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Saturday, May 16, 2009

"The Life You Can Save"

I read the book "The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer. Once I got past the first part ("The Argument") it was a pretty quick read. There's so much in such a little book! I think it would be a wonderful book for a book group, or for a church discussion circle.

He makes a strong case that if you feel a moral obligation to save a child drowning in front of you, you should feel that same obligation to a child you know is dying but isn't in your sight. If you are willing to risk your own life to save the life of a child in front of you, shouldn't you be willing to give of your money up to the point it would risk your own well being?

Then he talks about why people don't give; how giving locally doesn't have an impact on international poverty, why we should care, how/why governmental giving isn't affective, and lots more.

He addresses the concern about where to give, what is affective, and how to evaluate NGOs. One site he mentions to help with that evaluation is Give Well. Another point he makes is that micro-lending, or Grameen lending, has shown itself to be very affective as well as self sustaining.

Using this information he then gets realistic about giving to charity and makes a much more modest suggestion than his first (give 'till it hurts) for charitable giving that if done even by a small fraction of the U.S. population would have a huge impact. His suggestion is in the form of The Pledge, which he suggests be a public document since knowing that others give charitably seems to increase giving.

Following links, the way I do when I should be doing something useful (you know, like fold the 5 baskets of laundry on my couch) I found some more interesting links. Check out Bolder Giving, Art Rising, and More than Money.

All in all lots of food for thought. I'll leave you with one that has stuck with me "The next time you drink bottled water, when you could be drinking tap water for pennies, know that you are living a lifestyle that could easily support charitable giving."


Shawn Walter said...

I agree that we have a lot of extras in our society. I mean really, how much in our lives is superfluous? DVD player, computer, even shelves full of books - and that's just a quick start. I often wrestle with the excess that is considered normal.

I don't, however, think I could read this. It just hits me too hard on an emotional level to read (or hear) about the lives so many live. Same reason I can't watch the news. I know there is more I can do, but to hear about it and make myself emotionally depressed (seriously depressed, not just saying "depressed" when really I mean sad) is not the right way.

Now, of course, that's just me. I'm not complaining, just discussing :) I'm sure it's a wonderful book. It's something I wish I could read, but I know that I can't.

Kerri South said...

Computers are NOT superfluous! :)

April said...

I agree with both of you, Shawn and Kerri.

I don't watch TV news, or closely follow the war and famine stories. Even with my brother back from Iraq, I honestly can't function well if I get too much of that.

There are "extras" that really make a difference in my life and I'm not willing to give them up. I'm also not willing to give up many of the material comforts I enjoy, but could more easily do without. I think that's why the first part of the book was a very hard read for me. Shudder... too hard to deal with the truth of others pain and suffering, not wanting to think about it, and not wanting to feel so guilty for how wonderful my life is. (We're already giving at the level he suggests, so I imagine it could feel worse for someone who didn't give at all to charity)

Where the book got really interesting was after that, when he discussed why people give or don't give and what influences them. Later he talks about what it takes to save a life or change a life for the better. That read like good news to me. It's not really that much. It's DO-ABLE!

His compromise recommendation is 1% of income to charity for those who make up to 100,000. Really not very much, yet if channeled in the right direction it could make a world of difference for many. Many of the people I know already donate at the level he recommends, they just don't direct it in the way he recommends. (And I'm not saying that I completely agree with him. There's a lot of room for discussion here.)

This is a case where if you were interested in the premise I would recommend picking and choosing chapters to read and letting the rest go. There are some people who are so empathetic, or in a place in their lives, that the first section would be traumatic to read. I'm quite sure that the author would rather those readers skip that and get to the other stuff he covers.