For all the obvious reasons, I’m not a fan of the “New Year’s Resolution.” They are too easy to make, too hard to keep, and a good way to feel bad about one’s self right out of the box on January 1st. Instead, I like to quietly set self-improvement goals for myself throughout the year, keeping them realistic and attainable and known only to me.
But if I had to suggest one thing for all of us to start doing immediately it is this: Think Deeply – About Everything. In fact, think deeply about the suggestion itself – doesn’t everything in our modern society push us in exactly the opposite direction? Take, for example, Twitter. Frankly, I don’t think there is anything that I (or anyone else) can say in 140 characters or less that is worth reading or hearing, except, perhaps, as an introduction of a link to some information housed elsewhere on the net. Yet we see these byte-size pieces of data everywhere that are constantly pushing us to the twittersphere. Another example – politicians of all stripes. Don’t they all have “five point plans” based on logic and good, old fashioned common sense that are designed to save us from ourselves? And don’t we buy into them, the simpler the plan the better? How has that worked out for you? Or take the most obvious – the instantaneous and seemingly authoritative nature of (drumroll, please……..) the Internet itself. If it is on the Internet it has to be true, right? To quote the famous Michael Scott of the sitcom The Office – “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can find out anything they want about any subject so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Hmmmmm…..
The fact is, even the easy things in life are not so easy. Every decision carries economic and social costs which we may or may not consider. A tiny, tiny example – we recently purchased a new coffeemaker and invested in the permanent, gold plated filter so that we would not have to continuously purchase paper filters. Besides its convenience, isn’t the permanent filter a “greener” way to go? If more people bought permanent filters, the paper filter factories would produce fewer and use less electricity and water and other natural resources. In addition, there would be far fewer paper filters at the bottom of the landfills, and fewer trees would be sacrificed for my morning cup of Joe. But what about the carbon footprint of making the gold plated filter itself, including its plastic frame? Is it larger or smaller than the carbon footprint of the paper filter? What about the water and soap we have to use to periodically clean the thing? Again, a small, seemingly insignificant example, but multiply that by the thousands of large and small decisions we all make all the time about our lives and lifestyles and you get my point. Some examples: Is it better to go hybrid or traditional combustion automobile engine? Should we recycle or not? Should we concern ourselves with clothing manufactured for pennies in sweatshops in the third world? What about organic versus processed foods?
And what about our philanthropic choices – who or what is more deserving of our limited dollars? What should the mission and vision of my private foundation be? Where can I make the most difference?
Philanthropy is all about giving, but it should be all about informed giving. If you want to make an impact on this world you need to decide how and why, ideally based on your own passion and vision for a better world coupled with informed knowledge of the facts. What do you care most deeply about? How can you learn more about it? Another politician’s trick – refer to the other guy’s propensity to “just throw dollars at a problem.” Are you “just throwing dollars at a problem” if you donate to a charity you know little about? Sadly, you probably are.
Think deeply – about everything.
Philanthropy and charitable giving is as personal a choice as we have. We are not compelled to give but if we do give we owe it to ourselves – and to society – to think deeply about the issues that concern us and question, always question, whether what we are doing is the most we can with the limited resources we have.
If everyone did this one thing and followed through – Oh, what a wonderful world this would be!
 Don’t get excited – a gold plated coffee filter retails for about $4.50. Not like the coffeemaker itself that, for an extra hundred bucks, comes with inlaid Swarovski crystal elements. We opted out of that. Geez Louise, it’s just a coffeemaker!