#39: Remember the life you can save

CC licensed photo by Flickr user Jeff Kubina
CC licensed photo by Flickr user Jeff Kubina

I feel like I’ve won the lottery with the life I lead. I have a supportive, loving family, an incredible husband, dedicated and caring friends, I’m healthy, I have a warm home, a job that I enjoy and I am financially stable. When I look around me, I see so many ‘things’ that I possess, that can be so easily taken for granted, but are luxuries for so many others: the computer I am using right now, a fridge full of food (some necessary, others..not so much…boy do I love ice cream!), jewelry, new clothes, gadgets and the list goes on. I also think about the time I have to take part in activities that are purely for enjoyment’s sake: spending a day out at the park or the mall, dancing, attending festivals, movie nights and going out for nice dinners with friends and family. I am genuinely grateful for all of this but I also critically question whether I am doing ‘enough’ to give back, given all that I do have.

Going back to a previous entry I wrote about donating a percentage of one’s income to charity, I remind myself regularly that there is an opportunity cost for every ‘thing’ that I do. Specifically, there is the time and money that could have been spent instead on helping the world to a greater extent. I remind myself of Peter Singer’s logical analysis of the life one can save by giving effectively. With every dollar one spends on a ‘not-so-needed’ indulgence, that money could have been used to help someone or something in greater need. The same $40 I may have spent on a new shirt could have been spent on a donation towards cancer research. Sure, I have $40 additional dollars that can be donated after buying myself a shirt, but perhaps I could have given $80 instead. Indeed, this creates the inevitable challenge of finding the balance between giving to oneself versus giving to others in order to create the most personally fulfilling life for oneself–a challenge I have yet to resolve, but am continually (and happily) engaged in. For others, there is also a challenge of trusting charitable organizations in the first place and that one’s money is actually going to make any difference at all.

It’s often not pleasant to think about the suffering of others or how your own actions could be changed, altered or improved to help others to a greater extent. I am confident that the majority of people reading this blog already do give and help others on a regular basis, but can we do more and can we do better? I think that as hard as it may be, we need to put our egos aside and challenge ourselves to really think about the opportunity cost of what we do on a regular basis. By engaging in critical analysis, logic, objectivity and reason, you can come to understand how and why you can actually save a life by giving up on that occasional martini or fancy top and giving instead to charity. I highly recommend watching this video and Darren Mckee’s talk entitled Skepticism and Morality: Maybe You’re Not a Good Person (based on Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save). I challenge you to view them without defensiveness, but instead with a courageous lens to fuel more objective reasoning into your thinking about the role giving plays in your life.

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