The Life You Can Save

In the spirit of the New Year, I am about to post something awkward. Normally people don’t talk about charitable giving. It’s not really considered polite to talk about it. It looks like you’re seeking praise. The act itself is supposed to be its own reward.

But here it is: I took the Life You Can Save pledge a few months ago. The pledge is to give at least a particular percentage (usually 1% or 5%) of one’s income to help those in the greatest need. Here’s why I’m talking about it.

I first encountered The Life You Can Save when I read the book by book by Peter Singer a few years ago. I came away convinced I should be doing something. Unlike previous times when I thought about this question, I didn’t shut the idea down and dismiss it as nothing I can really do (and all the aid groups are corrupt anyway, right?). So I started giving more money, primarily to a couple international charities I trusted and that Singer thought were effective (primarily Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders). For the last few years I’ve been giving a bit more and over the last year I came to realize I could honestly take the pledge (automatic debiting helps a lot).

But this post isn’t why charitable giving or why the kind of charitable giving Singer would recommend: you can read the book (or the website or even just a short opinion article) and decide for yourself. This post is why one would talk (or blog) about it. This seems pretty arrogant, doesn’t it? There are two reasons why Singer recommends taking a public pledge:

  • Talking about it publicly changes the culture of giving. People tend to think that others like them aren’t giving because no one talks about it. It’s easy to not give yourself because you think your peers aren’t either.
  • A public pledge makes it more likely you’ll keep it. My hook of tying this to the New Year actually made it easier to finish this blog post (after months sitting as a draft). I’ve already publicly signed the pledge on his website, but this is a bit more personal isn’t it?

So here I am.

This post isn’t a plea to you to go change your behavior. It’s an announcement of my own behavior, as weird as that is. Obviously I hope some people who aren’t already giving will have a look at the Life You Can Save (or if you already give, taking the pledge). This post is about letting you know it’s normal and more common than you think.