Thursday, June 17, 2010

Best Friends For Now

There’s a story in the New York Times today about how some parents, teachers and “experts” have decided that it’s unhealthy for children to have one best friend. It causes exclusivity, and could lead to bullying they say. Ugh. There are so many actual problems that kids have in school, and bullying can be one of them, but forcing close friends apart would just cause hurt feelings, isolation and resentment. Did these “experts” ever consider that close friendships might provide unpopular kids with an ally? Cliques will happen is schools and they can suck, but they also happen at work and in life in general. Sure, you should encourage kids to be open minded and relate to people they might not think they share interests with, but generally those kinds of things happen more organically.

As the article points out, “Many psychologists believe that close childhood friendships not only increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence, but also help children develop the skills for healthy adult relationships — everything from empathy, the ability to listen and console, to the process of arguing and making up. If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?”

I question the motives of these best-friend busting adults in many ways, one of which being that they might not really have what even they believe is the child’s best interest in mind. It might be that the child’s choice of best friend isn’t what they would have chosen, that the BFF is undesirable in some way.

Anecdotally, I experienced some attempted Best Friend busting myself when I was in 3rd grade. My pal JJD (kind of her real name) and I were very close for many years, at one point we even invented our own code so if our notes were intercepted my teachers they would be indecipherable. But I suspect that I wasn’t viewed as the most upper-crust kid in town (remarkably I was the only one with divorced parents for the first couple years of elementary school) and JJD’s family was involved in town goings-ons and well-regarded. So one day our teacher held all of the girls in at recess and gave us a very pointed talk (as in she might as well have used our names) about how it’s good to have a lot of friends and not just one best friend.

That was all that ever came from it though, and our friendship continued much the same. We grew apart a bit through the years like kids do, and while we aren’t BFFs anymore we are still in touch. And we’ve both gone on to have other close friends (including my BFF since high school whom I remain close with) and relationships. I’ve had many close relationships in my life, some lasting for several years and some for less, and I’ve had many acquaintances. I’m grateful for all of them, but it’s the people who are both fair and foul weather pals that have contributed the most richness to my life, and I’m glad that some snobby teacher didn’t ruin that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Another Victim of the BP Oil Leak

The ongoing BP oil leak has many victims—the hundreds of dead animals, the lost of business for the already hard-hit Gulf Coast, the destroyed and polluted beaches, the devastating environmental toll. Add to the list BP gas station owners.

BP sold off its retail gas business, which means the people who own the 13,000 BP gas stations are generally independent franchisees. So the calls for BP boycotts and demonstrations outside of BP gas stations are misguided and end up hurting independent business owners who are locked into contacts with BP. Besides, as Consumerist points out when you choose another gas station over BP you may be giving your money to a wholly-owned BP subsidiary.

But what to do to show your disgust? It’s difficult as a consumer to take an action that will have an impact on the evils of the corporation and not the employees who are likely getting screwed over already. A single person’s boycott is just a drop in the bucket (I refuse to shop at both Wal-Mart and American Apparel because of their business practices as I’m sure many people do—yet not enough to make a noticeable difference in their bottom line).

A huge shift in public sentiment however (like seeing constant footage of spewing oil and sad dying animals) tends to motivate a more urgent need to take action. It’s a difficult line to toe, by no means should we sit idly by when corporations make huge mistakes and act poorly. Consumer boycotts sometimes do make a huge difference and force corporations into action. And voting with your wallet is often the best and easiest way to make an impact to a company, but we’d all be wise to use a more thoughtful approach to who is going to be most impacted by our actions and what better ways there might be.

This kind of limited thinking can be found at work in overtly brainless ways like boycotting Arizona Iced Tea (which is produced in New York) over Arizona’s eff-ed up immigration law. Or in misplaced good intentions like Michael Moore’s approach to shaming corporate criminals and fat cats.

The cornering and public/on camera dressing down of men like GM’s CEO Roger Smith would provide audiences with satisfying schadenfreude. Instead too often Moore goes for the easy showiness of storming the security guards at corporate headquarters (blue collar working dudes) These guys would probably be on his side of the issues, but a job’s a job and they don’t want to lose theirs so they follow orders and turn Mike and his cameras away and look like the bad guys while the criminals never have to leave their offices. Not that mid or entry level employees at evil places are without responsibility, it does raise questions about personal integrity, choices, and selling out, but these days it’s difficult to criticize someone who likely is grateful to have a job at all.

But like the ending to most of Moore’s movies, I don’t have the answer. Doing nothing isn’t good advice, boycotting BP and putting more small business owners out of work will hurt the wrong people, and pressuring law makers to regulate and penalize companies like BP seems like the best if not most frustrating means of action. That, and giving time and money to companies who are doing good and demanding more transparency and asking the right questions about the places you spend your money are probably the best actions we can take.