AGAWU: It could be great

So here’s the thing: there are a lot of problems in the world. Like, a million big scary problems. And I have read a million and one (very well-written) pleas to the best and brightest in our generation to answer the call and attend to the world’s hurts. I know very few who are arguing that the world is actually best served by incentivizing investments in male pattern baldness and iPhone apps to find hookup partners instead of eradicating malaria. Even so, it sometimes feels as though we are constantly being asked to choose between being good and virtuous and caring — a life of public service — and leading a “normal” life. But why can’t a normal life include a fair bit of being good and virtuous and caring?

But just because it’s scary to care, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t even try. It doesn’t all have to be so overwhelming, it’s not all or nothing.

Some issues are more terrifying than others — not all problems are created equal. There’s a scale of how depressing and complicated everything is. Syria? That’s complicated. The dangers of religious extremism and spread of global terrorism? Pretty messy. Reforming public education in this country? Where do we even begin. But our mistake is assuming that all the problems in the world are equally headache-inducing. If you want to feel less overwhelmed, read about the incredible social and economic effects of making contraception widely available to poor women, or look at how crops fortified with Vitamin A can prevent blindness.

There’s a long list of serious issues with tangible solutions, and if we don’t get to them, then maybe the older generation will be right about us after all.

My dad loves to grumble about our generation and our lack of values, our inability to communicate outside of Facebook and our obsession with self-image. And underneath his complaints is a serious concern that we’re pretty much screwed. I think he’s dead wrong. With all the kind, passionate and hardworking people I have the pleasure of knowing, I’m sincerely optimistic about the ability of young minds and spirits to haul us out of trouble and vault the world into safety, just in time.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have a backup plan. Even if we tap into all this potential, saving the world might be kind of a close shave. And with such high stakes, why not build a bigger army to fight the world’s fight?

Maybe you’ve heard those stats about how doable it would be to put a huge dent in global poverty. Maybe you are convinced that a malaria-free or largely hunger-free world is within our grasp. Maybe something is stopping you from deciding to give money in the sustained manner that effects real change. Haven’t we had enough of pretending to be held captive by the thought, “well, how can I get the most bang for my philanthropic buck?” Or, “I’d give, but where’s my guarantee that this is the absolute best use of my time or money? What if — what if! — there’s a better charity out there? I’d better not risk it.”

Don’t you see the problem? There’s a missing link, an intellectual disconnect here. Putting aside for one moment the spending we do on things we won’t remember we paid for in a month, we often forget to employ this impossibly high standard of cost-effectiveness in our lives. In fact, we’ve made it all overwhelming again.

You try a new restaurant and pay for an entrée — it could be great, it could be so-so, it could be terrible. You buy a new album on iTunes — it could be great, it could be so-so, it could be terrible.

You give blood at a Red Cross drive.

You donate $20 to World Vision.

You spend the summer after graduation tutoring middle-schoolers.

It could be great, or it could be great.

Look, it’s not particularly helpful or fair to try to guilt ourselves out of certain lifestyle habits, so let’s just introduce some new ones. If you need a place to start, check out givewell.org. Start small and form the habit. It’s not all or nothing here.

Emefa Agawu is a junior in Silliman College. Contact her at emefa.agawu@yale.edu.

 

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