ethics are not one size fits all

In a brief moment of vertigo-free lucidity, I thought I’d procrastinate the homework I’m behind on and blog about the things I’ve been thinking while my brain has been too fried to read or function normally.

The other night I participated in a telephone interview for a doctoral student studying Jewish women and social justice. We had a great conversation, and I think it did as much for me as it did for the woman interviewing me, because it gave me the chance to a) talk about myself, which I love, and b) rethink my identity and my commitment to my field and social justice, which I also enjoy.

Earlier this year, I posted about The Life You Can Save and made a pledge to donate a portion of my income to a philanthropic organization that is dedicated to eradicating global poverty. I couldn’t make as large a donation as I would like, but I plan to keep giving what I can while I’m in school, and once I make more than $60 a week, I’ll go with the real pledge. In the meantime, I’m making up the difference with my time. I’ve gotten involved with some other students and young people who are working with Peter Singer, the author of the book, to turn The Life You Can Save into a full-on movement, not just a website supporting a book about a great idea. Our first group meeting the other day really got me thinking again about ethics, and how I approach them, and how I should look into living a more ethical life. I think it’s important that ethics are not one size fits all, but there are some parts of ethics that I think are more or less nonnegotiable.

One size fits all, no exceptions: If you live in a wealthy nation, even if you are the lowest part of the 99%, you can do something to make the world a better place, even if it’s small. So if an opportunity to do so presents itself, you have an obligation to try and do it.

One size fits all, no exceptions: If you live in the United States, you do contribute to the environmental, social, political, and economic factors that keep many areas of the world in consistent poverty. So you should feel as if it’s your duty to alleviate at least some of that.

One size fits all, no exceptions: Drops in the bucket are better than nothing. Providing food for one child doesn’t seem like a lot, but not only is it a lot for that child, but you never know what that child will grow up to be thanks to your help. Not to mention, trends happen when people see what one person is doing and copy them.

One size does not fit all: I don’t think there is only one way to eradicate global poverty. Just as lots of structures contribute to it, lots of structures will bring it down. So like the drop in the bucket idea, I think it’s totally fine to choose just one area–water purification, micro loans, healthcare, education, population control–that you are passionate about and work to contribute there.

One size does not fit all: Yes, to live a more ethical life, you do need to sacrifice some of your comforts. But I don’t think everyone can or should sacrifice the same things, and I don’t think there is any point in trying. Sure, it would probably be better to use hankies instead of Kleenex, but if that totally grosses you out and causes you to buy tons of hankies all the time, do massive loads of laundry, and feel so disgusting that you never do anything else, it’s not the sacrifice you can make. But you should make some. Starbucks burns their coffee anyway, so save on the latte and save some money for a donation to Oxfam. Unplug your microwave when you’re not using it–it saves the environment and your electric bill. Put a note on your front door every morning until you remember to fill a reusable water bottle rather than buying one. A little discomfort can go a long way, and it can be a step to a bigger, even more ethical step later on.

One size does not fit all: Singer outlines in the book that everybody should make a monetary donation, and I agree. But one thing I want to stress in my work for LYCS, and in my life, is that the most sustainable effort you can make is one that is just that–sustainable. It’s always good to step out of your comfort zone and do something because you know it’s good, regardless of whether it makes you comfortable. That’s why you should give some of your income, even if it makes you feel icky. But you should also know your strengths, and use them to make a lifelong dedication to ethical living and eradication of poverty. I know that my strengths lie in networking, engaging and connecting people to opportunities and resources they can use, and reaching young people. So my most sustainable effort will be to work with LYCS, providing resources and inspiration and outlets promoting the ethical mission to others. Since I have the ability to provide others with their own inspiration and methods for leading an ethical life, I think that’s worthy as well.

I hope that’s not cheesy. Because I’m looking forward to finding more ways to continue to refine my ethics.


4 thoughts on “ethics are not one size fits all

  1. Beautiful, well written post. Made me think about myself and the excuses I sometimes make—you just countered all of them 🙂
    Thanks for posting this! Sounds like a fantastic book.

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