Every now and then I have a hard time reconciling my sense of responsibility with my job. I spend my days surrounded by the Old Dusty Moneyed debating the merits of tapestry vs. embroidered silk. I can smooth it over with myself by saying that it's helping in a small but important way - by making a home a more pleasant place to be people are less likely to spend their off-hours stressed and surely that's good for something, karmically speaking.
When I measure myself using the best yardstick I know (my family) I come up drastically short.
My mother runs a university library. The skills she helps the students learn enrich their lives much more than wool carpet ever will.
My sister teaches in bilingual 1st grade classrooms - students enter her room in the fall often coming straight from the fields in Mexico. It's not uncommon for them to have never seen a printed word in their lives and when they leave they speak both Spanish and English (are well on their way to being fluent, given the capacity for retention at their young age) and can read and write well enough to move into 2nd grade. These families have stories that bring tears to even my charred, blackened heart and it's entirely possible that one of the desks in my sister's classroom was filled by a future president, rocket scientist, doctor...and I've seen her teach. If she had been my 1st grade teacher I would have been so motivated to learn.
Then I move to the cousins - one works for a city planning company in California. Clearly - doing good works there. I can't even imagine the chaos that could ensue if people in her position suddenly disappeared. I have another cousin who works at a mortuary. She's the first face grieving families see when they start that gut-wrenching process - having grown up with her I KNOW that she helps relax them and ease - if not their outright pain - then their stress at the process. On the east coast I have a cousin who is a massage therapist. Having been in need of one of those myself I can say with certainty that she is on-par with medical doctors. She improves the quality of life for her clients in ways that you and I can't understand. Her brother, currently at Princeton Law, has spent his entire life traveling the world to understand how it works and to make it better.
So you can see where my crisis of conscience happens. Pity-party, table of one?
Not really. Because at some point in my voracious reading I came across a term that resonated: Noblesse Oblige. It basically means this: Those who have the means are obliged to do good with them.
Am I a noble? Not technically. Although this is America, so the barriers-to-entry of Nobility are less stringent than other countries. Here's my yardstick for that: the Global Rich List. According to this, my husband and I are the 45,439,321 richest person in the world. That might not seem like it's very near the top until you percentagize it: the TOP 0.75%
That's right. We fall into the top 3/4ths of the top 1% of the world's population.
The site further breaks it down thusly:
$8 could buy you 15 organic apples OR 25 fruit trees for farmers in Honduras to grow and sell fruit at their local market.
$30 could buy you an ER DVD Boxset OR a First Aid kit for a village in Haiti.
$73 could buy you a new mobile phone OR a new mobile health clinic to care for AIDS orphans in Uganda.
$2400 could buy you a second generation High Definition TV OR schooling for an entire generation of school children in an Angolan village.
That's all well and good, you say, but what does that have to do with design?
It shows that for - as the informercials say - pennies a day, even those of us with the most frivolous jobs can make a difference by giving of our time and our money.
I have three favorite organizations:
1st - most closely to my heart: Habitat For Humanity. With the economy in its current state I haven't been able to give as much as I'd like, but I do give. The best part is that these guys don't just want you money. If you have usable salvage from demo sites, they'll take that too. What they don't use on their sites goes into retail shops where anyone can go and pick up anything from furniture to tile. At the risk of sounding trite: sometimes the biggest difference in a person's life can be made by the smallest thing...like a house key.
A Little video to show you more:
2nd: The Make It Right Foundation. Where our social services failed (and right at this moment I am even more outraged at the $7000b bailout. Bush can't re-build homes of those displaced by natural disasters - not just in NOLA but all over the country - and yet he's willing to shell out my money to corporations whose CEOs made more last quarter than most people will see in their lifetimes? OUTRAGE.) Re-starting that sentence: Where our social services failed, our Nobles stepped in. They built - and will build more - houses that managed to withstand this past hurricane season. They brought not just shelter, but hope and inspiration to everyone...at the risk of repeating myself - even my charred and blackened heart is touched. (Not to mention, THIS poster is ah-maze-ing. I've purchased it to add to my Wall Of Shame.) I'm hopeful that when their current goal is met they will expand their efforts.
This is an older video, but it's Brad Pitt explaining what they're doing.
3rd, and not design related, but still SUCH a great organization: Heifer International. If the old saying is right: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for life - then this is the Teach Him To Fish Organization. Again, it's about the small things. A single cow provides milk, which makes cheese and yogurt - all three of which are saleable commodities in demand in the 3rd world. Also, it's fun to put the "flock of chickens" card in someone's stocking at Christmas. Imagine, if you will:
Recipient: "What's this envelope with the fancy bow...?" Untie-ing and opening..."Oh...it's a Flock. Of. Chickens...."
You: "Yeah, through Heifer International. You gave a family in the 3rd world a flock of chickens for Christmas! So now, instead of the entire family - even the children - working so hard to get food, they have eggs and chicken, which they can eat themselves and sell so that they can buy what they need. The kids don't have to work as hard and can afford uniforms so they can go to school and learn and lead productive lives to help pull their family out of poverty. All because of one flock of chickens."
Cue tears all around. (Probably best to have the box of tissues ready.)
Diane Lane talks about it here. (Best to have the tissues ready - she talks about Nights at Rodanthe first, but trust me. It's worth watching.)
Another video, totally kid-friendly and will likely make you chuckle: (and as he says - count your blessings and spread them around. Even those of us whose lives revolve around pillows and sofas can make a difference.)