What would you say if your daughter told you about a conversation with three friends about where they would eat out, where she was explaining why she wasn’t getting a burger because of how much water got wasted in the production of beef, and they all turned to her and took turns saying that she was taking things too seriously because no one person could have any effect on big problems like that?
Would you just shake your head and be sympathetic, be a listening ear, make some sort of cooing sound, or extremely thoughtful spiritual direction type questions designed to facilitate your daughter’s values clarification process?
Maybe you would act appalled and reactive, tell your daughter how wrong, how destructive, how ideals-crushing her friends were, encourage her to say such and such next time, although you would not have been able to do so at the tender age of seventeen, but now, by golly!
Would you be ashamed of your daughter’s friends, nice Christian girls who ought to know better, who must have heard the starfish story, more than once, probably—the one that ends with the boy throwing one more starfish back into the ocean with, “It may not make much a difference, but to this starfish, it makes all the difference”?
Maybe you would say they’re probably right. Maybe you’d share how frustrated you were by how long it takes to change anyone’s views enough so they change their habits accordingly, how long it took your dad to get you into the habit of turning off the lights behind you, closing the doors when the furnace was running, putting on a coat instead of turning up the heat, and now how hard it was to get your own kids to make similar efforts, to recycle, to stop buying useless things loaded with packaging? How frustrating to have to deal with the wasteful average American habits the spouse inherited from the in-laws, so that you felt like your efforts were cancelled out? How you sometimes despaired of being able to see the tide turn in time to save lives, prevent droughts and wars and catastrophe?
But I know you. You are an idealist, deep down. Never violate your conscience, you’d say, if you can see a clear path. Right actions have a power that surpasses statistics, odds, and the group think of prevailing stupidity and denial. That stance has only the appearance of benign neutrality, and history always bears that out. Not that you like to use the expression, but it’s a binary decision, and a no brainer on which side of the fence to come down. I’m proud of you, you’d say–you will make the difference.