Making A Difference Goes Way Beyond Awareness

Do you ever become annoyed by those commercials that show images of starving children or abused pets and ask you to send donations? They may send meals to those starving children, but they’re also not-so-subtly saying, “We need to get this TV commercial paid for. Please help.” They expect you to pay for purely raising awareness about starving kids and abused pets when you would prefer that the money just go directly to actually helping them.

It’s really not that awareness is all bad. It’s just that awareness means nothing without actionable solutions. You can tell people to use condoms to cut down on the spread of STDs, but that means nothing in parts of the world where people don’t have easy access to condoms. If you hand out free condoms while educating people about why they’re needed, though, you’re actively doing something to help prevent STDs. (And yes, abstinence is the only solution that is 100% effective, but we’re talking about practical solutions that don’t involve forcibly castrating people here.) Finding a solution that take into account the fact that sometimes people are unable or unwilling to participate in those solutions on their own is a more cost-effective way to do things than raising awareness alone.

People are actually pretty good at finding ways to solve a problem once they get past the idea of, “I’m just one person; what kind of difference can I make?” One person offers a homeless man his choice of $100 or a month’s worth of coding lessons and, last I heard, the homeless man had made a ride sharing app. A Sunday school class at a small country church raises $93 for the Wounded Warrior Project by making cute little crafts to sell. A man spends his early mornings walking along the beach, throwing starfish back into the ocean. When asked why he did that when there are many starfish on a lot of beaches around the world, he shrugs, throws another starfish and says, “I made a difference to that one.” It reaches the point where there are no excuses for people to not make a difference if they can.

You don’t do it by demonizing people or making excuses. You might hear about how less than 100 people control as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. That’s more money than any one person could reasonably expect to spend on himself or herself in a single lifetime. However, the fact that they have so much money does not necessarily mean they’re evil. Some of them could have adopted three or four dogs from a local animal shelter and made anonymous Bitcoin donations to The Water Project for all I know. These are people who made the current system work for them and, you can talk all you want about how it’s unfair that they control so much wealth, but that won’t convince them to give up some of their fortunes to help the less fortunate whom they perceive as having never done anything for them.

This means that we need to make helping the less fortunate a win-win situation. Trickle-down economics might not work, but the idea that you can pay some random freelancer to take care of those little time-consuming tasks for you could make a difference. My joking about every Trekker’s favorite capitalist saying, “Earning money – and spending money!” has a serious element. An owner of an Etsy shop once paid me to create a page on a website that no longer exists that featured some of her products. I promptly turned around and used that money to buy a couple of items in her shop to give as Christmas gifts, and I’m sure she thought it was a total coincidence that she made back her investment so quickly. That’s an example of the kind of feedback loop that can be created when you open up new markets in which locals can sell their wares to the international community and then use the money they earn to buy products they might have wanted or needed but just couldn’t obtain because everybody thought there wasn’t a market for them in their particular region.

People are actually working on this. A friend of mine is working on a new thing he calls One World (website in progress) with the intention of actually making a difference and I made a few suggestions, including a market that anyone can participate in even if they don’t have convenient access to traditional financial services. It’s doable with cryptocurrencies that don’t really need any kind of third party service to work. Sometimes organizations like Greater Good get a little creative with ideas like solar lanterns for people without electricity. This goes way beyond paying for commercials that show pictures of starving children. It’s about being effective when you go out to make a difference.

Practical Ways To Make A Difference

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