[Content warning: effective altruism.]
When I was eleven years old, I whispered over a worn copy of my favorite book and took a pledge:
In Life’s name and for Life’s sake, I assert that I will employ the Art which is its gift in Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so — till Universe’s end.
Of course, nothing happened.
Nita, Kit, and Dairine couldn’t walk two feet without stumbling over an alien species that had to be rescued from the Lone Power, two trees involved in a territorial dispute, or a dog that was actually God; when I looked at all the problems in the world, I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even know where to begin. Wizards had magic that gave them great power to do good; I felt like I couldn’t do anything at all, like all I could do was raise awareness of problems that the people I was telling about couldn’t help with either.
To be honest, it sort of filled me with despair. I felt like my life was meaningless. Like I would live an ordinary life, work a boring job and get married and maybe have kids, and nobody outside my immediate circle would even notice that I existed. I wouldn’t get to save the world, like the people in my books. My impact on the world would be zero. I was afraid of sitting on my deathbed and thinking, “my life was useless.”
I have good news! That is definitely not a problem we have right now.
Right now, the median American income for those aged 25 or above is $32,140. If the average American donated ten percent of their income to the Against Malaria Foundation, they would save a child’s life. One child, who would be dead, and isn’t anymore.
And that’s just the effect on children. People other than children get malaria . Distributing malaria nets reduces the rates of anemia, enlarged spleen, poor nutrition, low birthweight, and miscarriage. Because the Against Malaria Foundation’s nets are treated with insecticide, they help kill mosquitoes, which is an important step towards eliminating malaria forever.
But let’s just talk about children. If you’re a median American– a normal person, by definition– and you start giving at age 25 and continue until you’re 62 (the average age of retirement), you will save 37 children’s lives.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that seems to me to be a pretty good life’s purpose. When you’re sitting on your deathbed, thinking about the impact you had on the world and your legacy and the regrets in your life and what it all, ultimately, meant, you can say to yourself, “I saved the lives of 37 children!”
And I somehow suspect that a lot of my readers aren’t median income earners. If you’re a software developer, you can probably save more than a hundred children.
Most people will never write a brilliant novel, or start a company that makes millions of dollars, or become a neurosurgeon extracting cancers no one else can deal with, or get bitten by a radioactive spider and become a superhero. But everyone– yes, everyone– can save the life of a child.
And that’s pretty amazing.
In an utter cliche, it turned out the magic was within me all along. This New Year, I’m not talking the Wizard’s Oath. I’m taking a different pledge, but one that has the same fundamental spirit:
I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to improve the lives of others, now and in the years to come. I make this pledge freely, openly, and sincerely.
Giving What We Can is holding a pledge drive. I hope you will join me in taking it.