When I interned with Amnesty International, I was deeply moved when my supervisor told me that Amnesty does not prioritize one human rights violation over another. How can you weigh rape against false imprisonment? How do you choose between the rights of women and the rights of children? You can't. Every human rights violation is wrong; every violation needs to be stopped. What a compelling position. And yet, how very unrealistic.
We live in a world of limited resources, so organizations like Amnesty operate with limited resources too. The act of distributing those resources is an act of prioritization. The staff hours spent, the volunteers mobilized, the leaflets printed to stay that man's execution were staff hours and volunteers and leaflets that didn't go toward helping women in Juarez or ending the genocide in Sudan. The hope is that nonprofits think carefully about how to use their resources - using them in areas where they can be the most effective and make the most difference. Well established groups like Amnesty, with a highly qualified board of directors and professional staff, distribute their resources strategically and calculate where they can have the most impact (even as they believe that one human rights violation shouldn't have to be prioritized over another). We prioritize whether we want to or not, but hopefully we do so consciously.
If you measured where you spend your resources - your money, your time, and your influence with others - what would it reveal about your priorities (whether or not you've consciously chosen them)? My first priority is me, followed by the nonprofit I run... Minecraft probably lands in my top 10. The causes that I really care about could rank a lot higher if I thought more about my priorities. I wonder how many of us unintentionally prioritize coffee over feeding a hungry child, alcohol over safe drinking water for a family in a third world county, or new clothes over a life-altering surgery for a poor woman.
Props to my friends at PETA, who can honestly say that the majority of their personal resources go toward making real, lasting change in our world.