Why I don’t boycott

the-sneetchesConsider this scenario:

The son of a wealthy family bullies a smaller, poorer child at school. The wealthy parents upon hearing of this say, “That’s not right. If that’s the way you’re going to behave, we’re taking away your cell-phone and computer.”

The son, accustomed to his luxuries, wants the use of his cell phone again, so he ceases bullying the child—when anyone is watching. Sometimes though, when no one is around and he know he can get away with it, he still shoves the boy into a locker or whispers “Loser” in his ear.

The wealthy boy lives without his cell phone for a while, but then his parents see improvement in his behaviour. Certain that things have changed for the better, they return his electronics to him. Life goes on.

But the wealthy son has not learned to have compassion for the smaller child. His behaviour changed for all the wrong reasons, and his relationship with his parents suffered because he fostered resentment against them in the meantime. And the child? He still feels like a loser. He watches over his shoulder constantly and fear clenches his stomach into knots every day when he walks to school. He doesn’t trust.

What comes of this? Two broken relationships, no change in the feelings of the perpetrator, and a damaged child setting off on a path in the opposite direction from healing.

This is why I don’t boycott.

Boycotts are punitive, not loving. They are a “Let’s fix this now” approach to problems that need “Let’s fix this for the long-haul” efforts. Forced resolutions to problems produce short-term satisfaction but create long-term damage.

[For example: The history of our First Nations peoples includes both forced segregation (reserves) and forced integration (residence schools), both of which failed spectacularly. The negative effects of those two approaches reverberate on, and on, and on . . .]

I sometimes hear, “The boycott worked to end apartheid in South Africa.” True enough, the punitive boycott did change the exterior actions of South Africans—when people are watching—but do you believe that racist sentiments vanished there? I don’t. I believe it’s too soon to say where the reverberations of that boycott will lead. In the arc of time, when people take action for financial reasons not compassionate reasons, the underlying negativity and resentments eventually re-surface when the commotion dies down and when the time is right. If you imagine a timeline of South African history and you place our 2013 as a dot in the middle with the emptiness of future stretching out beside it, what do you see on the future half of that line? I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I see lots of potential for racial tension, because the feelings haven’t changed, they’re just buried for the moment.

Let’s take a look at another boycott: Chick-fil-A. When COO Dan Cathy spoke out against same-sex marriage, activists promoted a boycott of the chain. What happened? People lined up to eat at the restaurant. Some of the people lined up to eat there didn’t like Cathy’s comments and they supported same-sex marriage, but they went there as a statement: “No one tells me where, or where not, to eat.” The result of this was a wash. Dan Cathy suffered no financial damage, and he didn’t change his feelings about same-sex marriage.

That’s another result of boycott: backlash. When the Roman Catholic church urged a boycott of Harry Potter books, sales went through the roof. The recent proposed boycott of Russian vodka did Vladimir Putin a favour. In Russia a majority of people believe that homosexuality is wrong so when he defends “the traditional Russian family,” his approval ratings go up.

Why am I writing about boycotts now? I’m a member of the United Church of Canada, and they have proposed a boycott of Israeli goods manufactured in occupied Palestine.

I am so proud of everything about my church, except that boycott. I love that they support love-based marriage and ordain females. I love that they discourage bottled water use. I love that they embrace progressive, evolving faith. But I don’t like the boycott. When the General Council of the United Church passed the motion which includes a directive “to give high priority to establishing a church-wide campaign of education and economic action directed against one or more settlement products that can be identified as produced in or related to the settlements or the occupied territories” and to encourage “members of the United Church to avoid any and all products produced in the settlements” I was, for the first time, ashamed of my church. Embarrassed. Why was my church, so loving in every other way, proposing a punitive action?

Imagine if the parents of that wealthy boy had found a way to awaken in their son compassion for the child he bullied, so that he could look that child in the eye and see himself. Imagine if same-sex couples, instead of avoiding Chick-fil-A, flocked to it and showed to Dan Cathy what love-based marriage is all about. Imagine if Roman Catholics read Harry Potter and realized how its theme of “act with love and resist evil” reverberates through the books. (Okay, that one’s already happened.)

There’s nothing like the deep joy of breaking through physical barriers of differences and finding the common ground. When we meet people so vastly different from ourselves that we can’t even imagine what common ground might look like, but then we do find the common ground, it’s thrilling.

The only long-term solution to oppression and violence comes when perpetrators look in the eyes of victims and sees themselves.

How can we make that happen in Israel and Palestine? In my opinion, a boycott is not the way. In my opinion, a boycott might produce short-term satisfaction, but it won’t do anything to change the root causes of the problem. It might even create backlash and have the opposite effect of what was intended. (I don’t even want a Soda Stream machine, but I’m still tempted to buy one now . . . )

I encourage you to read what you can, learn what you can, write to whomever you believe can foster compassion in the area. And buy whatever you want.

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t boycott

  1. Jodie

    I’ve always been firmly against parenting methods that employ withdrawal of affection or cherished object (e.g. time outs, 123 magic..) because I believe the long-term damage to the relationship is significant, and frankly not worth the price for short-term compliance.
    It never occurred to me that a boycott employs basically the same methods, so could reasonably be expected to be just as damaging in the long term.
    You’ve certainly given me something to think about – thanks Arlene!


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