Why I Don’t (Generally) Boycott

“Send a message! Don’t shop at ________________!”

Boycotting is a popular activity. I can think of several events in the past that prompted many to consider boycotting certain businesses.

The pro/anti gun debate with Starbucks.

Chick-Fil-A‘s stand on marriage.

A cheating scandal in NASCAR that resulted in a team losing a major sponsor.

And then there was Thanksgiving.

Social media was peppered with people pressing others not to shop on Thanksgiving Day because of consumerism, greed, and the possibility of making other people work to fulfill our desire to shop.

The sentiment was a good one. It was based in thoughtfulness, the desire for society to occasionally have some down time, and an opportunity to “take a stand” for family values. I respect those who chose not to shop on Thanksgiving Day. In fact, that is the best way to show a business that it’s not worth being open on a particular day. Just don’t go.

As altruistic that boycotting seems to be, though, it often lacks substance.

I’m hardly a shopper. I don’t like maneuvering around crowds and being in stores too long actually tires me out, unless I am looking for or considering specific products. It’s just not that fun for me. But I admit I was tempted to go to a store on Thanksgiving Day just to be a rebel against the assumption that good, thankful, family-value people won’t be shopping. (Actually, my husband and I had a lovely “just us” Thanksgiving meal at the Lazy Goat so we ended up making someone work on our behalf. So to quote a Huffington Post article, we were apparently “part of the problem” although our waiter had a lovely attitude and looked forward to enjoying his family time that evening.)

Thus, I generally chose not to participate in public boycotts. I say “generally” because there may indeed be a specific situation where I feel it is appropriate. There are some businesses I choose not to patronize, so I’d be a hypocrite to say I never privately boycott anything. But there are several reasons I don’t jump on the public boycotting bandwagons that are shared across social media, and here’s why.

It’s hard to be consistent.
If I choose not to shop on Thanksgiving because I am “making someone miss time with their family,” then I’d better not watch a football game, go on a cruise, visit Disney World, pick up someone at the airport, watch television, use the Internet, or need medical help or protection of some kind. All of those services require that someone (lots of someones) be working so that I can partake or be served/protected. Why are retail stores singled out as the bad guy? And don’t get me started on avoiding a certain store because of a stand they have somewhere down the line, or I would probably not be able to shop anywhere.

It oversimplifies the problem.
Greed and addiction to shopping (for example) is a heart problem. Do I think society is creating an environment for greed? Yes, indeed. We are bombarded with the marketing of discontentment. But whatever society does, I am responsible for my own heart attitude. I could choose not to shop on Thanksgiving Day, yet way overspend my budget the very next day or week. The heart trouble of greed is still there.

It puts someone else to blame for my issues.
People seem to feel that if the stores and restaurants are closed a certain day, that will help families be more connected and relaxed for a day. I can meet you there–it is very nice to have a “down time atmosphere” in the community occasionally. But why can’t my family decide for themselves what day they are going to shop or celebrate a holiday? Our Walmart is open 24 hours a day. That doesn’t mean I feel compelled to go there at 2 am.

It makes it easier to judge others.
Some of the statements on social media can go so far as to claim that if someone does or does not do a particular thing (i.e. avoid shopping on an actual holiday) they are “part of the problem” which then sets the writer up as “not” a part of the problem. Got news for ya. You and I are both sinners and your participation in a boycott does not necessarily make you a better person.

It doesn’t open the door for dialog.
Some actions surrounding boycotts do not set up a good environment for discussion, helping kids process decisions about grey areas, or inviting those of differing beliefs to consider your point of view. Instead, they come across as legalistic, black-and-white rule following that may or may not really change anyone’s heart.

It reeks of pride.
When you read a post about how you shouldn’t participate in something, does it come across as humble and thoughtful? Not often. Plus, the public nature of it tends to call attention to the writer’s “good works,” rather than a quiet and gentle spirit. If you are going to boycott, decide what and why and for the most part, be consistent with it without advertising it. At the least, be gracious when you do share your stand.

I have a friend who has chosen not to shop at a particular store for over 15 years. She doesn’t broadcast it…she quietly carries out her conviction because she feels it is right between her and the Lord, even though she knows it may not have much financial effect on the store.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:6

It may keep me from blessing someone.
I know of at least one person who volunteered to work on Thanksgiving because she needed the hours and the money, and another who opted not to because she didn’t want to spend the holiday anticipating having to go to work in the evening. They both made choices that worked for them. I realize employers don’t always provide those choices, but there are industries that you have to go into with open eyes because they naturally require strange hours. (i.e. medical, first responders and yes, retail, come to mind.) It’s quite possible that not everyone working on a holiday hates it and they will be blessed by the money that they will earn (possibly at a higher rate)  by working that day.

It invalidates freedom.
As a business owner, I prefer that society or a governing body not be involved in telling me when I can and cannot work. If I want to work on my blog or a book at some crazy hour, I should be able to do so provided I am not harming someone else. To me, if a store chooses to be open, so be it. If customers don’t shop that day out of principle, maybe the store will realize it’s not worth it to be open. But let’s not make blanket statements. Someone who gets sick on Thanksgiving Day may really appreciate the opportunity to run to Walmart for some medicine. I’m not suggesting a free-for-all. Reasonable regulations have their place to provide consistent health and safety to patrons. But your safety and health aren’t really affected by whether the store is open or not so let’s not over-regulate.

Ironically, boycotting would be just the kind of thing that would fit part of my personality–the part that likes to know I’m following the rules and accepted by others. But that may just be another reason I generally shouldn’t participate.

So, boycott as you wish, but be careful what and how you communicate to others when it comes to “taking a stand.”

Note: the thoughts I share are mine and relate to how I process the Christian life. I understand some of my brothers and sisters in Christ may have far different outlooks. I respect the differences and invite gracious dialog. You can comment using the comment button, Facebook comments, or if reading this in RSS or via email, visiting the blog.

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Beth Beutler is the Executive Director of H.O.P.E. Unlimited, a small business offering collaborative virtual assistance and business soft skill education to Help Overwhelmed Professionals Excel. She has over 25 years experience in administrative assistance and office management, soft skills training, and writing.

Comment Policy: I love hearing your thoughts and input on what I write. Since I write about what I'm learning, observing and discerning, I'm sure we may disagree sometimes. Whether you agree or disagree with a viewpoint or suggestion from me or another person who comments, please post your thoughts in a way that keeps the dialog gracious. Thank you.

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2 thoughts on “Why I Don’t (Generally) Boycott

  1. Thank you for sharing on this topic. I agree that often boycotting can become about me as opposed to truly helping someone else or effecting positive change. I feel the same way about emails that are sent around telling you to forward them or somehow you are a “bad” person or a lukewarm Christian if you don’t. The only behavior we should be focusing on is our own (dealing with our own log rather than another person’s speck).

  2. Yes those emails and social media posts give that same impression, don’t they? Thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the article.