Tuesday, March 2, 2010

172 days to Bar Mitzvah: a question of integrity

Common thought will have you believe that "integrity" is one of the things you're supposed to teach your child, along with responsibility, humility and putting the toilet seat down when you're done. And when I figure out exactly what "integrity" means, I'll be sure to pass it on to the Jawa.

Personally, I don't think I'm a person with a ton of integrity. I stomp around making proclamations all the time, and then stick to them until it becomes inconvenient. I was NEVER going to buy a book from the whining hippie in our neighborhood... until I found myself an hour from a vacation with nothing to read.

I was going to boycott that coffee place as long as the skinny guy with a ponytail worked there. He was rude to me one day. I was back two weeks later. The other place, well, there's nowhere to sit.

Though he is only twelve, I've already begun schooling the Jawa in my theory of consumer power, i.e. the only power a regular citizen truly has is that of a consumer; if you don't like something, stop giving it money. If you spend money on things that you're going to be complaining about five minutes later, well, that's your fault. Or rather, my fault.

I can say I haven't seen an Oliver Stone movie since "Malcolm X," but I just might go see the "Wall Street" sequel. It looks pretty good.

And then there's integrity, San Francisco-style, in which you have to adhere to a checklist of political ideals, lest your "integrity" be questioned.

Does integrity to political ideals carry more weight than personal integrity? Abbie Hoffman, I've read, was a real pill to deal with and expected women to wait on him hand and foot. Because he tried to levitate the Pentagon, is that okay?

At work, I am constantly forced to re-position my stance on integrity, because at least once a week I am told to do something that strikes me as unethical. Actually, I should change that. It used to happen about once a week until they took me aside and explained that my entire job had changed. As an "advertorial" writer, the whole thing is now unethical.

In order to earn my meager wages, I write hyperbolic features about houses and neighborhoods. A few times a year, I get called on to write breathlessly over-the-top paragraphs extolling the virtues of some hardware store, a restuarant I've never been to, that place in Burlingame where you can drive go-karts. It's easy, but it goes down like cough syrup.

And yet, I continue to do it, because I need the money and because if I didn't have somewhere to go every morning, I'd sit around here and waste every day doing crossword puzzles.

I'm feeling a combination of pretty good and very anxious today, because I found the one line I wouldn't cross. How that will impact my employment is still pending. To get the boot over this would be disastrous, but that really didn't inform my decision, because they'd finally asked me to do something I couldn't do.

Rainbow Grocery is a local organic foods outfit notorious for their anti-Israel stance. A few years ago, they tried to boycott all products from Israel (except cash registers, credit card machines and cell phones, apparently), until they realized that their stance might cause local Jews to not buy food from them.

They stopped the boycott, but since then there have been incidents with Rainbow Grocery employees harassing people who go in there wearing any kind of pro-Israel clothing. One cashier even told a guy that she thought, "Jews need to be killed; it's the only way to get them off Palestinian land."

Today, when the list of "advertorials" they needed from me for some upcoming feature included Rainbow Grocery on it, I was stunned. But it wasn't like I had to do any soul-searching. No way was I going to call up whatever useful idiot did marketing at Rainbow Grocery and write something positive about them. When push came to shove, not even I could find a way to rationalize it.

So I sent an email to our VP of Sales. I told him that my conscience wouldn't let me do anything that might lead to profit for Rainbow Grocery and that if it were me, I'd tell them to take their advertising dollars somewhere else.

That was five hours ago. I've heard nothing since. Being a VP of Sales, I suspect he will think I'm being difficult and short-sighted. I don't really care, as long as he doesn't fire me over it. I mean, there has to be a limit to what people can ask you to do, doesn't there? Whatever heat I get for this may make my life more difficult, but no way could I look at the bald guy in the mirror and think he's okay if I'd used my skills as a writer to benefit Rainbow Grocery.

There are people who will find me silly or even downright wrong for taking this stance . I can't help that. But the next time the Jawa is faced with a decision of integrity, I'll at least have a point of reference.

1 comment: