One of my favorite movies of all time is “Thank You For Smoking” starring Aaron Eckhart. In the film, Eckhart’s character, Nick Naylor, is a smooth-talking lobbyist in Washington D.C. that represents the interests of conglomerated tobacco. For obvious reasons, like the number of people killed every year by tobacco products, the lobbyist for Big Tobacco is not very well like by the general public. Nevertheless, throughout the story Naylor is able to dance around tough questions and shut down opponents using his quick wit and the tactic of misdirection. This doesn’t mean, however, that Nick Naylor is a cold hearted man willing to sell his soul for a buck. At one point in the movie, his son asks him why he chooses to defend Big Tobacco when he knows it makes everyone dislike, or even hate him. His response was that everyone, even Big Tobacco, has a right to defend themselves and that it was his professional responsibility to do his job to the best of his ability.
After watching this film, I found myself wondering about how some people are able to balance their professional and personal responsibilities with their social responsibilities. There are a lot of professions in this world that require people to sacrifice some of their values in order to earn a living. Whether it is a tobacco lobbyist in D.C. or a production line worker at a weapons manufacturer, there are many different professions that either directly or indirectly harm others in the name of business and turning a profit. While the people working these jobs may not like the effects of the products or services they provide, they still have a professional obligation to the company and all it’s stakeholders to do their best work. In addition, they have personal obligations to put food on the table for their families, among other things, and it is these obligations that make it difficult to balance professional, personal and social responsibilities. This is because people are usually more inclined to protect the interests of others who they interact with on a regular basis, like family and coworkers than the interests of society as a whole.
In the case of Nick Naylor, he was willing to sacrifice some of his social responsibilities in order to do what he does best, arguing and defending the generally disliked. He recognized that he had a responsibility to his son to provide for him as well as a responsibility to himself to take advantage of his unique skills that made him a great lobbyist.
How does one put the interests of society ahead of their own if their employment situation makes those interests conflicting?