Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers." - Rainer Maria Rilke
Sometimes I get bogged down in the ethical questions of daily modern life to the point that I feel ambivalent about everything.
I sit here this morning sipping coffee, listening to classical music, and writing to you -- all fairly gentle, innocuous behaviors. But where did the coffee in my cup originate? And how were the electronic components that facilitate our communication manufactured? I used natural gas to make the water in the percolator boil, and I wonder about the business practices of my internet service provider -- how does it invest the profits generated by my subscription?
Knitting, sadly, is not exempt from such questions.
Natural fibers are best; acrylic fibers are worst - generally that much is agreed. But that is a simplistic stance. What if the natural fiber is produced in great quantities by a huge company that exploits its workers? What if the plants or animals from which the fiber is harvested are raised using inhumane or nonsustainable methods?
Cost is a factor, whether we like it or not. The fibers about which I feel the most comfortable using -- locally produced from start to finish and locally purchased -- are expensive. If I knit only with those materials, I will have only the most affluent customers. The goods produced will be beautiful and long wearing, but most of my customers cannot spend $50 for a child's winter hat, no matter how finely wrought or durable.
Ease of care is also of concern. Many people consider themselves too busy to hand wash clothing. Machine washable wool exists and is popular with knitters trying to bridge the gap between quality and convenience, but that ease of care is achieved with chemical treatments, and many of the most desirable qualities of the fiber are lost in the process.
I often knit with yarns which are a blend of fibers, a middle-of-the-road approach, but some days I am uncomfortable even with that choice. I wonder why I should compromise.
So what's to be done? I could give up knitting along with drinking coffee and using electronic devices.
But I'm not going to.
The answer, like every societal question ever faced, is education. Consumers shape the marketplace. Manufacturers produce what we buy. If we don't buy, they won't manufacture.
Those of us with the greatest number of resources and the greatest amount of leisure in which to consider our options need to choose the most responsibly.