General Question

nikipedia's avatar

I want to fix everything. How to do this?

Asked by nikipedia (27986points) March 12th, 2009

It continues to bother me every day that we live in a world where billions of people do not have access to clean water, adequate nutrition, health care, or education, yet I am getting a completely self-indulgent education in something that I love that helps solve none of these problems. I have a great deal of disdain for wealthy people who spend thousands of dollars on purses etc. but this is really no different from my willingness to pay $4.00 for a latte. I am a big walking hypocrite. So I have a couple questions:

1. How do you personally resolve the conflict that the world is filled with suffering and many of us do little to alleviate it? (I mean this as a serious question although I realize how self-righteous it sounds.)
2. Do these basic human rights problems have solutions?
3. If so, what are they?
4. How to contribute to these solutions?

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33 Answers

ninjacolin's avatar

i know the answer but i don’t have time to tell you right now, i’m late for coffee with my homies.

kapuerajam's avatar

Just do what you can and don’t feel bad about living your life.

augustlan's avatar

I know exactly what you mean. I have struggled with this often in my life. For me, it has come down to taking care of my own little corner of the world. Being a decent human being, and raising my children to be decent human beings. I feel too ineffectual when I look at the wider problems in the world. I can’t help but think, though, that if all of us who felt this way could put our heads together (and maybe our time and money, too) we could have a positive impact on the world in a broader sense. I just truly don’t know where to start! You’re a smart girl… if you come up with a plan, I’m in.

tinyfaery's avatar

You have to break it down into smaller problems. If you see someone who needs help, help them. Donate to charities. Join the peace corps or volunteer for an org. that addresses the problems you want to address.

Everyone is a hypocrite. Other people, put into your position, would buy that latte as well. Do not forget that.

scamp's avatar

Instead of the $4.00 latte, send the money spent on it to some organization like Feed the Children, etc. Maybe that will make you feel a little better, and like you are helping out in some small way.

But know that one person cannot carry the weight of the world’s problems on their shoulders. Do what you are able to do and don’t feel hypocritcal about it.

elijah's avatar

Buying yourself something you enjoy is ok, no one can judge what is frivolous for anyone else. Do I think it’s rediculous that sports stars make millions a year when teachers make next to nothing? Yep. I guess I am a hypocrite because I still enjoy sporting events. Taking things away from yourself doesn’t solve things. No one person can solve the worlds problems, but if we each do what we can in our own way we are doing our part.

Bluefreedom's avatar

I’m going to go with some of what @augustlan and everyone else has already said in that it is essential that you take care of you and yours first and don’t feel hypocritical of what you do compared to what is going on with others in the world.

In the whole scheme of things, it is easy to see how one persons perspective (although important) really can be so ineffectual in a world with 6 billion people and so many distressing things going on everywhere. I have often felt like you and I am worried about how many people suffer and go without so many basic needs. For someone to try to resolve this alone, there just isn’t any realistic way to make that happen. It’s more of a ‘doing your own individual part’ to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.

Many of these human rights problems do have solutions but all the elements aren’t in place or aren’t acted upon to resolve the issues. I think a big step in the right direction is the governments of each individual country should take a more proactive interest in the welfare of their citizens and take any and all measures to better provide for them in every way possible.

Darwin's avatar

You can’t help all six billion, but you can help a few, one at a time. Donate to a charity that tries to feed or bring water or medical care to people who need it. Volunteer in a soup kitchen or a shelter to help those with less than you. Adopt a child who otherwise would grow up without a family. Recycle and reuse your possessions instead of throwing them away and buying more. Raise your children to believe that we should do what we can to help others. Support people like Bill Gates when they choose to take their economic resources to try to reach out and help many people instead of a few.

There are so many things you can do to affect the lives of other people. That some of these take little effort on your part in no way makes them less valid or less important. That some of these affect people in your own town rather than people on other continents does not make these efforts less worthy. All any single one of us can do is live a decent life, teach our children to live a decent life, and share our extra possessions, money and energy to help someone else do the same.

Start at home and do what you can.

augustlan's avatar

I’m actually getting more and more frustrated as I read the great responses in this thread. It just seems like Fluther is chock full of caring, intelligent people and we ought to be able to band together and make a concerted effort to bring about some kind of big change for the better. Ack!

cak's avatar

wow! What wonderful answers!

Jeruba's avatar

A line I read in a Buddhist magazine years ago has stayed with me: “If you can make yourself less of a problem to others, that is a great gift.”

It doesn’t altogether answer your question, @nikipedia, but it does dovetail nicely with what the 12-step folks say: Hold up your hand right in front of your face like a mirror, palm turned inward. There. You can change what’s on your side of that.

btko's avatar

Great answers so far – and it’s true that the problems are so big that we can’t do it alone. So we have to choose our battles. What is something that you completely abhor? You can start there by learning about it. Learn about the specific problem’s origins, and what is being done to correct it. From there you can figure out how your particular skills can help.

One thing I notice when I am reading about a problem in the world is that everything is related. Problems feed off one another and compound each other. So by making a simple act to help fix one problem we send ripples through the whole system.

toomuchcoffee911's avatar is a website where you answer vocabulary questions and everyone you get right gives 10(? correct me if I’m wrong) grains of rice to people in third world countries. Even the smallest little things can help!

dalepetrie's avatar

Not to be flip, but haven’t you ever seen the bumper sticker “Think Globally, Act Locally?”

It would be horribly naiive to think you could solve all the world’s problems. I have to look at the world as a work in progress with different points of progress in different geographic regions. You could look at the US healthcare system and realize that there are 36 other countries whose systems function better than ours, and that we are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t ensure that all citizens have access to health care. Or you could see that some less industrialized nations barely have doctors. Or you could look at our abundant food and water supplies and realize that even though we have 3% of the world’s people, we consume 25% of its resources. Conversely you could see how large the instances are of food borne pathogens in the US food supply due to lax to non-existent regulations by the USDA and FDA. You could lament how we are seeing soldiers die in 2 wars, or you could look at Darfur or Somalia, or any number of other countries where wars claim hundreds of lives a day. We’ve got our problems here, other countries have worse problems.

But the US, today is not the US of the 1980s, or the 1960s, or the 1800’s or 1700’s. Look at the election of a black President vs. the fact that less than 50 years ago blacks had to drink out of different drinking fountains. Or how even when I went to school 20+ years ago what my teachers could get away with in disciplining kids would spark a lawsuit these days. Our society is evolving, sometimes devolving, and it is the same with every country. Technology is advancing, things are getting better in some places and worse in others.

And this is what has happened after millenia of humans throughout the world trying to fix the ills of whatever society they lived in, whatever those ills were considered to be at the time. So, to do anything other than be the best person you can be would not only be the worst kind of hubris, but would also be an affront to all the people before you who have fought to get you to the point where you live in a society where you CAN focus on personal development/self actualization. That is the goal of all humanity and has always been. So, you have to realize your own limitations and work to change what you can. Some of that will be via political involvement, even if its’ just voting for those people who support your ideals. Some of it will be charity, giving time and money. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your good fortune.

The ultimate difference between you and say someone who is incredibly rich and spends all his energy on finding ways to make MORE money and keep his taxes low is a relativistic one. There’s no law that says you have to give to charity for example, but it’s been proven that as a percentage of disposable income, the less money you make, the more generous you are. It’s easy to think of someone who is worth $2 billion who gives $1m to charity as generous, but the person who makes $20k, and gives $2k of it to charity has given 10% of his money to charity, and probably doesn’t have it to spare, whereas if you’re worth $2b, $1m is an almost meaninglessly small amount. Sure it’s generous, but you’re not doing all you can. Now someone like Bill Gates, he’s dedicating the rest of his life and his vast fortune to solving some of the world’s greatest problems. I look at it this way, Oprah, or Bill Gates or some other huge philanthropists have a lot of fancy, expensive toys…they’ve earned them and I don’t begrudge them any of it. But look at the Walton family, heirs to Sam Walton’s Wal-Mart empire. They’re worth like $18 billion each, and they maximize profits in their stores by strong arming suppliers into getting prices they want, paying minimum wage with no benefits to most employees, even locking employees in overnight so they can’t leave. And these employees making an average of like $13k a year are giving more per person in terms of DOLLARS not just percentage of their incomes to charity than do the Walton’s themselves.

So I say, enjoy your life, walk the walk on what you value and do what you can. But don’t feel guilty because you enjoy your life. I’m sure Bill Gates enjoys his life, he went down a self indulgent path, doing what he WANTED to do for a living and not just punching the clock to pay the bills. He had a lot of fun, he had a lot of great toys, he made a TON of money. But he took that money and used it for good. So follow your path, as they say…do what you love and the money will follow. Live a good life, be generous and walk the walk in what you believe, and you won’t have anything to feel guilty about.

nikipedia's avatar

@dalepetrie: I think a lot of progress has come out of naivete and hubris. I’m okay with those things. I think the world could use a lot more of people overestimating themselves and occasionally turning out to be right.

It sounds like most of these answers revolve around money. Is the solution, then, to earn as much money as possible and then allocate it so as to maximize the benefits to the greatest number of people?

Blondesjon's avatar


gq…good luck

marinelife's avatar

Do one little thing you can do. Something in which you give some money and something in which you give some time.

There are tiny things that can make a huge difference. Here is an excerpt of one example:

”“Solar cooks in at least 50 countries worldwide are using solar cookers to conserve fuel, reduce air pollution and create a sustainable energy future. . . Solar cooking is increasingly attractive in many developing countries as an alternative to traditional fuels such as wood and dried animal dung. Shortages of cooking fuel will affect 2.4 billion people by the year 2000, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to United Nations’ projections. Small enclaves of solar cooks are busy perfecting and demonstrating a practical solution in many countries where local… ”

augustlan's avatar

This speech was just linked in another thread by Jeruba. The second half seems applicable here, too. It’s a great speech!

casheroo's avatar

I know too many families that cannot afford healthcare for their children. It makes me sick that our country is like this. I don’t even know what to I’m pretty much in the same boat as you :(

Grisson's avatar

Hmm… I won’t pay $4 for a latte… but then, I don’t like Latte’s. and I might pay $2 for a good coffee.

How does one save the world? ...
By example.

dalepetrie's avatar

@nikipedia – No, I’m not saying that the path to doing right in the world comes from money, it is one path of many on the road to being a good person. The person who doesn’t make enough money to get by, but who still donates all their spare time to community service is every bit as good a person as someone who amassed great wealth and then used it for the greater good. The key is to use what you have in the best way you can, and to realize the self-sacrifice does not necessarily mean living a life devoid of pleasure to absolve yourself of the guilt of knowing that others can’t afford that same luxury.

bob's avatar

Most of the above seems useful and laudable, but don’t forget that you could also work directly to alleviate suffering in the world. Take a look at organizations like the Gates Foundation. Maybe you have skills—or could learn skills—that would help you contribute directly. Maybe you could become a scientist, a doctor, a social worker—there are any number of ways that you can help the world.

At the same time, you could become an entrepreneur here in the US and you’d be contributing positively to the world.

But you know all that. You’re asking the right questions. I don’t have the answers. The solutions to real problems are difficult and complex. That’s why they haven’t been solved. You can do things, but figuring out what those things are is also difficult. But that’s OK. You’re asking the right questions.

steve6's avatar

One of the few things you can do that gives you power to influence the world and people’s thoughts is writing.

wundayatta's avatar

If you don’t find a way to handle this, you could end up like me, and I really don’t recommend that.

I’ve worked for equal rights for women; to fight excess profits by oil companies during the first oil crisis; for any number of environment issues; to stop nuclear proliferation; to support organizing efforts for unions; to elect progressive politicians. I spent twelve years of my life working for single payer universal health care in the United States. I’ve worked on solving Palestine’s water problems; on building a system that would make it easier for folks to see what our Congress critters are doing; on research to support a state government in planning for various future possibilities. I’ve worked to restore Medicaid coverage for legal immigrants. I’ve researched urban fish farming enterprises to employ unemployed inner city residents (do not, buy farm-grown Tilapia if you don’t know how they use anti-biotics or how clean they keep the water). I’ve taught numerous college students how to do research, and employ a wide variety of techniques to collect and analyze their data.

And I didn’t do shit! None of these things made any difference. None of these policies were ever implemented. Well, almost none. The Medicaid coverage for legal immigrants did get restored in NY state; not necessarily because of what we did, but we helped. But that’s it. The rest was for naught.

I’ve found that about the only things that seems to make a difference are personal things. I’ve learned how to run workshops that employ dance and music to help folks quiet their minds. I’ve taught a few kids an instrument.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve tried to be a good husband, and I’ve partnered with my wife to bring two kids into the world and raise them. Of all the things I’ve tried to do, only the things that have directly impacted people seem to have any result.

Still, my life feels like nothing, because I was never able to get anywhere. You do not want to be like me. Take the other people’s advice. Stay away from the world saving business. Unless you are a Mother Theresa, or Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, nothing but unhappiness and frustration lies that way.

Work locally. Keep your sights on winnable goals. Work with real people. Keep your head out of the clouds. Love people. Raise kids to do good work. Don Quixote is not to be emulated.

When I’m depressed, this stuff really really bothers me and even the personal stuff seems worthless. I’m not depressed now, so even though I accomplished very little of what I hoped to accomplish, I don’t think it was a total waste.

Darwin's avatar

A very good thing to do that has very real results is to teach someone to read. It costs only a bit of your time, but it can change another person’s life completely, and by extension the lives of their family members.

Some of the big, world-changing goals are tough because the progress is very small on an individual basis so it is very hard to see it. It goes back to making a change for individual people. With something like women’s rights, for example, you may not achieve your direct goal for all women to be treated equally under the law, but you may have opened several the eyes and minds of several people. Thus, while it feels as if you have been tilting at windmills, what you have actually done is make the windmill a bit smaller so the next person will have a slightly easier time knocking it down.

@daloon: You may think that what you did was a waste but trust me, thanks to folks like you changes have come, albeit not the grand sweeping changes we dream of accomplishing.

It all comes back to “Think globally, act locally” as well as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s not our fault we were born at the top of the food chain, globally speaking. The most we can do is live our own life in as responsible manner as possible and try to teach those around us to do the same. the easiest simplest thing I do is advocate going to the hunger site once a day and click to give help feed starving people.

Mr_Callahan's avatar

Let your deeds match your passions my friend, if becoming president achieves those goals, then so be it. One person CAN make a difference and it can be YOU.

CMaz's avatar

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
The only world you can save, and the only problems you can solve are your own. Hopefully if enough people do this. It becomes a nobler and more conclusive endeavor.

Strauss's avatar

@nikipedia Even though your concerns are global, you can have the biggest impact as an individual on the local level. Volunteer. Donate. Perform random acts of kindness and ask the recipient to pay it forward.

Strauss's avatar

@daloon, I just now read your post above. It is because of people like you that people like me know they are not alone. You don’t know who thought something you did or said ws just unusual enought to provoke thought. Think about the mustard seed. It is small, but it grows a large plant with many other seeds. If you have caused one person to smile (as you have for me on several occasions) you have performed a miracle. Thanks for all you have done!

Shegrin's avatar

Whenever I start to fret about things I have no control over, my best friend always says, “OCD off!” It helps a little. Makes me smile.
The thing to remember is, you can’t fix everything. Sometimes you just have to hope that other actions make up for the ones you can’t take now.

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