Saturday, May 1, 2010

Neighbor as Self: Oh What a Revolution

What would happen if people simply followed the Golden Rule? What might be the result of people treating people as they themselves would like to be treated? This morning I saw yet another example of why this simple yet revolutionary philosophy is urgently needed in our world.

Philabundance is non-profit in Philadelphia that helps collect and distribute food donations to the greater Philadelphia area. I was volunteering there this morning with some friends when I learned of certain haphazard practices by such corporations as Wal-Mart, Target, and Shop-Rite. It all came about when I noticed that most of what Shop-Rite had donated was really just trash. That is, canned goods that were so severely damaged that not even Philabundance, a food bank that aims to end hunger, would distribute them. I realized that what Shop-Rite was doing was simply sending their trash to Philabundance instead of disposing it themselves.

But why? Ohhhh right. Capitalism makes anything that can be categorized as "smart business" okay.

Shop-Rite donates the items that they themselves refuse to sell to Philabundance instead of disposing of them properly. By doing this they can write off a ton of products for tax deductions and also look good in the process (by claiming "We donate 'X' amount of products to Philabundance per year!"). And not only does Shop-Rite receive a tax credit for this donation to the non-profit sector, but they also spare themselves the cost of having a trash company collect their un-sellable goods.

This practice is not uncommon. I learned that Wal-Mart also does this. In fact, two years ago Wal-Mart donated 4 pallets* of expired condoms to Philabundance. Why would a food bank need condoms? And expired ones? Because it's cheaper than having to dispose of them. Evidently Target is also notorious for this behavior.

If we play this out logically it looks like this: for-profit companies use the system to have the government take care of responsibilities that belong to the private sector. How is this at all ethical? This is, in my opinion, one of the flaws of capitalism (I'm not "anti-capitalism," but every system has flaws). The all-too-common problem in capitalism is that unethical behavior is justified by that which may bring about greater profit.

But what strikes me the most is the lack of the Golden Rule in these business practices. Why on earth would you donate a product that you yourself would not sell or buy? The all-too-common answer is that "it's good enough for them." Who is them? The entire point of the Golden Rule is that you are them!

Jesus summarized the entire Law in two commands: Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:29-31). What would happen if people embraced this? What would happen if even companies and corporations embraced this? What if corporations refused to treat other corporations any other way than how they would want to be treated? Sure, the "competition" of capitalism might decline. But what is the potential result?

If you read this post, I challenge you to write three possibilities that might occur as a result of corprrations treating one another as they would like to be treated.

* pallets are the wooden platforms that are used in warehouses for stacking and storing products. A typical pallet can hold around 1 ton of product.


  1. my best friend worked at a non profit similar to philabundance in brooklyn. and she dealt with a similar predicament. it's a bummer. and i wonder if anything can be legally done to deal with it? why hasn't anyone held them accountable legally?

  2. To your final challenge, if corporations followed the golden rule, they might set a limit on how much profit they could make a year -- or at least how much they keep fro themselves. It is the fact that corporations, by nature, are entirely driven to create profit that most often makes them do things that are unethical. Profit has no ethics.