I have some advanced version of a nasty cold: bronchitis at best (pneumonia at worst) so I have been in bed mostly. Thinking.
Have you all read this post from Justine? Newtown and the holidays have made me think a lot about work that can be done to help others. I’ve been attached to various causes my whole life (helping animals when I was young: I worked at the local Humane Society as a pre-teen) and I’ve helped with various charities over the years, sitting on the board of one for a while, and working full-time for a non-profit. I’ve worked on political campaigns and for politicians as an intern for a political consultant throughout college. He worked mostly for the underdog. (And frequently lost.)
A lot of my pursuits were fruitless. Maybe (MAYBE) a few more animals were adopted because of my efforts. (Mostly to my own family! We had a zoo growing up basically.)
When the kids were born, I didn’t have much time to devote to altruism anymore: we gave money as a family where we could on a pretty limited budget. The community we live in is heavy on volunteering for things that are in my mind, not essential. They are mostly raising money and volunteering to promote even more services for children that are already pretty privileged. That’s how I feel, but the truth is I don’t have the time to volunteer for these causes even if I wanted to. My husband works crazy hours, so I hold down this fort alone without help. Faces of ALI has done some educational work, it seems, so there’s that.
There are other ways to do good. You can live a life true to your beliefs as a vegan or vegetarian. (Something I’ve tried but it turns out I can’t be a vegetarian for various health reasons that would bore you but mostly have to do with extreme anemia and an intolerance for a lot of vegetables and iron medication.) You can live a life as a self-sustaining homesteader, like Soulemama. (If you go over there, I warn you: you might be there for hours. She’s a fantastic blogger/photographer.)
I live a life of trying to “do the best I can.” I compost, I recycle, I grow some of my own food. I really limit the amount of landfill we produce. I buy local and organic when I can. I try to smile and say hi to people. I tip heavily. I try to foster community here at this site. I try to comment on blogs of others when they are struggling and when they are rejoicing. I stand up to bullies when I need to. I try to raise my kids to be kind, responsible children who question things that are unfair.
Then something like Newtown happens and I feel like there’s NOTHING I can do that will matter.
I watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” this year, as I do every Christmas Eve. Each time I view it there’s a different issue that speaks to me and this year it was George’s spectacular burnout from doing too much for the good of Bedford Falls. I found an AV Club article called “It’s a Wonderful Life Shows the Unending Cost of Being Good” which discusses this topic in detail.
From the article about the famous ending where George Bailey’s friends and family raise the debt he owes:
“The money won’t last. It’ll cover the debt, and the Baileys will go right back to being broke. At best, George will just stay out of jail. The memory of his reverie will fade in time, as all memories must, eroded by the passage of life itself. There will always be Mr. Potter, there to take advantage of every moment of goodness and perceive it as a weakness, just as George Bailey will always stare out the window at the snow-capped roofs of Bedford Falls and wonder what’s out there beyond the world he can see. He’ll never fix the banister, and the house will always be drafty, and Mary will always love him. He will be good, because he must be good. And maybe that will be enough.”
This explanation speaks to me.
In the end, I keep coming back to Justine’s theory. I like the idea of altruism partnered with action.
What do you think? What altruistic acts to you perform? Do you think they make a difference?