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“It’s a personal choice.”
If you’ve been an active citizen or humane educator for any length of time, you’ve probably heard those words a fair amount. You may even have said them yourself. We use them when we want to justify the choices we’re making and remove any sort of morality or right-or-wrong-ness from the issue. But when there is someone or something who suffers because of our choice, then it ceases to live in the realm of “personal” and becomes an ethical issue.
Whether I prefer the color blue or red is a personal choice. Whether I prefer long or short hair is a personal choice. Which veggies I prefer on my pizza is a personal choice. But saying that eating animals or buying slave chocolate or driving a car that gets horrible gas mileage or consuming the products of companies that commit human rights violations and destroy habitats is merely personal, completely ignores the broader impact of those choices.
Robert Grillo, founder of Free From Harm, recently wrote about choice in his blog post “Five Reasons Why Meat-Eating Cannot Be Considered a ‘Personal Choice’.” Although he speaks specifically to choice in regard to eating animals, much of what he says applies to our broader choices. Here’s an excerpt I especially liked:
“The act of making a choice implies that the actor has free will and awareness of the options and their consequences. In the spirit of justice, we live in a society where our actions and choices are governed by what society deems acceptable. We can make a personal choice to maim, rape or kill someone, but these actions will have consequences that serve as a deterrent. It is generally accepted in a democratic society that we are free to do what we want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else or infringe on the same rights and freedoms of others.
Yet, for the meat eater, the choice of eating animals is completely disconnected from this concept of justice since justice does NOT for them apply to other species, only to humans (how convenient). In other words, there are no visible, negative consequences to eating meat. The victims remain invisible and silent to those who eat them, and that is perhaps the greatest deception of all.”
And the same is true for many of our other choices. The children in Uzbekistan who are forced to pick cotton for our clothing, the destruction of the earth that’s directly connected to our driving habits, the animals who die from eating all our plastic waste — all remain largely invisible to us.
As one commenter from Robert’s post said: “It cannot be a personal choice to destroy the world we share.”
And that’s why we’ll only achieve a humane world when we’re willing to move beyond “It’s a personal choice.” We can choose to accept responsibility for the impacts of what we say and do and commit to taking action that does the most good and least harm for all. And we can help others gain awareness that many of our choices aren’t just personal, and that there is no true freedom when we make choices without awareness.
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