Effective altruism

shutterstock_258910892_Effectve altruism

Text: Anna Siódmak

You can send a text message, click a link on a website, buy a t-shirt or pour a bucket full of cold water on yourself, all of the above are forms of donating money to a charity. That is how helping people of 20th century looks like. What is crucial here is our energy, zeal and creativity. The question is if all contemporary forms of aid are effective? Do we help those really in need? Questions like these bother world activists. So let’s take a look at what is called effective altruism.

Saving lives or monuments?

One of the main rules of the effective altruism is helping people to live. As one of the activists, Peter Singer says „We save monuments and works of art with money that is enough to save the eyesight of hundreds of children in the Third World countries. Does that mean that we must forget about cultural heritage? Singer tries to show us a new trend amongst the new rich who look for ways to show off their grand gestures. That is why they choose to preserve works of art, monuments or cultural institutions. Such thinking is very different from the effective altruism philosophy. Singer encourages everyone, not only the rich, to think how you spend your money. Because the cost wasting your money without thinking about it, can be equal to the amount of money that could save children suffering from, let’s say, malaria.

Motivation and common sense

The biggest benefactors in the whole world try to answer the question “How my help will actually change the world?” before they start to help others. One of the effective altruism organizations, The Givewell, says that the most popular motivation to help organizations is actually being interested in its work. We love dogs and cats so we support shelters. We are into nature so we support ecological organizations etc. Our help is connected with our emotions but effective altruism is also linked with the common sense and sometimes also with calculation – Do I really help those in need?

When we deal with an unreliable organization, the altruism is not effective. Altruists have their own organization ranking. They check how these organizations are managed. What’s more, they speak about these organizations in public. In Poland we also have a lot of scandals with foundation money being wasted. Perhaps we should make a similar list to the one made by effective altruist?

Helping doesn’t always mean donating money

The most effective help is the one that we offer the people we care about or sometimes just passers-by. Thus,helping is not only about donating money, sometimes it is just a simple gesture or a kind word. Another kind of help is time spent together. Volunteers usually choose it.

One day Agnieszka Kaluga decided to help too. Then she started to talk about her experience in working at a hospice. At first, she just talked to her husband and friends but soon she started to share her story with more and more people. Her blog, Zorkownia, was voted the best literary blog. The people who voted are organizors, readers and bloggers. Now, we even have a book “Zorkownia”. We asked Agnieszka what helping people meant for her and how it had changed her life.

H: Does helping in a hospice require great courage and psychological resistance? Is this work suitable just for the chosen ones?

AK: This kind of work is for people who know themselves well. People who know their strengths and weaknesses. I needed to find some courage inside me to make the decision to work in a hospice. Now I don’t see a big difference comparing this work to other, more traditional ones. We have this comfort of leaving this place at the end of a day, just as other people leave their jobs and go home. In case it turns out the job is not for you, It is always easier to quit when you are a volunteer. The psychological resistance is important and needed but the truth is that you will develop this quality when you already work in a hospice. As you spend time there, you just develop this inner strength within you.

H: How did volunteering influence your life? Has anything changed?

AK: I learnt to be more present. I live here and now. I separate important things from those less important things. I learnt to let go the things that do not matter. I see a lot of loss every day so I learnt to appreciate more what I have, rather than focusing on what I don’t have.

H: How can we benefit from being a volunteer? I think we also gain something. We do it not only for other people but also for ourselves.

AK: What does volunteering give us? First of all, the sense that we are important and that somebody needs us. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel it in other spheres of my life but this job made me notice that little things really matter, sometimes just your presence matters. It is strange but volunteers get more than they give. Sounds almost like luxury – you are rich as you have so many things to give. There are also other, smaller benefits like skills that you learn, freedom in interpersonal relationships, developing empathy and just helping others and showing them that you care for them, without forgeting about yourself at the same time.