Last week I read the honest and thoughtful words of Bethany, a writer I’ve been following since January. In that terrible month when I lost my girls, she lost her mother, who had breast cancer.
And now it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when we cover the world with pink ribbons. Hopefully we do so to stand in solidarity with real people who have experienced the effects of the disease. So many of us donate or walk or do something out of a genuine desire to eradicate this form of cancer and the pain that comes with it.
But since a lot of the pink ribbon campaign is driven by products, there is, of course, an underbelly, a risk that we will simply baptize our consumerism and call it philanthropy and say that it’s enough.
In the midst of these two tensions, Etsy made a mistake, and Bethany’s post called my attention to it.. They decided to operate out of the underbelly, promoting products and shops full of pink without any regard for whether those things donated to research, as the original pink ribbon was intended to indicate.
When they were challenged about their choice, the official statement came out that tried to tell us it didn’t matter that so few of the products contributed to breast cancer organizations. They were supporting the “campaign of awareness.”
I call foul.
Am I life’s referee? Of course not. But I’ve been thinking about something I read in Axiom, by Bill Hybels. He says leaders often need to call fouls on parties who don’t play fair. “They call foul when unhelpful words are spoken.”
Etsy’s response is full of unhelpful words, most especially in their use of the word “awareness.”
So I call foul.
What good is awareness without action? Saying “I know about something” doesn’t mean a darn thing. If you know something but do nothing, what good is that?
I commented to Bethany, after reading her post, on something we teach our staff:
We teach an “awareness, action, advocacy” framework. In short, the goal for our student leaders is to move people from simply learning about an issue to taking action on it, and from taking action to becoming an advocate–someone who brings other along with them for that cause. Advocacy takes many forms–donating money, certainly, but also educating others, changing an everyday habit, or sacrificing time for that cause.
The goal is advocacy. And awareness, at best, is just a first step.
There is a balance to strike, of course, on this. We need to be gracious with the people we meet, helping them take the next faithful step for them, while still challenging them to keep moving along, not letting ‘awareness’ become an excuse for inaction.
Etsy’s rhetoric of ‘awareness,’ their attitude that all awareness is equally good, even if it never prompts people to any meaningful action is just a way to promote disconnected consumerism under the disguise of doing good.