Something has been troubling me recently: how much should we give?
I’ve had the same discussion with friends over and over and over. If we earn money, and spend our money on stuff, on things, are we complicit in a system that keeps others poor? If we spend more money on coffee in a month than it would cost to provide one of the 45,000 people who die every week from preventable water diseases with fresh water, do we bare some responsibility for their death?
It came to a bit of a head a little while ago, with some of my friends and I vowing to spend a month living on $30/week for groceries (but still paying our bills, because we don’t want to default or anything) and forgoing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary for a month. We’re going to donate the money we save to Charity:Water, who do amazing work proving access to clean, fresh drinking water to those who most need it.
Imagine my surprise when, the very day after we hatched this scheme, I stumbled upon The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer. It addresses this exact issue, and does it far more eloquently than I ever could. Even the blurb on the Abbey’s bookstore website is compelling (and sums up the book nicely, as no passage I could find in the actual text did):
What if I told you that you can save a life, even many lives? Do you have a bottle of water or a can of soda on the table beside you as you read this book? If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need. Around the world, a billion people struggle to live each day on less than you paid for that drink. Because they can’t afford even the most basic health care for their families, their children may die from simple, easily treatable diseases like diarrhoea. You can help them….
We live in a unique moment in history where the rich can genuinely help the poor to escape relentless poverty. But this will only happen if the rich care enough to make some small personal sacrifices.
Some of Singer’s other ideas are a bit out there… or very out there. But this book is wonderful. And Singer himself is donating all his proceeds from sales to Oxfam. Buy it. Read it.
Oh, and our “Live Poor” for a month challenge? You’re going to get REALLY sick of hearing about that…