According to philosopher and godfather of the animal liberation movement, Peter Singer, we should balance empathy with reason to ensure that we behave altruistically while maximizing the good that we do. “Effective altruism,” as it is known, begins with answering the question, “how can we use our resources to help others the most?”
In his 2013 Ted Talk, Singer talked about how we each spend money on things that we don’t need, for example, buying bottled water when we have access to reasonably safe water from the tap. So, it’s important to begin by thinking about how we spend money and how we could spend more wisely.
With reference to how we actively help others, Singer suggests donating money to charities that we know will have a tangible impact on their cause, thereby enabling the primary objective of effective altruism; to ensure that any acts of kindness, compassion, and charitable endeavor benefit the intended cause or recipient in the greatest way possible.
Effective altruism is a growing movement and teaches us that we must be mindful of others, regardless of race, culture, religion, or species. We all experience emotions and feelings of happiness, fear, love, loss, and so on, and as such should be accorded basic levels of respect and the right to live our lives safely and with access to basic needs like shelter and food.
There are four questions commonly asked about effective altruism…
How much difference can I actually make?
Toby Ord, a research fellow at the University of Oxford and founder of effective altruist organization, Giving What We Can, began his work by exploring the ethics of global health and global poverty, discovering that aid has been very successful, in general, but has the potential to be even more successful if we improve our priority setting using reason and evidence to effectively help others. This strategy of priority setting shouldn’t just be the concern of world leaders, global influencers, and philanthropists, each of us can easily adopt it a tiny level in our everyday lives.
Am I expected to give up my career?
Will Crouch, a graduate student, set up a website called 80,000 Hours, the number of hours estimated that people spend on their career. Crouch surprisingly encourages people to go into banking or finance on the understanding that if you earn a lot of money you can give away a lot of money. I agree with this strategy to a point and it suits some people, but personally, I think perhaps embracing a career based on a triple bottom line approach to work and business is the way forward, whereby there is an equal focus on people, planet, and profit and which ultimately means that we can each be successful whilst helping others, empowering economies, and ensuring a sustainable future for the environment.
Isn’t charity bureaucratic and ineffective?
Some charities are much more effective than others and it’s important to choose wisely as to who to Support. I think it’s crucial to look at the bigger picture; for example, I won’t give to charities that are involved in research using animals, based on the thinking that it’s not only immoral to use sentient beings for the benefit of another species — setting aside the scientific evidence that suggests testing drugs, for example, on rats that are intended for human use, is completely ineffective — but surely funding would be better spent on root causes, for example, preventing diseases like cancer and encouraging better lifestyles e.g. plant-based diets.
Isn’t it a burden to give up so much?
Altruism, particularly being involved in effective altruism is scientifically proven to have a very positive impact on our mental health and our lives. Being involved in the drudgery of day to day life — the Groundhog Day approach to living — traps us into a life of unhappy consumerism. Effective altruism, on the other hand, has a positive impact not only on the animals and people who we help through donations and volunteer work, it positively impacts our health and has a knock-on effect encouraging others to help too.
So to Get You Started, Below are 5 Simple Things That You Can Embrace in Your Everyday Life:
Be kind to all
Meaning be kind to all species and ensure that the way in which you are living your life — the products you are consuming, the way you travel around, the clothes you wear — isn’t harming anyone in the process.
Truly live an ethical life
As Singer says, it’s not enough to just follow a moral code, for example, thou shalt not steal, cheat, kill; we must actively share what we have and help others who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Give a little
Work out your monthly budget — what you need to live and what you can afford to Donate. Quick note; I think it’s important to save a little just in case of the unexpected things life throws at us from time to time. Then, do a little research to choose your charity and ensure that you are giving wisely.
Do what you enjoy and are good at
It’s so important to find your true purpose and to also work out what your strengths are. That way, you can live a fulfilled, secure, and triple bottom line life whilst maximizing the potential to really help others. Some people become concerned about the pursuit of their own success; however, the more successful we become, the more we can Donate, use our time to volunteer, or influence policy, as well as other people, to embrace an ethical life.
While doing your bit, always applaud the efforts of others. We all need a little praise from time to time and whilst I don’t advocate boasting and bragging, we can encourage each other, be positively influenced by our joint efforts, and begin to create a better world.
A useful resource is the Give Well website which offers advice, research, and guidance as to which charities are the most effective to Donate to or volunteer with. With regards to animal charities take a look at Animal Charity Evaluators.
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Thanks for this nice piece. You might want to note that Peter Singer has his own organization that recommends a list of charities that do proven, highly effective work addressing global extreme poverty: The Life You Can Save (named after Singer\’s book of the same title) thelifeyoucansave.org
I try to economize to give too. as I am also on a fixed income. I also feed neighborhood displaced wildlife and volunteer at a shelter, but I need to do volunteer more hours while I still can. I agree, you do not have to be wealthy to lead an ethical compassionate life.
With a dog and two cats, I\’ve got my hands full — especially what with living on a "fixed income" (it\’s fixed, all right; it\’s fixed so far below the actual poverty level, it isn\’t even funny.) So I do the only other thing I can: go to the Animal Rescue Site and sign up for their daily notices. Ya click on a purple button every day, and this (somehow) helps to feed animals in shelters. It\’s the first thing I do every morning.