‘Enlightened’ And The Challenges Of Corporate Responsibility And Non-Profit Work

Spurred on by Laura Dern’s Golden Globes win for her roles as Amy Jellicoe, I’ve been catching up on Enlightened. It’s a fascinating show, one of the more uncomfortable things I’ve ever watched in its combination of Amy’s intense selfishness and immaturity and New Age preachiness. But I’m also struck by how much it’s a story about what it means to work for a company you think is actively harming the world, and how difficult it is to do socially responsible work.

The company that Amy worked for before her breakdown, and that she finds herself attempting to reform, is literally called Abaddon, after the place of destruction in Jewish religious texts and the king of the Pit in Revelation. Amy hopes to implement a corporate responsibility program when she comes back to work after her stint in rehab, but instead finds herself in the basement, consigned to a program for people the company considers kooks, but who they can’t fire. When she tries to convince HR to give her a task force or let her act as a community liaison by giving the department head a printout of stories about Abaddon’s environmental and labor problems, the woman is actively frightened that talking about those issues will get them both fired. Amy’s former assistant shuts her down when Amy suggests that they could be getting into bed with a company responsible for industrial accidents in India. The inertia and terror are deep.

And when Amy tries to get a job with a non-profit, she’s devastated to learn that the salary on offer at a place where she thinks she’d fit in is $26,000, just $2,000 more than her bill from the rehab center. “I can’t live on $26,000 a year. I’m in debt, I’m living with my mother,” Amy cries to the man interviewing her for a job at a homeless shelter. “There are all these things I want to do. And I can’t. And it’s so frustrating.” Of course it is. And it’s a huge problem that we can’t make socially responsible and socially fulfilling work financially rewarding, much less viable, for people with debt and bills.