In a nation that cherishes choice, most of the time a decision between alternatives is made on a nonconsequential basis. It’s simply a matter of preference.
Should I choose one brand over another? One store over another? One size over another?
It really doesn’t matter, so I go with an inclination or what has become habit.
But there are times when I think I’m making a rational choice – a decision based on the merits after considering factors such as the quality of one product over another, the service at one store over another or the savings achieved by one size over another.
On occasion, I actually choose one item or service over another based on the merits of the product, the store, the size or other relevant factors.
A little self-reflection, however, can evoke second thoughts about how rational I am in making choices. How many of my choices are determined by factors of which I am unaware?
Product marketing is based on psychological research that reveals how consumers can be manipulated in their purchases.
This information helps advertisers understand how to appeal to baser instincts in decision-making and how to draw on deep prejudices and subconscious motives in encouraging potential clients to purchase their products.
There’s some comfort in realizing that such manipulation usually involves choices that aren’t all that important in the wider scheme of things. But are those same manipulations operative on issues of consequence?
In that sphere of consequential choices, one can include how unexamined ideologies play a key role in making decisions.
Such reflection came to mind with the recent announcement that the nation’s largest chain of drugstores, CVS/Caremark, decided it would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in their stores.
When asked about the logic behind the decision, Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS, stated, “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”
I tend to be suspicious of claims of moral rectitude by members of the corporate community since most corporations operate on the foundation of an unquestioned ideology of profit-making.
But here is a corporation that seems to be willing to forego around $2 billion in sales so that it can concentrate on changing itself into becoming a health care provider.
Now I’m not so gullible as to think that the decision-makers at CVS/Caremark were overcome with an ideology of self-sacrifice that led them to this decision.
I’m quite sure they have a well-developed plan to become even more profitable in their converted state.
As Timothy Martin and Mike Esterl commented in The Wall Street Journal: “The move is a bold and expensive one for CVS, a unit of CVS/Caremark Corp. It reflects a major push by retail pharmacies away from simply dispensing drugs toward a more integrated role of providing basic health services to Americans – including millions of newly insured – amid an expected shortage of primary care doctors.”
But even with that acknowledgement, it is enough for me to make a rational choice, and one that is in keeping with my civic values and Christian faith. From this point on, I’m doing my drug store shopping exclusively at CVS.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.