When Courage and Conscience Collide
Written by Robyn O’Brien and originally appeared in the Denver Post
I was raised on capitalism and the Wall Street Journal.
As a child, my family celebrated the birth of Reaganomics the way one would have celebrated the birth of a child. There was prosperity to be had by all — if only we believed.
My father, like so many of his era, fully supported deregulation and the notion of trickle down economics. If we loosen the regulatory purse strings that government tightly controls, we will all prosper. The system works.
As a family, we were fortunate, and we were conservative to the core. I was genetically conservative, the way that someone is genetically programmed to have brown hair or blue eyes.
And I trusted that the political values that my family had instilled in me would serve me well. I believed in the system.
And then one of my children got sick. With a blood condition that no one could pronounce and a pediatric mandate requiring immediate enrollment at a children’s hospital. And I awoke.
Suddenly, everywhere I turned, there were sick children. Children with diabetes, children with cancer, children with obesity, children with asthma and children with allergies. What had happened?
As headlines in the paper warned me of environmental dangers, I began to pay attention. What was in the food? Was organics a left-leaning thing? And what about the plastics and the baby bottles and the vaccines? Should I worry? Doesn’t our system protect us from these dangers?
And without realizing it, an internal battle had silently begun.
I lay awake at night after conversations with my father, who had dismissed my concerns and growing awareness of our system’s shortcomings. Had a generation of grandfathers failed to recognize the health risks associated with capitalism’s profits, unintentionally jeopardizing the well being of their grandchildren?
I had been raised to support the system, to believe in it, to never question it, and certainly to never speak out. Activism was something that “radicals” did, certainly not conservative, soccer moms.
But I couldn’t shake the internal dialogue. Armed with an MBA in finance and my four children, I began to investigate the expanding role that corporations had taken in the system in which I was raised to believe. And I was stunned.
There were insecticidal toxins in crops to increase profitability for the world’s largest agrichemical corporation — a company whose former employees included Donald Rumsfeld and Clarence Thomas. There were petroleum-based chemicals in my children’s toys and shampoos that were a product of an oil corporation that had recruited me in business school. How had this happened? Had we forsaken our physical health for financial wealth?
As I struggled with the responsibility that I felt for betraying my own children, I realized that it was my responsibility to act. But the internal battle raged on — as the call from my conscience collided with the familiar comfort of conformity — and I was paralyzed.
But with sick children, paralysis was not an option.
I realized that I had to find the courage, on behalf of my children and others, to speak out against the very system in which my family believed.
And I reluctantly stepped forward.
With the words of another crusader in hand, I found my voice: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls”.
It is with that hope, and holding the hands of my four children, that I took a stand.
It is our turn to engage, to help our fathers re-create the world that their grandchildren deserve. We must not be daunted by the enormity of the task at hand.
If we dare to dream that it is possible to affect this change for our children, we will be inspired by hope and find the courage and capacity to act. Together.
It is not too late. And “remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world.”
For the sake of our children, we have to.
This article first appeared in the Denver Post.