Even though I have a few moral doubts about Peter Singer’s suggestions on motivation and even methods of giving, I truly believe that the heart of what he’s saying is true: we, as fellow human beings, have a moral responsibility to aid others if they ask for it.
Effective altruism, which Singer discusses a lot in his Ted talk, is an interesting concept that, I think, can help lead to a much greater impact on communities who need and want help with their struggles. Instead of giving money or time to organizations that are proven to be less effective, a little research can help people who want to get involved to find more efficient and impactful organizations to sponsor. In the end, if a person is committed to aiding others, any good impact is great, but if their impact can reach even further, why not? I personally feel that since I lead a very privileged and sheltered life, that it is a moral obligation for me to support development and alleviation of poverty, starvation, and hunger however I can.
However, although I agree with Peter Singer in theory, I disagree with him slightly in practice. Singer made a clear statement that really struck me: effective altruism is important because it “combines both the heart and the heart.” I agree whole-heartedly that both emotional and rational thinking should be incorporated into efforts to aid others. Without both, a person could end up doing more harm than good. However, in my opinion, Singer continues to account for the head, but fails to continue to account for the heart. He argues that in order to truly be an effective altruist, one has to devote themselves to the most effective, and only the most effective, path, which I disagree with. Rather than choosing a career path or way to give aid that is completely effective but gives no personal enjoyment or passion, I think a person, including myself, should take their talents, passions, and skills and put them to use in aiding others. Rather than going to school to become a banker so I can give huge sums of money to organizations, I believe that I can have enough of an impact by going to school to learn how to help people who struggle with mental illness. I think in order to be the most “effective” altruist, a person should balance their own desires and abilities with effective and far-reaching projects and organizations.
Secondly, Singer argues that effective altruism can become the basis for self-esteem and has the potential to fix all emotional problems. I think this view is problematic, because it frames giving as an escape route, as a cure-all, and as a form of salvation, and as my mom always says, “Ciera, there is a lot of power simply in the way you mentally frame a situation.” Though giving is a good, morally upright thing to do, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling fulfilled by it, no one should base their whole identity and wage all their problems against altruism. I believe that as with the act of giving, balance is the key to motivation behind giving. Instead of becoming the cornerstone of life and identity, I think giving should be another aspect of life, along with career, relationships, family, etc. It also sets up a challenge to long-term sustainability of giving, because if someone believes that giving to a charity or organization can “cure” their depression, or fix their self esteem issues, or whatever else it may be, they are destined to discover that that is not the case, that altruism is healthy and good, but no magic potion.
So, what does this mean for me? I have to be honest, I am a relatively selfish person. I have a lot of empathy for others, but have a disconnect between these feelings and my actions, so this discussion has really reminded me that people appreciate being understood and heard, but they also appreciate food, and medicine, and a bed to sleep on. With that being said, I also want to be realistic and make sure that I keep the balance that I personally believe is so important, especially so as to not burn out on giving. I don’t know the exact form it will take, but I tentatively would like to pledge a certain amount of my income to a proven effective charity that I have a personal connection with, and continue to support them throughout my career and life, to use my head and my heart to make a difference where it is needed and desired.