A required good act has a connection to The Chocolate War

A required good act has a connection to The Chocolate War

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Hello, ladies,” the gentleman at the front door said. The blushing and grinning reminded me of middle school, where the athletic star walks into a room and the girls swooned.

Except that, in this case, it wasn’t a group of middle school girls, it was their middle-aged mothers.

“Hey, bub,” I wanted to shout, “back here, behind the considerably taller women sits a man.”

Of course, I didn’t say that, because I didn’t want to stand out, or even up, for that matter. I had a good seat and was waiting for a key moment to contribute something or to clear out.

I was at a do-gooders gathering. That’s not the name of it, because people don’t generally come up with such generic sounding names for a collection of people who want to make a change, to help people, to make a difference in the world. But, really, that’s what they were.

Why were they there? Who knows? I didn’t ask them. I suppose it could have been that they all felt a strong calling to contribute. It could have also been that they had friends who would be there that night and they wanted to do their part, alongside their close friends, to effect change. Or maybe it was because they were required to be there, because their daughters played on a sports team and the parents of the team captains had the responsibility to make sure everyone, and they meant everyone, as email after email said, attended and contributed.

After all, for this effort to be successful, they needed 100 percent participation. Lovely, lovely, lovely. But wait; I seem to recall reading this book called The Chocolate War, which kept springing to mind as I was furiously typing details of this meeting to my wife.

For instance, I told her that I’d never smelled such a powerful combination of floral scents. The host of this gathering had gone deep into the well of potpourri for a scent that, I’m guessing, carried over the river and through the woods all the way to grandma’s house. I also told her that I was the only man in the room and that there was a plate of cookies in the center of the island that no one touched.

Anyway, in The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier, Jerry Renault, on an assignment from a group of unofficial student leaders, is told not to sell chocolates as part of a fundraising campaign. When the assignment ends and he’s supposed to decide to accept the chocolates, he continues to refuse. Ultimately, he suffers serious consequences from rebelling against the school and the Vigils, the student thugs who effectively run the school.

I’m not suggesting that these delightful women, with their floral-scented kitchens and earnest, sincere, and heartfelt grins and plans are anything like the Vigils. They are working toward a great cause and are encouraging complete participation. But, something feels wrong about the compulsory nature of a good act.

Instead of everyone working for one, particular effort, perhaps this group could encourage full participation in a charity, good cause or effort of each player, or a family-choice activity. I get it, of course. The complete effort of the players and all their families could easily be greater than the sum of the parts of small efforts from each person.

Maybe it was because I was the only man in the room, or maybe it was because I am such a fan of The Chocolate War, but I couldn’t help wondering if there was a coercive undercurrent to all this cheerleading.