Tuesday, August 23, 2011


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.

-Selfish Blogger

Thursday, August 11, 2011

1 > 0

In a post in April, I asked you for encouragement to give to the Fistula Foundation. It's common knowledge in the fundraising world that people are much more likely to give if they are asked by a friend, or if they know that their peers are giving. I was hoping that a flood of "make that gift!" comments would push me to do the right thing.

While I got some here (Thank You!), many more comments came in on my facebook page, and they were the opposite of what I had hoped to find. The general sentiment was this:

You already do so much, you deserve to spend some money on yourself. But do what makes you happy. Also, you're totally not selfish.

It's very sweet. My friends are so kind to me. While I may "deserve" to spend that money on myself, I have to ask - is it right? Is it right to spend money on a luxury instead of using it to help someone who is truly suffering? No. It's selfish. I do it all the time and I will continue to choose myself over others more often than not, but I'm trying to do it less.

Taking one right action is better than doing nothing. And if a few of us take the right action together, it's even better.

I gave to the Fistula Foundation in May. I gave enough to pay for the surgery of one woman, and hopefully change her life for the better. 1 > 0.

-Selfish Blogger

What do we owe the animals?

This week I had dinner with a large group - mostly friends of a friend - at a pretty pricey French restaurant. Maybe because I'm vegan or maybe because there was another vegetarian at the table, a few conversations broke out around the table about eating animals. I wasn't directly involved in any of those conversations, so I didn't jump in with my thoughts (every time I've jumped uninvited into a conversation about this topic, it's had opposite effect I want), but there was so much wrong with what was said.

"It's ok to eat veal now because they don't break their legs."
No, it's not. It's really not.

"If I couldn't eat the duck, I don't know WHAT I would do!" "You'd order the lamb! Ha ha ha!"

"The quick way we grow livestock is the greatest accomplishment of our farming system."
(By the way, free range/organic is not a solution.)

What do we owe the animals? Anyone who has lived with a doggie or kitty knows first hand that non-human animals avoid pain and seek pleasure like us. They have inner lives. Most of us haven't been able to live with cows, piggies, duckies, and chickens, but study after study finds that these animals are just as smart and caring as the animals who share our homes.

Let's be honest: buying products made from animals is a selfish decision. You are choosing your taste, your convenience, your sense of fashion, and the approval of your peers over the suffering and lives of others. And for those who try to defend their choices by claiming only "humanely raised"meat is in their fridge? The bottom line is you are willing to pay someone else to kill an animal, because the dead animal provides you with pleasure. That's selfish and it's cruel.

But you don't have to. Every meal you eat is your opportunity to be kind. I am so grateful to live in a time and place that allows me to live without taking the lives of animals. You can go vegan too, and there are lots of celebrities to help you on your way.

In the same way that giving $10,000 to charity does more than giving $100, going vegan does more than going vegetarian or just reducing your intake of meat. But does that mean we turn down the $100 gifts to charity? Of course not. Every action on your part makes a difference, for better or worse, for the animals who suffer to become food or fashion.

-Selfish Blogger