I first read “Button, Button” in 1994 when teaching High School English. I’ve never forgotten the story, and should be mandatory reading every single grade school classroom in the world, as we live it every single day of our lives.
In the story, a woman is given a box with a button on top. She learns that if she pushes the button, two things will happen. First, she will be given cash (I believe it was 10K, which in today’s dollars would probably be 100-200K). Second, someone in the world that she would never meet otherwise will die. The question is, would she push the button to cause a random stranger’s death in return for cash?
I love this story, and it’s a powerful theme we face every single day. For example, if we buy inexpensive but fashionable clothing, we are choosing to endorse companies employeeing low-wage poverty-stricken sweatshop workers (e.g. see “Life in Debt” about workers in Jamaica). If we watch NFL football, we are allowing billionaires to exploit the largerly lower class, who give up their bodies and brains and job security for a shot at a season or two in the NFL (very few players end up rich). If we allow CxOs to pay themselves millions of dollars in bonuses while employing working poor by shopping/eating at companies who employ these CxOs, if we continue to allow Boeing and Safeway and Apple and Amazon and Walmart and Alaska Airlines and Ford and so on to continue to control our government, if we allow for-profit companies to control our healthcare and food supplies, etc etc etc – we are pushing the button.
So many times, all of us are pushing the button — allowing unseen people to live in misery so we can have something — we are pushing the button.
I’ve gotten better about pushing the button. I am wearing lulu lemon gym clothes from three seasons ago, I buy my fruit from the local farmers market and my groceries from the locally owned market (although both are more expensive), we grow a lot of our own herbs, I give food to the homeless I see on the street, and I’ve cut down on my NFL watching. You literally can’t pay me to shop at Walmart, and I take the bus instead of driving. I have a long way to go, and I will continue to try to get better.