How to appease altruistic tendencies while maintaining balance

IMG_20130510_192942vert500I’ve got a problem that I’m willing to bet many of you have too. There aren’t enough hours in a day.

For whatever reason, I always find myself yearning to get more done than I do. More specifically, I want to help out with a myriad of social or environmental causes that each seem urgent and important.

You might say I’ve gone soft. In my university days I could be found volunteering in every waking moment that wasn’t spent in class or at work —it gave me purpose and was almost all I’d talk about (annoying). Though exhilarating and rewarding in many respects, I learned the hard way that piling too much on my plate results in said plate sliding off the edge of my tray and landing on the floor in a big mess of lost marbles.

A Balancing Act

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of balance, guarding my time and saying “no”. Still, so many causes pull at my heartstrings; I feel a lesser human being with every Human Rights Watch newsletter I delete before reading. Which has led me to wonder: what is the most efficient way to make a positive difference in the world while holding on to a cent or two, and my sanity?

Here are some guidelines I follow to support the causes I believe in, without putting my health and other priorities at risk:

1. Buy the change you want to see in the world

WHAT and HOW you buy has a MAJOR impact on the world.

Today (the second Saturday of May) is World Fair Trade Day, the annual celebration of a global movement dedicated to improving the lives of those who produce the goods we eat, wear and enjoy, by treating them fairly. A good, simple concept, though sadly not the norm.

Whenever I can, I reach for a Fairtrade certified chocolate bar. There are too many children working in slave-like conditions on cocoa plantations and I want no part of it. I also try to grab organic certified food and cotton and avoid purchasing meat. I’m going to eat and get dressed anyhow, may as well look out for the planet and my health as I do.

Your regular habits add up. You don’t need to start a petition or join a protest to protect our oceans (though if it floats your boat, by all means, do). You can look for sustainably sourced sea food and avoid plastic. And yes, maybe that means you pay more for your groceries if you can afford it, but your expenses won’t be the only thing adding up; positive changes will be adding up for the people who really need them and for our one and only planet. It’s not charity. It’s logical. If you want to see X. Reward companies that promote X, not Z. And it’s not always a matter of paying more anyways. Sometimes it’s a matter of buying less.

2. Keep your day job (in line with your values)

It might be a no brainer, but if you’re a pacifist, working for a weapons distributor might not be the best move. For a less ridiculous example, how about working for a company that donates tons to environmental causes, but wastes copious amounts of paper and doesn’t spring for organic coffee?

There are plenty of ways to make sure your main occupation contributes to making the world a better place. That might mean quitting “Willy’s Warfare Emporium” to work full-time for a not-for-profit, or making a couple of suggestions to the management about what’s in the cafeteria.

For me, it means working with clients that have helping people and/or the planet in their mission.

3. Don’t waste your breath

Uncle Bob a hunter? Cousin Cindy cover herself in toxins as part of her regular beauty routine? That sucks, but you probably can’t change it. I’ve learned from experience that trying to convince friends and family at every turn is not the way to get them onboard. Instead, lead by example.

Fighting over Thanksgiving dinner is not going to save the world, but you know what might? Writing your political representative or favourite brands about your concerns. They have a vested interest in listening to you and are capable of widespread change. Don’t waste your breath on individuals who are probably set in their ways as much as you are and have no obligation to take your views into account.

 Me, Myself and I

You might have noticed a common denominator. My #1 rule to live by to make the world a better place: Be self-centered. What?!

Seriously. Focus on you, your habits, your level of awareness, I guarantee you that there is something more you could be doing or something you could be doing differently. I know there is certainly more I could be doing, and that’s where I plan to focus my energy.

So don’t judge me for filling my cart with fair trade chocolate—it’s for the children, I swear…