Before we start on planning for contribution, let’s recap. I’ve already argued that friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship, developed over time through shared experiences, though only about 10% of friends will be really special. I’ve also suggested that as well as friends and family, mutual relationships are possible with the creatures that live amongst us.
I’m now proposing that it is possible to be friends with people we don’t know. Or perhaps they are just friends we haven’t met yet. In fact one of the reasons you are reading these words is because of a “friendship” with someone I don’t know. Three years ago someone died, and a significant person in their life wanted their death to mean something more, so they chose to donate the organs. (Or so I assume)
Clearly, this is the big sort of contribution that not everyone can do. Toseland donated his bone marrow to a stranger, and this is also an extreme contribution that can’t be made very often. Most of us achieve an easier level of friendship with random acts of kindness like picking up things other people drop, offering tissues or taking photos of tourists. Or we make donations of our skills/money/time/old clothes and ugly knickknacks given to us by Great Aunt Katy (though the value of the last is debatable). Or we might just make some baseline decisions.
I don’t want you to think that this is merely a matter of choosing to get your take out coffee in a reusable cup (for example). Even this small decision needs some thought about how and where the cup is manufactured, and periodic reviews as technology changes. But it is one small step towards turning your autopilot off and living a more conscious life.
As well as my keep cup, I also try to buy things at the source, so I go to Farmer’s Markets to buy my fresh produce. I’m probably naïve but I choose to believe that the food comes from the producer – it seems like an extraordinary amount effort to go to make a few dollars otherwise. Generally, the food is fresher and lasts longer but it can be frustrating when you can only get the best croissants in the city from one market and have to get up really early on a Sunday to get them… I also like to buy “handmade” gifts so I go to craft markets and galleries and appropriate websites.
But to go back to the friends we haven’t met yet. There are probably more, but I can easily identify three different types:
- the ones we will probably never meet because they live in extreme poverty on the other side of the planet. Even on our worst days, our lives are generally so much better than theirs. “First World Problems” as Toseland keeps reminding me. Perhaps we should all use the Buddhist technique of devoting our “suffering” for the benefit of others just to make our petty cold coffee worries more worthwhile. But there are also a number of international aid agencies that we can support, or raise awareness of.
- the ones we might meet because they live in scary areas of the city on the wrong side of the tracks… Somehow it’s easier to forget them because we assume that being here with us, their lives are as prosperous as ours. This is probably an ill-informed assumption given the current financial situation we all find ourselves in with costs increasing and income reducing. We can offer local practical assistance at soup kitchens, donate money to local charities that provide food baskets and so on.
- the sick ones that we embrace because we know someone else who is sick e.g. breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, etc.
Over the last few years there has been a lot of research suggesting that the benefits of charitable contributions can be substantial – it makes you happy and has positive benefits on your health. When you give, you are more likely to get something in return, and whether you are the giver or receiver you will feel more grateful which in turn makes you more optimistic. And finally, the gesture ripples outward inspiring others to give.
Going back to Dr Newby’s friendship examination, we form friendship clusters and what happens in one cluster ripples backwards and forwards through its members to other friendship clusters, e.g. work friends and tennis club friends and over time social norms expand. For example, we all get a little fatter than we were before, but because we are all a little fatter, we all think it’s normal. Or, we all donate a little money to a charity…
And to the goals… In this area, I will continue my baseline looking for opportunities for random acts of kindness. The finances are a little stretched so I will continue to look for opportunities to donate my time and skills to causes I have some sympathy with. I will continue my baseline decisions to reuse, repair, recycle etc. And to buy local, natural, handmade etc.
How do you feel about that? Do you have any thoughts or concerns? Would you consider implementing any of these opportunities in your life?
Next time we’ll be getting into pleasure… (ooh err).