I’m an optimist. I have every reason to be. I’ve had an extremely fortunate upbringing. My parents are no longer together, but we certainly didn’t go without love. We were unaffected by conflict or poverty, I grew up without fear of being stolen and took every opportunity to explore the world around us. Life was good.
Life is still good. Be it for better or worse, we now live in a world where we are always intimately connected with each other and that information can either empower us or break us down. I believe in the former.
If I look around me today, I see many people who have been as lucky as I have. They’ve not experienced conflict or poverty and don’t know what it is to really struggle. It is easy to take this good fortune for granted. It is easy to forget the struggles that others around us might have faced. We have been lucky in this country.
The lucky Australian’s who grew up in the late 70’s, 80’s or 90’s are unaccustomed to having to fight for anything. We have been exposed to the struggles of the stolen generation, the Cold War, even the War on Terror after 911, but unless your circumstances were extremely unfortunate, much of the impact of those events was absorbed by our parents, our grandparents or our politicians.
Over my thirty-something years in this area, the community in which I live has become vastly more diverse and Logan is now home to 217 different ethnicities. That diversity has crept up on me. These are people who may have come from places where there is conflict, who might have seen their family struggle and so came to the lucky country to live. Our exceeding fortune has meant that we don’t know how to connect with them. Our fortune has bred apathy.
What is the opposite of apathy? Enthusiasm.
With the rise of social media however, I believe we can overpower this apathy. It is clear, even as the crisis in Syria and countries like it become clearer, despite our government’s out of sight, out of mind policy making, or perhaps because of it, more and more people are becoming inspired to seek change. They just don’t know how to do it.
As I sat in the theatre in the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this last August, listening to Ben Eltham and Andie Fox talk about feminist economics and the social and economic cost of valuing productivity (as raised in Dennis Glover’s book), I saw everyone nodding in agreement. Australia is heading in the wrong direction. But it became painfully clear how lucky we have all been when someone raised their hand and asked: “What can I do to inspire the change we want to see?”
There is a lot you can do.
The first thing you can do is care. Sounds easy? The chances are that if you care, someone else will too. So caring inspires conversation, conversation breeds awareness, which in turn inspires enthusiasm and action. On a local level awareness and action is important and we are pretty well protected here, in our lounge rooms, behind our smart phone and computer screens.
So we should reach out. Start a dialogue with your local politicians or community care centres. Find out what you can do to help.
“We are responsible not only for what we do but also, for what we could have prevented.” – Peter Singer
Why stop there? If our aim is to do some good, what if we can do it both locally and globally?
The effective altruism movement, inspired by the likes of philosopher, Peter Singer and philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates is growing in momentum. An idea that if we are to do the MOST good, we really ought to look into the ways in which our contribution can be the most effective.
This is the part of altruism that most of us overlook when we decide it is time to take action and give. How do we turn our enthusiasm into something that will make a difference? Effective altruism concentrates on measuring the good you can do and making the end result the main reason for doing something. It makes the motivation for altruism reason, rather than emotion and argues that putting in the effort locally can often be less measurable. Peter Singer discusses Toby Ord’s argument about getting more out of your giving:
“You may have received appeals for donations from charities in affluent countries that provide blind people with guide dogs. That sounds like a cause worthy of support – until you consider the costs and the alternatives to which you could donate. It costs about $40000 to supply one person in the US with a guide dog…but the cost of preventing someone from going blind because of trachoma, the most common cause of preventable blindness, is in the range of $20-$100. If you do the math, you will see the choice we face is to provide one person with a guide dog or prevent anywhere between four hundred and two thousand cases of blindness in developing countries.”
“Love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills.” Leo Tolstoy
It is clear that researching the most effective way to give or take action, would have more impact than giving motivated purely from empathy. In the same way giving to help preventative medicine to deter blindness is more effective, Peter argues effective altruists should always seek to help developing countries first, rather than more affluent nations because your dollar will always go further.
Whichever way you look at it, apathy is our enemy.
We believe the arts and culture to be the best tool to engage our local community and inspire them into action. This action might take the form of community involvement, but it also might inspire someone to do more. An important question we must remember is: How do we measure how effective, how powerful it really is?
At the recent Creating Wellness forum, Tony Anderton, director of Art from the Margins highlighted, “the social benefits of community art programs go beyond the individual. The impact is not just felt by the artists themselves, but by their carers and the greater community.” This initiative encourages people from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether it be mental illness or social isolation to create art in a safe environment. The good they are doing here is tangible.
But what about the average person who is not the creator but the consumer of such art and culture? One of the main things we aim to achieve is to pry open that idea. Get the average person just a little more involved and begin to measure how much good we can do.
Being one of the lucky ones has made me realise that it is up to me to take action for those who haven’t been so lucky. If there has been an organisation that you felt has helped you or someone you know, please comment below. We’ll compare the best and try to help them any way we can. Let’s show people what living in this lucky country really means.