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So You Wanna Talk About Morals

“Please leave a message,” the automated voicemail droned. I panicked for half a second, then jabbed the red button to hang up the call before the beep could sound.  I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of relief (and not just because my social anxiety doesn’t like it when I have to think on the spot, which includes calling people and/or leaving voicemails). What was I doing? What if she had picked up? Was the line between my conscience and the dark side really as thin as a campaign manager’s failure to pick up her phone on a Thursday afternoon? Instead of learning what to do with cosine inverses and run-on sentences all year, I should have been learning what to do with my values. 

Let me back up. My uncle lives near DC and has been in politics for years, so he has several friends/has worked with quite a few people in public service. I was looking for something to do this summer, and on our biweekly family Zoom,  he mentioned that someone he knows is helping out with the early stages of a 2024 presidential bid. Having just finished The West Wing, I was enamored by the image of walking quickly down a hallway or across a lawn in front of a capitol building, a tall stack of files under my arm, talking a mile a minute with some coworkers as we went about changing the world. 

This sounded great in theory, but the problem is that my uncle is a Republican. All of his political contacts are Republicans. I am most definitely not a Republican. When he offered to put me in touch with his friend who was working on the fledgling campaign, I hesitated. I had read about the woman who the campaign is for; actually, I had just read an article the day before and had sighed to myself, probably saying something like “ugh, Republicans.” You see the issue. While I waffled, another family member on the Zoom call said, “Wow, that’s great! I love her, and that would be such a good experience for you, especially if you want to go into politics.” They weren’t wrong. The voice of one of my friends immediately popped into my head: “How could you possibly work for someone and even contribute to their presidential bid who’s not pro-choice, etc.” They weren’t wrong either. Then my mom said the best thing anyone could have said then: “You’ll have to decide if you’re comfortable with doing that. We can talk later.” 

Perhaps part of the reason I felt so uncomfortable with this potential internship was that I was already feeling insecure about a program I had run at the end of school. I am the Co-President of a feminism club, and most of our meetings are discussions and research presentations about the history of feminism and why it is still needed. For our final meeting, however, I wanted to end with a bit more of a bang. I coordinated a guest speaker who is in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), to talk about her experiences as a soldier, a field that is overwhelmingly male (though the IDF has equal service obligations for both men and women, which many countries do not). While I was planning the event, I didn’t really think about it more than “oh, I need to get this email sent out,” and “she’s in Israel so we can’t schedule this for after school, which means it’ll have to be during lunch, but we have two different lunch periods—how is this logistically working??” When the program was over, however, and I was able to take a step back and assess what had just happened, I felt weirdly guilty. Yes, the lieutenant is inspirational, spoke really well about her experiences, and I think we all got a lot out of what she talked about, but I don’t believe in war! I just spent two weeks planning an event predicated on violence (I’m a little dramatic)! I wasn’t able to reconcile being pro-peace with the military vibes around the program, but I have to be okay with organizing it—it was important for all the girls (some of whom will actually be joining the IDF in a couple of years). Not to mention, the IDF is extremely important to my school, community, and family, and overall, the program was more about strong women than shooting and missiles.

I can load up on inspirational quotes (Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” while Jennifer Crusie articulated it as: “Values aren’t buses. They’re not supposed to get you anywhere. They’re supposed to define who you are”), but while there are a plethora of platitudes telling me that the only life worth living is one lived according to my principles, understanding that intellectually is different than living it, even if ideally it shouldn’t be. So maybe there’s a reason this isn’t a class in school (besides, like, a philosophy or ethics class). Maybe we have to decide how to live our lives truthfully, compassionately, and fully to the best of our own abilities, whatever that means and however that looks for each individual. Maybe learning how to forgive ourselves when we don’t measure up to our own ideals AND allowing ourselves to do what feels right to us, even if it looks dumb or petty or immature to the world, is what growing up looks like. Rejecting jobs will not always be feasible for me, or even always the right thing to do, but right now, while I’m being supported (thanks parents), why not choose the option that won’t make me feel uncomfortable with myself and my life decisions?

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