What "The Good Place" taught me about the complex global economy, and being a good person
The Good Place is back for another season, and I can’t wait to see how Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason deal with the curveballs they were thrown at the end of season three. I am all about The Good Place; it is one of the smartest and funniest shows on television (in my opinion). But what impresses me most about the show is the way it manages to dig deep into philosophical and ethical questions every week, and explore what it truly means to be a good person.
So, what does The Good Place have to do with human trafficking?
At the outset of the show, Kristen Bell’s character, Eleanor, dies and ends up in “the good place,” where she learns that every action she performed during her lifetime was assigned a point value, based on how good or bad the action was. She further learns that it was the sum total of the points from her good actions that gained her the desirable status she has in the afterlife. It’s a simple enough concept, but Eleanor learns at the end of season three what anti-trafficking advocates already know: performing a “good action” isn’t as easy as it seems in our complex global economy. Even a seemingly neutral action, like buying a tomato, has dozens of unintended consequences.
Ted Danson’s character, Michael, explains, “Just buying a tomato at a grocery store means that you’re unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming. Humans think that they’re making one choice but they're actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making...every day the world gets a little more complicated, and being a good person gets a little harder.”
As we fight for a world without slavery, we know Michael’s words to be true. There is no such thing as a neutral purchase. From the clothes we wear, to the coffee we drink, to the technological devices we use, dozens of people are involved in getting each item — from raw materials to finished product — into our hands. Can we ever be sure that all of those dozens of people are free and receiving a fair wage? Can we ever know that we’re not inadvertently contributing to exploitation and forced labor?
These questions plagued me when I first began to learn about human trafficking. I felt like each purchase I made really did have some sort of point value attached, and all I saw were the negative points stacking up. I felt overwhelmed by all the information, and it almost kept me from taking any action because I couldn’t take them all.
The answer to this problem for me came from a piece of wisdom that is often attributed to Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I realized I couldn’t change what my purchasing habits had been in the past, and I couldn’t help the things I didn’t know, so I just asked myself “Where can I start right now?”
I decided to start with coffee and chocolate; I knew that those industries were often culprits of unethical sourcing and that the places I shopped made fair trade alternatives readily available. Then, I committed to keep researching. I learned to identify questionable sourcing through tools like the Department of Labor’s “List of Goods and Services Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.” I found more ethical alternatives for my clothes, food, and home goods through the Fashion Revolution “Fashion Transparency Index” and the “Done Good” app & browser extension. I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, but I keep learning and taking the next step.
I’m willing to bet there is a next step for you, too — something you have learned that you can put into practice. It’s easy for the complexity of the issue to become overwhelming, but if you have an idea of where to start when it comes to ethical shopping, start there and keep on learning. And as you know better, you will do better.
The Good Place brilliantly illustrates with its cosmic point system something we already know: making good purchases that don’t hurt other people can be complicated. The solution isn’t to withdraw in fear, but to start where we can, with the goal to keep learning, growing, changing, and fighting for justice. I’m not sure about the point values attached to those things, but I’m willing to bet we’ll be just fine.
About the Author
Erin Flippin King is a freelance writer and editor, loving life in Jonesboro, AR with her husband, Aaron (same name, cute right?) and son, Sam. Erin enjoys dancing like a fool, joking at wildly inappropriate times, spending time in the sunshine, and Dr. Pepper. She recently earned her master's degree in Biblical Studies and Hebrew and shares her writing at erinflippinking.com.