We want to make the world a better place - so the key question is: how? Before we start on the details, there are a few obvious things to say.
- These answers are not prescriptive. By joining this community, you are not required or expected to put these answers into practice. They are an attempt to express the wisdom of the group, to say what most of our members understand to be helpful. We will disagree, to some extent, about almost everything - but remember that the aim of the community is to be a place where we can disagree well, and so learn from one another.
- These answers are not complete. Complicated problems will require nuanced solutions, but we have to start somewhere - and sometimes the best answer we can come up with right now will only make a bad situation slightly less bad.
This page is still being written, and the longer-term intention is to provide links to the relevant articles, which can be found under the 'Challenges' heading.
Just do something!
The most important thing is to do something, rather than nothing.
Of course, you are probably not doing nothing. You are probably wondering what else, what more you could be doing. So maybe the start is to do something new, something different. Or maybe it is to do more of what you are already doing, or to do it differently.
The temptation is to try to work out what you 'ought' to do, what is the most important thing you can and should do, and then focus on that. Sometimes this works, but all too often the more we look the more complicated and intractable the problems seem, and instead of throwing all our energy into the best answer, we feel overwhelmed and confused and unable to decide on the best course of action.
Also, the world and its challenges look very different from an armchair. Once you start to do something, you learn something about the world, and about yourself, and this is not learning you can get from a book. When you act, it changes you, and it changes your perspective.
So we suggest that you start to do something which seems like it should make the world a better place, and then think more deeply about it.
You are doing it because of the benefits, but what are the downsides? What are the likely consequences, and what is likely to be the overall effect, once you factor them in?
Charity begins, so they say, at home. Whether or not that is the case, any genuine attempt to make the world a better place must surely have a major impact on where we live, and how we live when we are at home. Who we live with, how we cook, eat and compost, how we heat the house and what temperature we heat it to all matter, as do our choices about insulation and double-glazing.
Many people spend more time at work than doing anything else, perhaps other than sleeping. Does our work make the world a better place? Can it be improved? Some industries actively harm people - tobacco and armament manufacturing are obvious examples - and if more people chose not to work in these industries, at the very least they would have to pay higher salaries, and make their products more expensive as a result.
Our leisure choices are possibly some of the easiest ways to change the impact we have on the world. Aiming for an ethical and sustainable life does not mean you have to avoid all enjoyment, but it might mean choosing some forms of entertainment rather than others, and it must affect our choice of holiday - assuming we are fortunate enough to be able to take one.
There are many ethical issues involved with how we choose to spend our money. With food, we can think about FairTrade and carbon miles, and what we do about meat, milk and fish; with clothing, we can try to avoid cheap fashion made by child labour in third-world countries.
Talk about what you are doing. The world is full of bad news, and it's easy to get the idea that nothing is being done, or that only the powerful can make any difference, so your example can inform and inspire others.
Talk about the issues. Almost any problem, once you try to address it, is more complicated than you first thought, so talk with the people who understand it, especially those who understand it from other perspectives, and talk with those who are trying to address the problem, especially those who are trying to address it in other ways
Learn as you act, learn as you talk, and learn from books... even (with caution) learn from articles and stories on the Internet. Listen to everyone, but remember that everyone has a personal perspective and agenda - this does not invalidate what they say, but will inevitably influence it.
Many people who want to make the world a better place are reluctant for others to know what they do; arguably, those who are not reluctant may be too much motivated by the desire for recognition and reputation. But, if you want to make the world a better place, then encouraging others to share the task is one of the most important things you can do.
One form of influence is leadership. Again, wanting to lead and wanting other people to do what you say are problematic qualities. But, while it is often the case that leadership is primarily understood as the exercise of power - telling others what to do - this is not the only model of leadership available to us. 'Servant leadership' is arguably the approach which most closely follows the linguistic metaphor: when a group of people want to go somewhere, they will freely choose to follow someone who knows the way and is willing to show them.
Understood this way, a leader is someone who accepts the responsibility of helping the group achieve their goal. Such an understanding is entirely consistent with the continued freedom of the members of the group, and requires no exercise of power or control. It does, however, place a moral obligation on the leader, and the nature of the obligation being undertaken needs to be clearly understood by all the parties, in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and disappointment.