Opinions, Business, and Chicken Sandwiches

I have enjoyed Terena Bell’s “Macro/Micro” column in MultiLingual. She is usually spot  on with her insights, and her sense of self-deprecating humor is refreshing. I do find, however, her most recent column in the January/February 2013 issue of MultiLingual — “The polarizing business of opinion” — to be missing the point of the Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A controversy.

Bell takes a look at Cathy’s comments on gay marriage that were quoted in The Baptist Press in July 2012. Cathy was quoted “as being personally against gay marriage for religious reasons” (p. 23). Cathy is the owner of Chick-fil-A, a quick-service chicken restaurant with, according to Wikipedia, 1,679 locations in 38 US states and the District of Columbia, as of November 2012. As a result of Cathy’s comments, his business became the battleground for those supporting gay marriage as well as those who agreed with him.

Bell takes a look at the controversy and concludes that “Cathy didn’t make the mistake of having an opinion, but he did make the mistake of voicing it” (p. 24). As a business owner herself, Bell confesses that “it never dawned on me that owning a business would mean I one day would be unentitled to voice my opinion” (p. 24).

The nature of opinions

Bell’s article contains a subtext that skirts around the issue of opinions. We’ve all heard the aphorism, or a variation of it, that “opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and it usually stinks.” This expression has been around for a long time, and it was made popular when spoken by the Clint Eastwood character Harry Callahan in The Dead Pool (1988).

Harlen Ellison, a prolific writer of speculative fiction, says this about opinions: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

Yes, Bell is “entitled” to her opinions, and, yes, everyone has opinions, even President Obama. Did he have to give up his opinions when he became the chief officer of the United States? Hardly, but hopefully he is intelligent enough to realize that stating one’s opinions might have consequences.

But Bell owns a business, and it does business with clients who also have opinions. If Bell makes her opinions known, it just might impact folks who hold opinions opposite of hers. A loss of business revenue could be the result of Bell making her opinions public. So, Cathy should not have been surprised that Chick-fil-A might have its chicken sales impacted — either positively or negatively — with the voicing of his opinions.

The politics of opinions

But this isn’t really the issue. Bell even admits that “we both know, dear reader, that this has nothing to do with a chicken sandwich” (p. 23). She is so correct, but she doesn’t follow to where this tail is connected.

Chick-fil-A has a charitable arm — the WinShape Foundation —  through which, according to Courtney Hodrick in her article “All the Anti Gay Companies You Fund When You Spend $5.25 On a Chick-fil-A Sandwich,” “Cathy gave almost $2 million to anti-gay organizations” in 2010.

Some of the organizations receiving funding from the WinShape Foundation are the Georgia Family Council, which supports legislation to ban gay marriage; the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center added to its list of hate groups in 2010; and Exodus International, “one of the most famous proponents of ‘Ex Gay’ therapy, seeking to cure homosexuality like a disease,” according to Hodrick.

Bell confesses, “I love Chick-fil-A. I’ll admit it. I have to drive, which I don’t do often, to get to one of the restaurants, so when I do, I stockpile” (p. 23). So, every time that Bell wraps her lips around “the tastiest chicken sandwich known to man” (p. 23), she is supporting many anti-gay organizations with each $5.25 she plops down to support her Chick-fil-A addiction.

Bell owns a translation company in Kentucky called In Every Language. If I were a potential client and if I found out that Bell were to contribute a certain percentage of her revenue to anti-gay groups or other hate-promoting organizations, I would certainly take my translation business elsewhere. Sorry, Bell, I would not be buying translation from you “because we’re good at it” (p. 25). In Every Language could be the best translation company this side of Uranus, and I still wouldn’t give it a cent of my translation business. It is, after all, not about the product; it is about where the money goes after it leaves my hands!

As always, follow the money. The $5.25 for a Chick-fil-A sandwich has moved beyond the realm of mere opinion and into the realm of power, decision-making, and laws of the land.

On the other hand, there is an upside to Cathy’s position on gay marriage. According to an article in The New Yorker, “in August [2012], hundreds of thousands across the country lined up to buy chicken sandwiches in support of Chick-fil-A, whose nonprofit foundations has given millions of dollars to anti-gay groups” (p. 46). It is not surprising that Cathy found support across the country for his position on gay marriage. According to Kelly Boggs in “First-Person: Dan Cathy’s views are in the majority,” “based on the ballot box, a significant majority of Americans agree with Cathy. To date, 32 states have voted on the issue, and by an average margin of 67-33 percent, Americans in those states have said marriage is between only a man and a woman.” It is interesting, though, that they showed support with their pocket books, by purchasing sandwiches. They now knew where a part of their $5.25 was going.

The responsibility of opinions

Bell’s sympathies go out to the “local franchisee who really wound up facing the brunt of this mistake . . . who was seeing a rise or decline in his own profits based on the religious beliefs of a man he’d never met” (p. 25). If I were that local franchisee, I’d be angry at Cathy for being totally irresponsible and for not being aware of the potential consequences of his vocal actions.

I don’t know how many people Bell employs at In Every Language, but I hope that she has the good sense to be aware of the position that she is in as CEO. With  position and power comes responsibility, particularly responsibility to the individuals whose livelihoods depend upon her good judgment.

The politics of business

I live in Sandpoint, Idaho, and a local realtor states in print ads that his realty company “is pleased to sponsor our local Habitat for Humanity.” I did not know this when I bought my house from his company, but it makes me feel good to know that a part of my money went towards the local Habitat for Humanity. In a round-about way, I was helping the general good.

Now, why did the local realtor make this public? The bottom line is that it is good business. The fact is that his company sponsors a local branch of a nationwide organization doing good to improve the quality of life for fellow citizens. He and his company care about life in northern Idaho; they are involved in community development, not just about making a dollar.

Yes, this realtor has an opinion, but his opinion moved to another level with the publication of his sponsorship of the local Habitat for Humanity. Of course, this is a risky business move. There might be some folks “out there” who are against Habitat for Humanity and don’t believe in its mission. Cool, then they can take their business elsewhere, and knowing this realtor as well as I do, I imagine that he wouldn’t want to do business with such folks in the first place!

Conclusion

Bell’s “The polarizing business of opinion” only scratches the surface about the issues raised by the Chick-fil-A controversy. The real issue is not about opinions or having business owners holding their tongues. It is about the more fundamental issues of the consequences of voicing one’s opinions; it is about following the money trail and seeing where the money spent on a product ends up.

As my Mother, who is now 100 years old, stills says, “Keep your opinions to yourself.” Her advice should be heeded now more than ever.

 

References

Bell, Terena. “The polarizing business of opinion.” MultiLingual, January/February 2013, 23-25.

Blume, K. Allan. “‘Guilty as Charged,’ Cathy says of Chick-fil-A’s stand on biblical & family values.” www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=38271

Boggs, Kelly. “First-Person: Dan Cathy’s views are in the majority.” www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=38316

“Chick-Fil-A’s Anti-Gay donations Totaled Nearly $2 Million In 2010: Report.” www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/02/chick-fil-a-anti-gay-group-donations-_n_1644609.html

Hodrick, Courtney. “All the Anti Gay Companies You Fund When You Spend $5.25 On a Chick-fil-A Sandwich.” www.Policymic.com/articles/12219/all-the-anti-gay-companies-you-fund-when-you-spend-5-25-on-a-chick-fil-a-sandwich

Ross, Alex. “Love on the March.” The New Yorker, 12 November, 2012, 44-53.

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