BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

The Case Against Boycotting

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

My wife and I are planning to meet up with a gang of old friends later this summer, some of whom live as far away as New Zealand and Australia. I’d like to go, but I’m uncomfortable with their choice of destination: Budapest.

We’re both fairly sickened by the treatment of refugees in certain parts of Europe, none more so than Hungary. I don’t want my holiday money to be supporting the human rights abuses being perpetrated by prime minister Viktor Orban and his government, and I don’t want to be seen as tacitly approving of their actions by visiting the country.

On the other hand, refusing to travel there seems like the most apathetic protest imaginable. There’s a resistance movement in Hungary, of course, but I can’t realistically see us taking part during our vacation.

Some people have already booked flights and accommodations, so I’m too late to push for a change in venue.

What do you think — can there be any justification for being a tourist in a country with fascistic leanings?
–Woolly Liberal; Sweden

This is such an interesting question because it addresses an interesting concept:

When it comes to a cause/ideology/belief, is any form of support a show of support?

At what point do you cross over from making a concession to being complicit?

I’ve thought about this concept in regard to my own life.

As an example, I love Chick-fil-a.

I love their chicken nuggets; I love their dipping sauce; I love their efficient service. To me, their chicken biscuit is far and away the best breakfast entree on any fast food menu. (McDonald’s hash browns claim the strongest side item.)

What I never loved, though, was their stance on same-sex marriage, which sparked a controversy in 2012.

They were against it; I am for it.

Did that mean I should stop patronizing their restaurants?

On one hand, you could make the case that giving them money was like giving them my blessing.

On the other, what did their politics have to do with my breakfast affection? The two felt completely unrelated.

I didn’t know what was right back then. And I still don’t today.

In every part of life, whether we’re aware of it or not, our decision-making process is driven by an ongoing tally of pros and cons.

You go to your job each morning, for instance, because you’ve determined the good outweighs the bad (or the alternative).

Or look at romantic relationships. The dating process is designed for accumulating and evaluating as much information as possible to figure out if that’s the person you want to be with.

Sometimes, there are clear deal breakers, like an opposing stance on having children, and the answer is obvious. It doesn’t matter how great the person is in every other area; you simply can’t move past that single “flaw.”

More often than not, though, there’s a mixture of connections and disconnects, of positives and negatives, and the math isn’t as clear.

The scales are constantly tipping, and it’s up to you to decide which side carries more weight.

Only you know where your line is drawn — and what it takes to cross it.

How high do your issues with Hungary rate on your hierarchy of priorities?

If you want to sit out this trip because your outrage takes precedence over everything else, more power to you.

Any principled, grounded, well thought-out stance deserves respect. The world needs more of those.

That said, this dilemma doesn’t have to be black and white.

You asked if there are justifications for going. Here are three to consider:

1. The chance to be with your friends

There’s a lot I miss about college.

I miss the sense of newfound freedom, the Thursday night bar crawls, the fact that a long day constituted going to class from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

But what I miss most are the people.

For four years, I lived within javelin-throwing distance of about a dozen of my closest friends. We could hang out, or go out, or head into the street to toss the football whenever we wanted. That type of proximity was priceless.

Ever since, as we’ve gotten older and settled across the country, we only see each other at occasions like bachelor parties or weddings. And those get-togethers are getting fewer and further between.

And it sucks.

Your friends could have chosen anywhere in the world to travel. And they certainly could’ve chosen somewhere that isn’t plagued by a refugee crisis.

But they didn’t, meaning if you want to see them, you’re going to have to compromise.

I don’t know if this will resonate with you, but as I was writing this section, I couldn’t help thinking of a line from the song “Best of What’s Around” by the Dave Matthews Band (a staple of my college CD collection):

“Turns out not where but who you’re with that really matters.”

So…what really matters to you?

2. The chance to expand your horizons

The opportunity to travel is the opportunity to open your eyes to new experiences.

Away from home, detached from the daily grind, you’re able to immerse yourself in every facet of a foreign culture — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Too often these days we shut ourselves off from that which with we disagree. Which, in turn, inhibits our ability to learn and progress.

The fact that you oppose what’s going on in Hungary is arguably the strongest reason Hungary is the place you should visit.

After all, not going achieves nothing. You said so yourself:

“…refusing to travel there seems like the most apathetic protest imaginable.”

So why not get in the game?

Though you likely won’t take part in protests, you also won’t be restricted by secondhand information. You’ll be on the ground, among the people, experiencing the country for yourself. You can talk to locals and get their insights and draw your own conclusions.

And when you return home, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on — and what you can do to help.

3. The chance to appreciate the full picture

If I had to choose a phrase to describe today’s society, a good one might be “all or nothing.”

We live in an all-or-nothing world, a “hot take” world. You see it in sports; you see it in politics; you see it everywhere you turn.

Everyone and everything is deemed either 100-percent good or 100-percent bad. Nobody’s interested in addressing or acknowledging the shades of gray.

This is not a good thing.

Not only does this approach disregard nuance, it divides us even further, constructing walls so strong and so tall that we have no hope of finding common ground.

I don’t know anything about what’s going on in Hungary (though you’ve inspired me to look into it). And I’d agree that virtually any stance but a “Zero tolerance” stance on human rights infractions is unacceptable.

But as disturbing as these troubles may be, I have to believe the country possesses redeemable aspects, as well.

A quick scroll of their tourism site reveals a destination rich in history, sights, culture and culinary traditions.

Not only that, on your vacation, you’ll come in contact with local merchants and vendors and restaurateurs — decent, hard-working people whom your dollars will filter through before reaching the prime minister’s hands.

I get the logic that if you support anything in the country, you’re supporting its government, no matter how indirectly.

But it might also make sense to step back, widen your prism and take a more holistic view of the country.

This is something we all should do, in all situations. Because we might be surprised by what we see.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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