Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Much Is Given, Much Is Required

In an earlier posting, I wrote about the paradoxes of humanitarian effort and individual identity in a wonderfully cathartic, deliberately ironic, and ever-so-slightly snarky post designed to assuage my own disgruntled inner diva.

It worked, by the way.

The moral of the story: never, ever piss off a writer.  At the time, she may just sit quietly and take it, but really, she's collecting material.

And trust me, she will write it up.

One of my favorite descriptions of the problem of humanitarianism occurs in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.  Early in the novel, Dostoevsky describes a man who is a great humanitarian: he "loves people in the abstract" but can't stand to be in the same room with another person for very long.

Face it, we're all a lot more lovable in the abstract.  Some of us maybe more so than others.

This is what I questioned in my earlier post: to what extent should humanitarians be expected to be self-conscious about their own shortcomings?  If people are doing good in the abstract, does it matter if they're sometimes--or often--not very nice to the people around them?

Really, who is it that makes up the "humanity" of the humanitarian? Is it just an abstract concept or is it meant to refer to actual, flesh-and-blood people?

Ideally, it should be both, I think.

Maybe it's just me, but when I watch and hear advocates for alleged improvements to our lives and our world seize the bully pulpit and rip into everyone around them, I can't help but think, "Wow.  Really?  You're here to help?  Then why am I suddenly so frightened?"

Not that humanitarians don't have a good reason to be angry.  I mean, really, look around.  But personally, my penchant is for people who engage in quiet, unadvertised acts of kindness and altruism on a day-to-day basis, regardless of whether the scale is personal, local, national or global.

The people who do the most good are often the ones you hear talking about it the least.  And in some ways, that's a good thing.  My mom used to call it "modesty," and she insisted it was a virtue.

Maybe we need more of that kind of virtue out there too, mixed in with our humanitarian efforts.  Hey, it can't hurt.

Anyway, I thought that I'd use this post to identify some of the causes I find compelling.  'Tis the season, after all.

While wasting time on the Internet (aka "doing research") one day, I stumbled upon GoodSearch.  For every web search you conduct, GoodSearch "donates 50 percent of its sponsored search revenue to the charities and schools designated by its users."  (The revenue is generated by advertising.)

So finally, here's a way to put all of the ads for unnecessary consumer crap out there to good use, while procrastinating.  Who could ask for more?

If you're still worried about how much crap you buy, you could take a look at one of my favorite blogs by The Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  I'm an avid knitter and she has a wicked sense of humor, but she also has a strong sense of social purpose.  She started "Knitters Without Borders"--an effort designed to raise money for "Doctors Without Borders."

Basically, she suggests that, over the course of a week, you think about whether what you're about to purchase is a "want" or a "need."  Buy only what you need, and donate the money you would have spent on "wants" that week to Doctors Without Borders.

Doctors Without Borders also works alongside Partners In Health, an organization founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, who is the subject of Tracy Kidder's book, Mountains Beyond Mountains (mentioned in my "Crazy, Sexy, Cool" post). 

Because I'm a knitter and I'm always knitting anyway, I like to give my many afghans to an organization called Project Linus.  Project Linus collects handmade blankets and quilts made by donors and distributes them to shelters, hospitals, and social service agencies for children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need.  They also have sales, so if you can't make a blanket, you can always buy one at a Project Linus event and the proceeds will go to help the organization.

Because of my own personal experiences over the past four years, I've become a staunch proponent of continued and increased funding for and awareness about hospice care in the U.S..  The Hospice Action Network is a good place to go for updates about health care reform that impacts hospice funding.  Hospice care costs a fraction of what end-of-life hospitalizations cost.

I'll offer my own experience as an example: two months of hospice care for my dad, covered almost entirely by Medicare, cost less than $10,000.  The week-long hospital stay for my mom prior to her death, also covered almost entirely by Medicare, cost well over $50,000.   Hospice care is humanitarianism at its best.  The fact that it is also cost-effective is simply a bonus.

Finally, a blog that a friend of mine called my attention to: "The Year of Mud: Cob and Natural Building."  You may have seen Mike Rowe work on building a cob house on an episode of Dirty Jobs.  In this blog, Brian "Ziggy" Liloia chronicles the process of building his own cob house as part of his involvement in Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage.

The title of this post is taken from Luke 12:48.  The verse concludes, "from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."