 less a month. A few friends questioned “the point” of it all. What good did my shopping ban do in the end? The company wasn’t hurting from my lack of endorsement. It reminded me of arguments friends had with people who “wasted” their votes on political candidates that did not represent either party. But if that candidate represented your views best, how was the vote wasted? Do I think that my personal ban from shopping AA helped make this happen? Not really. But other people like me also were disgusted by AA’s ads and the numerous allegations against Charney. They wrote articles, they told their friends, some stopped shopping there as well. More people felt safe coming forward with their stories and who knows what the straw that broke the camel’s back was, but in the end facing some big financial issues and burdened by Charney’s multiple law suits the company finally fired him.

No matter how insignificant my part in the whole story is, it feels like victory. Of course there is more work to do—more magazines that need to stop working with Terry Richardson and clothing manufacturing is often produced in unsafe working conditions for pitiful wages—and there won’t always be victories. But in the end I don’t think we should choose to make stands (no matter how small) only when they promise to make a difference. We make a stand because we want to be the sort of people who care. I try speak up when I hear friends around me say something offensive because at the end of the night I can go to bed knowing I tried. We should choose our actions not for some distant desired result, but for the immediate satisfaction of doing what we think is right. When you look back on history often the people who started a revolution didn’t wake up in the morning thinking of how they would change history forever, but rather reached a point where they decided they were going to do something that day.

And sometimes we don’t get the desired results, but we do make a difference. When you perform a random act of kindness for a stranger, like running a block to return a toy a child had dropped to a mother who didn’t notice, the mother might be too distracted and busy to register your kindness. But who is to stay someone else on that street might not observe your act and feel convicted to pass it along? Our actions move like ripples through water and sometimes we can only observe the first wave while our decisions continue to affect those who were never in our line-of-vision. Here's another way to think of it: when you help a friend move from one apartment to another do you do it because your friend will now owe you/shower you with gratitude or do you do it because you're friends and that is what friends do? We do good things because we want to be good people.

I don’t mean to imply in any way in this post that I am some perfect social justice warrior who spends her day fighting socio-political battles on the streets—far from it! I do however try to be conscious of my actions and words. When I feel convicted, I try to act—focusing on my choices not the results they will or won’t achieve. Sometimes what you do or say won't change anything in an obvious or observable way, but every once in awhile you will be lucky enough to see a discernible difference in the world...


to top