Pursuing one’s values is always a challenge, and it is even more difficult when those values are in conflict with the community in which one lives. In Chocolat, Vianne Rocher opens a chocolate shop in a small French village on the eve of Lent. She immediately finds herself in conflict with the town’s mayor, who is intent that the villagers abstain from pleasure during Lent and seeks to use his bully pulpit to enforce his views.

The villagers initially regard Vianne with disdain. She dresses provocatively, refuses to attend church, and is audacious. While the mayor uses every power at his disposal (including writing sermons for the village’s priest) to dissuade the villagers from patronizing Vianne’s shop, she has the most powerful weapon of all—persuasion.

Because she is free to act on her own judgment, Vianne slowly introduces the villagers to the pleasure of her products. And because each villager is free to act on his judgment, each individual can choose to buy her products or abstain.

But what if the mayor had ordered her shop closed because it threatened the fabric of the community? What if he had used the power of government to protect the integrity of the neighborhood? The village would have been deprived of what many regarded as a value. Those who didn’t want Vianne’s chocolate remained free to never step foot in her shop.

We hear lots of talk in Houston about protecting neighborhoods and community values. Chocolat dramatizes what happens when those collectivist ideas are acted on. And it also dramatizes what happens when individuals are free to pursue values that others disapprove of.

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