September 17, 2013

You are the only one who can save the world

A sarin gas attack in Syria. A mass shooting at a Navy base in Washington D.C. Flooding in Colorado. Landslides and tornadoes in Japan. A volcano erupting in Sumatra. As hard as it might be to believe, these are not uncommon incidents. Our world is a geologic cauldron set to a low boil. Deep beneath the surface the core is constantly bubbling and shifting about. The sun and moon pull and tug at the Earth constantly, causing even more turmoil and stress. There is no place on Earth that is truly stable. "Stability", "safety", "continuity", these are all illusions that shift into and out of focus depending on the time frame of the viewer. In a similar manner, human history is a long parade of abuse, violence, corruption, environmental destruction, and mass slaughter of innocents in the name of God, the King, the Children, or resources. There is no such thing as a "golden past" where everyone lived in peace, security, and plenty. It has never existed and it never will exist. The forces that tug and pull at the Earth are truly cosmic in their scope and power. No human society will ever have the technology to counteract the force of gravity on a scale large enough to bring the kind of geologic utopia so many people believe is possible. It simply will not happen. Unfortunately, it is largely due to the simple physics of geologic and meteorologic cataclysm that human individuals and societies will always find excuses to go to war with one another in a vain, useless attempt to secure for themselves the resources necessary to meet their physical and emotional needs.

It does not matter how big the government is, how many rich people the politicians confiscate the wealth from, or how many services politicians promise to provide. There will always be somebody wealthier than you are and there will always be somebody more impoverished than you are. Life is hard, often arbitrary, and sooner or later everyone dies. I have lived my entire life puzzled by the inability of so many people to accept the simple reality of our unstable, unpredictable, dangerous world. To entertain for even a moment that life could be safe, peaceful, and filled with material wealth for every person on Earth is delusional. It is neither idealistic nor generous to entertain the notion that with the right tax burden, the right government program, the right charity, or the right educational system, every person on Earth can live in love, peace, and happiness. This kind of thinking is neither wistful nor wishful. It is simply delusional, or at the very best, pure fantasy. The idea of utopia is pure imagination. It can never exist in the real world.

That does not mean it is hopeless. You, and you alone, have the power to make a difference. Don't imagine you have to start a civil war, found a great charity, or launch a massive political campaign in order to make the world a better place. The simple fact of the matter is, these are all pointless delusions. No matter how successful you become in any grand scheme to build a better world it will never be enough. All it will take is one volcano, one meteor, one big winter storm, one mass shooting, a local uprising, or even just a simple terrorist plot, and all the good you accomplished will be completely erased. A heart attack, an aneurysm, a mugger with a knife, or a single bite of contaminated food can end your life so quickly you will not have time to realize you are dying. Despite all the evil in the world, there is something you can do. If you make a habit of it then eventually things will improve for everyone around you, and for you as well. Perhaps only for a day, a week, or a year, but for a brief moment you can taste utopia. Just don't expect it to be permanent or long-lasting.

The one thing you can do to make the world a better place is learn to be personally generous. I am not suggesting you give up your worldly wealth or sacrifice your quality of life. Nor am I suggesting you give money to every grifter and panhandler who crosses your path. In fact, I would strongly suggest you never give money to people begging in the street. Never. Not a penny. Not a dime. I would also strongly suggest you stop giving money to your local church, to your favorite television evangelist, or to major international charities. Let's face it. The simple reality of the matter is the largest portion of the money you give to panhandlers, preachers, and charities goes straight into the pocket of the person begging for it. Panhandlers spend their money on drugs and alcohol, preachers and charities on their own personal needs or on their personnel. If you do your homework, insist on accountability, demand to see the books, and keep looking until you find the right place, then if you are very lucky you will find a place where twenty to twenty-five percent of your donation actually goes to the people who cannot live without it.

Instead, take a small portion of your income, ten or fifteen percent, and put it into a special account that you never use for your own needs, your own investments, or your own life. Then, open your eyes and look around you. Somewhere close to you there is a single mother struggling to feed her child on the income from a part time job. In your town or in a nearby city there will be a shelter for battered women and another for the homeless. There might even be a free clinic where local doctors and nurses donate their time a couple days a week. This is where you practice generosity. Locally. Right in your hometown, or perhaps the city down the road. Take a single parent who lives on your street grocery shopping or maybe fill the gas tank of an elderly neighbor living on Social Security. Somewhere very close to you is someone who is lonely and in need.

Don't waste your time and money on the bitter, the angry, or the parasites who have lived on government aid for multiple generations. Focus your efforts on those people and places that are trying to improve their lives, on people and institutions that emphasize hard work and sobriety. Yes, sobriety is important. It does no good to lift someone from the depths of addiction only to have them run straight back into it the moment they encounter difficulty. You won't need to bang on doors or ask humiliating questions. Just keep your eyes open and meet those needs you can the moment you encounter them. Live generously, not with some weird global guilt complex, but locally, among your neighbors, both those you are friends with and those who are strangers. Be prepared for disappointment. No matter how careful you are, there will be many who abuse your generosity. Learn who they are and avoid helping them repeatedly. The world is filled with parasites large and small. The goal of a generous life is to avoid the parasites and aid those who can transform your small gift into something life changing.

There are many lessons to be learned from the video below. The most important is not that if you help others eventually they will return the favor. The most important lesson to learn from this video is that you and you alone have the power to make the world a better place. Stop depending on governments and international charities. It's your little corner of the world! Start taking better care of it, especially if no one steps up to help you