Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Are the 1%

Last year, I wrote this piece for Whole Living about charitable giving, and although they'd asking me to focus on a particular "charitable hero," and she was great, it was the research that changed my life. Especially talking to Peter Singer.

The piece starts like this:

"Imagine you're walking past a shallow pond where a tiny child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. Do you rush in and rescue the child? Of course. What if it means ruining your new shoes? Of course -- even if they're really, really nice shoes. You don't think twice. 
Philosopher Peter Singer, ethics specialist and author of "The Life You Can Save," who is famous for his thinking on the topic, argues that we are, ethically, in just such a position all the time: 1.4 billion people are living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, and 30,000 children die daily of diseases and malnutrition that our money (the cost of, say, a pair of shoes) could prevent. 
Couldn't we be doing more? Shouldn't we?"
We stretch to give, and I hope you do too. There are some good resources at the end of that piece about how to find organizations to give to, although we give everything we give to Partners in Health, and I feel good about that choice. And every year, it comes down to the same question: build a mud room, or give it away. And every year I think that people need to not be holding dying children in their arms more than we need a better place to keep our boots. 
I'm all about "tax the rich," "eat the rich," and occupy everything. You know my politics. But with respect to the developing world, upon whose backs we have amassed much of our nation's wealth, we are the 1%. Even if, yes, you trip over a lot of shoes and coats and backpacks when you walk directly into our dirty kitchen from the muddy outdoors. 
Sending you love and gratitude in anticipation of the new year.
xo Catherine


  1. Melanie12:04 PM

    Thank you, Catherine. This Christmas was particularly hard for me, but for the opposite reasons that it was hard for so many others. I am at a place in my life where I am finally living my dream of nursing school. I am grateful each and every day for the opportunity I have been given to learn from such amazing people, both teacher and fellow students. I am out of work during school, so we are a one-income family right now. And yet, somehow, an overabundance of Christmas gifts found their way to my five-year-old daughter. On Christmas night, looking around my overrun living room, I thought, "this is not right. This is too much." Thus, my struggle for restraint began, as well as my primal drive to instill in my child the meaning of things...things that are not material. How do I do this? How do I seemingly change the way she's been raised her only five years of life? Where do I start? Perhaps I start with 1%.

  2. Thank you for this excellent perspective. I will look into Partners in Health.

  3. I feel like I won a major victory in convincing my mother in law, brother in law and husband to fund a special STEM classroom for our sons' elementary school. My desire to give is oftentimes met with consternation and sometimes, contempt within my family. We have so much in the scheme of things globally. Our children (and I'm not just talking about my own alone) receive far too much stuff (I'm still shaking my head over friends' children receiving AirSoft guns for Christmas). I am grateful to be in a position to help their school provide top notch science education to the students.

  4. This is such a great reminder for those of us who look around and don't feel rich compared with folks with the brand new kitchens and gorgeous mud rooms and such. But we are rich. So rich. And can do without so much in order to give.

    I did not know this stance of Peter Singer's. Rather, I know him for another of his "ethical" stances: that it is moral to euthanize severely disabled babies. So I'm not a fan. In this case, he speaks some truth. But there are many others who speak this same truth, who ALSO believe that even children and adults with profound disabilities can live meaningful lives. Nevertheless, thanks for this thoughtful post, and the recommendation for Partners for Health.

  5. Yes, we are the 1%, aren't we.
    I love the feeling of having enough to give.
    Happy New Year to you and thank you for all your thoughtful, beautiful, appreciated words.

  6. This is a wonderful post and an important reminder of how fortunate we are compared to many others in the world. One of my friends recently had a birthday party for her one-year-old daughter, and she asked people to make a donation to charity rather than bringing a gift. It was a wonderful thing, as there were about 40 people at the party who contributed to charity rather than contributing another toy to my friend's daughter, who already had more than enough.

  7. Thank you for the lovely post, and the bit of perspective that zapped me right out of one of those obnoxious "woe is me" for no good reason kind of moods. You really do great things, Catherine.

  8. Thank you for this... Just really needed to hear this right now. Happy New Year!

  9. Thanks, guys. And Ellen, I spent part of xmas debating the merits of Peter Singer with a pair of (recovering) philosophers. I need to read more, including the stuff you're talking about. Michael was just telling me about that too. I think he's a mixed bag. xo

  10. As always, Catherine, you bring your readers back to the right perspective. Thank you for that! I can always count on good food for thought from your blog, which I've followed since I first became a mother 10 years ago. You inspire me so much.
    It's been fun, too, to see Ben and Birdy growing up over the years. May I say, they are both so beautiful! And I know because if their awesome mommy, they are just as beautiful on the inside. Bless you!

  11. As always, put with beautiful clarity. Thank you and happy new year!

  12. keep saying this stuff, out loud. to us. to your family. to the magazines. it matters. we aren't "religious" really (or we're overly religious, celebrating everything and learning about every faith tradition)...but we do "tithe"-- and we make sure it is a family movement each year to give, both locally (we help put on an alternative gift fair each year where folks can "shop" in the form of donations to health and human service non-profits) and globally. I have a friend with an amazing fair trade coffee business-- he actually travels to the places where his beans are produced (and has for 10 years), and has strong relationships with the communities-- his thought is that in a global economy, "community" can mean anyone who is effected by our daily choices. I think of this so much now. And we do what we can do. The balance for me? Getting lost in the "I shouldn't even think of this problem I have because it pales in comparison" sort of moments. I wrote about it a long while back-- right after the earthquake in Haiti hit and I was annoyed with a sick and talkative child....
    in the end, we do the best that we can, in the place that we are, and hopefully, above all, we're kind. ;)

  13. I'm glad you give to PIH, Catherine. They are my favorite organization. For those of you who are unfamiliar with their work, and want more personal information besides what is on their website, I urge you to read "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder and "Haiti After the Earthquake" by Paul Farmer (Who is the founder of Partners In Health). We all have peaks and valleys in our lives. We need to remember to give when we peak and not be afraid to lean when we find ourselves in a valley. I hope you all had a happy holiday season and that peace and love find you all in the new year.

  14. Catherine, I adore you. I love all that you create, and I also love that you take the time to share it so thoughtfully with those of us that, through your sharing, feel like friends and family of yours.

    I love that you use your 'platform' to remind us that every single one of us can affect some type of change.

    We've found to be an amazing opportunity for giving.

    Love to all of you, as we transition into 2012.

  15. Nicole10:50 PM

    I have been with you silently since "Bringing up Ben" became "Bringing up Ben and Birdy." This post made me cry because for the first time, I am not in the 1%, not by a long shot. My husband and I have both lost our jobs and we are giving up our home of 10 years. We have no idea where we are going, and we are trying to keep our two young boys from feeling the anxiety we face every moment. I cling to their health as my single greatest joy - New Year's Eve was to be the one year birthday of our daughter, who never had a chance. I adore you, and I adore your message, and I adore your wonderful children, and I adore my fellow readers, whose comments are so much a part of your blog - and I guess I just wanted, for a moment, to feel like I am a part of something great, instead of something that is falling apart more every day. I don't really have a point, just thanks for letting me share. Happy New Year, guys.

  16. Catherine - There's plenty that Singer has written himself, but this story is one that has stayed with me and that I quote from quite a bit in my upcoming book. It's written by a severely disabled woman and attorney who debated Singer at Princeton University about his contention that severely disabled infants do not qualify as "persons." Please know that I brought him up not to disparage your message, but to disparage his! Your post has stuck with me and influenced my New Year's resolutions for 2012.

    I don't know how to make this appear as an actual link but if you cut and paste this into your browser you can find the NYT mag article on Singer's debate with disability activist Harriet McBryde Johnson (who has since died)

  17. Thanks, Ellen. And thank you, Nicole, for writing. Sending you luck and light. xo

  18. Plazamom8:29 PM

    I just want to say that I am also aware of some of the things Peter Singer has argued, and completely disagree with him on those subjects -- but the book you reference ("The Life You Can Save") has influenced me more than any book I have read in a long time. I read it a couple of years ago and it completely changed the way I felt about giving.

    I have changed everything from the little things I spend money on (I put a jar on my kitchen counter and fill it with the money I would have spent on iced tea with a restaurant meal and I order water instead, then decide with my daughters what kind of animal to buy from Heifer International as the money accumulates) to how my husband and I focus our larger charitable gifts (much more to organizations like Oxfam, Unicef, Camfed, Partners in Health, etc). So even though I strongly disagree with his ethical arguments on some topics, this is an area where I think he's right. And Catherine, thank you for reminding us how much we have and how much difference we can make in the lives of others!

  19. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
    I often give with time (which is a great option for those struggling financially or otherwise - getting out of your own head and helping another in need can be SO rewarding).
    But this year, we pulled the belt just the teeniest bit tighter - it felt like a lot when pressing the payment button, but that feeling faded immediately - and gave as much as we could to OxFam.

    And p.s. I've tried the apricot braised roast (twice, OMFG!), the red lentil soup (part of xmas dinner), and the pink slaw (to go with left over xmas ham) - all with enormous success. DELICIOUS!! (and easy, too!) So grateful for you!

  20. Agreed. I remember the first time I saw a "1%" sign, and I immediately thought of this --