How do you alleviate suffering on a local and global scale?
How do improve conditions – security, living standards, health care, education, economy – in your country and in other countries?
A fundamental principle of human society is our responsibility to our fellow man – to aid, collaborate and generally work together for the betterment of society at large. We’re hardwired – genetically or socially, that’s up to you – to make things better for ourselves and for the people around us.
There are two ways we do this:
One is by supporting and contributing to the most prominent causes and issues in front of you. Considering that our day to day consumption of information is largely governed by the media, this means that whatever story sells comes in front of you looking for your attention. It’s a great way to solve pressing, immediate social problems – war, famine, political unstability – but it does very little for highlighting the core structural problems afflicting society that aren’t ‘sexy’ enough to be headlined by mainstream media.
In some cases – in large-scale catastrophes especially – your help will do a world of good, and there are times when the people of the world must rise beyond personal gains and help those in need.
In most cases though – getting whipped into a frenzy by politicians to ‘save your country’ every couple of years or donating money to help Palestine (touchy one, that) or skipping coffee today to feed a child in Africa – the impact is short-term, impermanent and does little more than help you feel good about yourself.
If that’s charity for you, hey, good for you. But if that bothers you – if the lack of real, long-lasting change bothers you – then there’s another way to help people.
The second way is to start from yourself – and grow from that point outwards to your family and beyond directly in proportion to your means to help people. From helping yourself, to helping your family, to helping your extended family and friends, to helping your neighbourhood and your co-workers, to helping people you employ, to helping your city, to help your province / state and so on, until you’re lucky enough to be in the position to make a positive impact on the whole country and in other countries.
But start at the foundations – as a matter of habit, start from the bottom and work to the top – for most people that is the best way they can fulfil their social responsibility and get mileage out of their charity.
And if everyone, everywhere, decides to strengthen their social network by investing time and money in it, if everyone helps those around them, if every single person were to turn to the person next to them and help them, it would do something subtler and far grander than an aid package sent to Africa – it will develop, across all societies, a practice of helping one another to the extent that it will spillover across societies and you will have a worldwide, grassroots impetus to solve problems on a communal level instead of waiting for outside aid to come in.
Of course there will be exceptions – people who dedicate their lives to helping others, or people who find a way to create big changes in the world around them beyond their immediate means . If you have the chance, or the dedication (or the means), to be an exception, I salute you.
For the rest of us, what we give, and who we help, closer to home is of more long-term value than what we give to those in lands far away.