Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How can I do more?

For a long time now, I have had this nagging feeling, something that is pulling at me to do more. This isn't about fulfilling any particular goals for myself but rather to do something to help others. It's a need that I've felt on almost a daily basis for years now, but sadly, I've never really acted on those feelings and done anything significant to help other people.

In truth, my husband and I are pretty darn lame when it comes to charitable works for our fellow man. This is something I feel very guilty about. I'm Catholic, but it's not a Catholic guilt kind of thing. I guess I simply feel that I've been very fortunate for my entire life, and I firmly believe that those who are more fortunate should help those who aren't. I know that the world is teeming with people who face life struggles every day. For me, it's been easy street. I was born to loving parents whose feet were firmly planted in the American middle class, a place of stability and prosperity; my brother and I never wanted for much during our youth. We were offered wonderful opportunities for education. I attended a private high school and small private college, was even able to study abroad for a year in Germany. Later on, after I became a high school teacher, I attended a grad school program that took place during my summer vacations over a period of several years in Austria.

Now don't get me wrong. By no means am I attempting to brag by sharing all of that with you. I'm simply illustrating that, in many ways, I feel I have lived a charmed life in comparison to the challenges people around the globe face, often times for basic needs such as food and clean water. This bothers me. But I've never been brave enough, or simply just expended the energy, to take the steps necessary to do something about it.

A couple of months ago, I was watching one of my favorite TV shows: Bill Maher's Real Time. One of Maher's guests was Peter Singer, author of the new book, The Life You Can Save. I must confess that I haven't read this book yet, but I find it intriguing and plan to do so. I thought I'd share what I know about it with you. Singer is a long time writer and researcher about world poverty. In the early 70s, he wrote an essay about the topic and this book is a response to the critics of that essay. Singer calls us to action to bring about an end to world poverty and essentially makes the cause a moral issue. He cites the following example: If you were walking by a river and saw a child drowning in it, and all you had to do was jump in and grab the child to save her, you'd do it. If you would see a child in distress like that, your gut reaction would be to do what you could to rescue that child. Doing anything less, simply standing by and watching the child die, would be morally reprehensible. Singer compares this situation to world poverty. If you would see a child dying from starvation, wouldn't you do whatever you could to save that child? The fact of the matter is, we don't. We all know for a fact that people around the world are dying from hunger and preventable diseases due to poverty every day, yet many of us, including myself, do nothing about it, even though we are financially stable and spend money on things that are really fully unnecessary. Singer says that this is morally wrong. For those of us who live in affluent societies, it is easy to simply look the other way, to go on living our daily lives and take care of our own. He states that we do help others when trouble is at our doorstep. For example, Singer cites that after Hurricane Katrina, when we all saw the horrifying pictures of the residents of New Orleans suffering so terribly, many of us donated to relief organizations for that disaster. (My husband and I, in fact, donated to the Red Cross.) However, when it is a world away and so far removed from our own daily lives, we are not so quick to give. Singer goes on to suggest how much to give without greatly sacrificing one's own financial well being.

Peter Singer's book is truly a calling, a challenge. I, for one, intend to read the book and hope to live up to his challenge. Perhaps you would like to do the same. Visit his website at www.thelifeyoucansave.com for more information.

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