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...



  1. This is really thoughtful. I made a commitment to purchase only ethically produced clothing (with regard to workers' rights and the environment, when possible). It's not something that I can impact on my own, but the collective voice is loud. We have to strive to do good and help others do good with us. - Leah, stylewiseguide.com

  2. I like your essay and agree that often what seems like an insignificant act has a greater impact than one realizes. I especially like your collage using SEM photos of pollen grains. Dan is a pollen analyst and uses these to study the past climate of Africa. Dan says these particular grains are from plants of the Aster family. This is your botany lesson for the day.: )

  3. Bravo! You hit the nail right on the head. If more people would take small insignificant stands , more small insignificant stands would amount to change.
    This post reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, Dandelion Fire, "Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself."

  4. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and relevant post. I feel like many human beings tend to feel worthless, as if their efforts are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but the reality is small actions can lead to bigger, better things. Even if something I do goes (seemingly) unnoticed, it makes me feel better knowing I stood up for something/potentially helped someone.

  5. Absolutely everyone makes a difference! I never really understood why some people insist that one person or even a small group can't make an impact, because individuals are what make up the masses, right? I definitely believe in acting on your beliefs, even if they are telling you stop buying from a large, multinational corporation. It's like applause in a room, one person starts and everyone joins in. If everyone sat back waiting for the next person to clap instead, well, there would be no applause at all.

  6. i love this. every little thing can make a difference. even if it just inspires on other person. great post!



  7. Sometimes the smallest acts mean the most to people. A little kind gesture can make my day a little better even if I can't fix my problems at the time and I think that goes for lots of different aspects of life.

  8. Although I didn't really know about the American Apparel story before you wrote about it, I do agree with the rest of what you wrote. People should do good things because they want to or because someone will be happy about it, not because they expect to get something out of it.

    This actually reminded me of a movie I watched last year, I thought you might like it as well :) It's called "Pay it forward" and is about a boy who discovers a sort of 'principle' that says you should do 3 good things to 3 people, and then each of these people has to do 3 good things as well. And the next people, and so on....
    I thought it was a really good movie :)

  9. THIS is why I love this blog. The clothes are fantastic, but you're an inspiration in many ways.

  10. I think it's an amazing step for AA but I can not bring myself to break my boycott-- which was/is INTENSE. I won't even buy AA secondhand, I cringe when I accidentally touch their clothing in thrift stores, and I (secretly) flip off their stores when I walk by...

    Buying secondhand in general, though, is a great way to "stick it to terrible companies" by not supporting them financially. I think it's important to read up on the labor practices of companies, make up your stand on the matter, and put your money where your mouth is. I think everyone will have different feelings about different companies, but it's important to follow through with your beliefs.

  11. I actually have this blog post bookmarked so I can come back to it when I need to be reminded of what is important. Thank you for writing this thoughtful piece. You really are an inspiration and I love being able to follow you and how you have grown. Thank you for being you, you beautiful human.


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