Even though the spirit of Christmas has turned into a consumer obsession, it is still a good time of the year to think about the spirit of giving a little something of yourself to make the world a better place. This article is about what you individually can do. It’s about accomplishing something worthwhile by yourself.
I’m not telling you to try and make a difference in anything or not to try and make a difference. That is a completely personal choice that each person makes for themselves. Frankly I’m tired of the constant demand for giving of time or money for this or that cause. It’s a turn off and in my mind counter-productive. I find myself less likely to give anything to anybody as a result. You can’t even go through a check out line now without the clerk asking you to donate to some effort. What follows is my advice on the most effective use of your personal resources should you choose to do something.
I am strongly anti-crusade, anti-mass movement, anti-group action, etc. I wrote an article last year on this topic and I encourage you to read it here: The Problem With Causes, Crusades, or Organized Movements. It rarely succeeds and even when it does the result is not necessarily what one had hoped for. For instance the Egyptian freedom movement, which did succeed in ousting the corrupt Egyptian government, looks like it is going to end up resulting in a strongly Islamist government. I’m pretty sure many of the young people and women of that movement aren’t going to be happy with the results. Some will be happy and some will have felt like they contributed to something worse.
More often though you end up with diluted effort, wasted resources, and failure. The Occupy Wall Street movement comes quickly to mind as an example. Instead of spending time camping out in a park, singing Kumbaya, and being a general nuisance, what if each and everyone of those people spent the same amount of time and effort (mental and physical) actually helping someone in real need (including themselves) on a one-on-one basis? Think as well of all the public money (police, sanitation, etc.) that would not have been diverted and the useless media attention. One of my favorite quotes on this summarizes it well:
“Most people think in terms of indirect alternatives – who must be changed, how people must be educated, what others should be doing. Consequently, they spend most of their lives in futile efforts to achieve what can’t be achieved – the remaking of others.” — Harry Browne
Even giving your money to a big organization is an extreme dilution of those resources and much of it may go to administration anyway. Agencies who collect donations often take 50% of the donation off the top for themselves. It is not unusual for administrative costs to take much of the rest (see for example the U.S. government Welfare Administration). If you have a $100 to help someone you may end up giving $75 to help enrich those who claim to help others and only $25 to actually help someone who needs it. Why not take your $100 and find somebody you know needs help and do something specific to help them that is worth the whole $100? You and they both will end up better off and the bloodsuckers won’t get any of it. See the excellent expose Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way (it’s only 99 cents on Kindle) for an example of how some charities fleece the public (and school children) and enrich themselves. Don’t get me wrong, there are actually some excellent organizations, but even with them your effort is diluted and you don’t really know where the money goes.
“When we decide to do what we can, where we are, instead of looking for others to do it, we feel more powerful and accomplish more. What’s more, beyond our personal world most of the great problems of our day can be solved only by each of us deciding to take action in our sphere of power.” — John Izzo
Plant a tree, ride a bicycle, help a neighbor, volunteer your time, buy some poor kid a Christmas present, take a kid who needs a role model to a ball game, visit a children’s cancer hospital, counsel, mentor, or do whatever you feel appropriate. But stop campaigning for change and joining causes. Stop wasting your time trying to convince others. You will likely fail and waste their time and yours. People are tired of others telling them what they should do with their resources. You’re better off just being a shining example of whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. People are more likely to follow your example than be convinced by you getting in their face.
The choice is real simple. You can either spend your time campaigning, protesting, debating, organizing, strategizing, etc. (e.g. political activity) or you can actually spend your resources doing something that matters to real individual persons. It’s as simple as that.
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