The Problem with ‘Pet’ Causes

Occasionally, when I share with someone about something I’m passionate about, like Fair-Trade chocolate, I’m met with a response that can be bluntly summarized as “That’s nice that you care about that issue, I care about this issue,” as if these were hobbies like crocheting or racquetball. Unfortunately, I feel like that’s probably closer to the truth, that they are merely self-gratifying hobbies, for many and not necessarily an attempt or commitment to pursue lasting change. Disclaimer: I do not mean this as a judgment on anyone, you be the judge of your own motivations. This is as much for me as it is for anyone else.

We live in a very individualistic society where it is almost taboo to actually make an authoritative statement to another person about an issue (“You shouldn’t eat Hershey’s chocolate”). We might talk about our personal decisions, but we rarely demand the same of others. Thus, even those who want to be more evangelistic about their cause (whether it’s fair-trade chocolate or organic produce) find it difficult to do. It’s also difficult because any diversion from the status quo is often met with blind defensiveness and resistance. Rejection is tough.

The result we end up with are ‘pet’ causes. I care about the chocolate I eat, my neighbor only eats organic, a friend tries to reduce their carbon footprint and my cousin advocates against sex trafficking. And, while we each do our small part, this approach is largely ineffective for any of these issues. My personal chocolate choice might make me feel less guilty, but it certainly won’t shift the chocolate industry from using child slaves. My friends reducing their carbon footprint to zero with solar panels and a hybrid car won’t stop the ice caps from melting. or even stop our nations dependence of oil. And unfortunately, we seem to be rather okay with that, addressing our personal guilt on the subject, but not truly affecting massive change for any one cause.

We need to work together. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch your personal cause for mine. Rather, it means we should become passionate and committed to systemic change, not just change that makes us feel less guilt or like personal do-gooders. What does this look like in practice? I’m not totally sure yet. Maybe it means you become more evangelistic for the cause, maybe we become more strategic in how we demand change. What it does mean is that we stop being content with just our own ‘pet’ causes and we get serious about seeing real and systemic change in our neighborhoods, our society and our world.

4 thoughts on “The Problem with ‘Pet’ Causes”

  1. I can definitely resonate with the sort of response you're talking about. I do wonder, though, how much of this is Midwestern culture in general, and Minnesotan specifically. Not stepping on toes or getting involved in other people's business seems to be one of our defining cultural practices. That makes encouraging others to change their behaviors and practices very awkward, if not inappropriate. While I think it's a human instinct to be affronted when someone tells you that you should change the way you're used to doing something, I think the desire not to affront is stronger in some places than others.

    1. Huh, I'd never thought of it as a Midwest thing, but there might be some truth to that. I do think though that Christians especially, who have a whole platform of being “evangelistic” about their faith are decidedly un-so when it comes to other topics.

    2. Huh, I'd never thought of it as a Midwest thing, but there might be some truth to that. I do think though that Christians especially, who have a whole platform of being “evangelistic” about their faith are decidedly un-so when it comes to other topics.

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