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Does Helping One Lead to Helping Many?

Does Helping One Lead to Helping Many?

 

On a recent flight, I watched the movie “Big Miracle” based on Operation Breakthrough, a rescue effort to save three grey whales trapped in the frozen Beaufort Sea near Alaska in 1988. I remembered that rescue operation. Although I was an animal activist and humane educator, I did not join the millions of people who were ardently following the rescue attempt.

I found the rescueís price tag (around $1 million) alarming, because I knew what 1 million dollars could do for animals, for humane education, and for creating a more humane world for countless individuals. I also was irritated by the irony that whalers and governments that harm marine mammals (my own and Russiaís) were suddenly coming to the rescue of three whales. Of course I wanted the whales to survive, but it unsettled me that so many people were suddenly passionately concerned about three whales, even though they thought nothing of eating other sentient animals produced in modern day factory farms on a daily basis.

How funny then to find myself crying during “Big Miracle,” completely riveted and deeply moved that Russia and the U.S. would cooperate to save the whales, and desperate for a good outcome. Such is the power of individuals and stories.

Most of us find a compelling story a strong motivation to help. We respond more to a single child needing food (and open our wallets accordingly) than to a widespread famine. We are more likely to donate to an animal shelter that may save a few hundred animals a year or a new school which might educate a couple of hundred students than to a humane education organization whose work could save tens of thousands of animals or reach tens of thousands of children in that same year. This has always frustrated me, but I also understand it. I, too, am motivated by a single story, an individual whose life I can save or help. Itís why Iíve donated to sanctuaries and sponsored poverty-stricken children.

As I watched “Big Miracle,” I found myself softening around the high cost of trying to rescue those three whales. I came to understand that the human inclination to connect to individuals is a key component for most of us to be able to extend our compassion and live more humanely in general. For many, it may take an individual to open our hearts, which in turn may open our minds and help us to examine our choices wisely and consistently. Thatís the goal: not simply a few saved lives, but many transformed people willing and able to think and act creatively and effectively to make a lasting and widespread difference.

As long as rescuing one leads to this goal, Iím all for it, even at a high cost. The trick is to ensure that it really does lead to more consistent compassionate choicemaking and to efficient and effective changemaking. We must recognize that our resources (both in time and money) are limited, and that we will need to choose how to have the greatest impact for the greatest number.

This is why, while I will periodically support the rescue of a few with my dollars, to have the biggest positive effect that I can I will use most of my resources and my time to work to change systems. In my case, I work to transform education, so that a generation will have the knowledge, tools, and motivation to become solutionaries for a better world for all.

 

Related Stories:

Efforts Launched to Protect Migrating Whales in Australia

How to Help Our Children Make the World a Better Place

The Depth of Animal Emotions

 

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Image courtesy of dfletcher via Creative Commons.

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97 comments

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6:33AM PDT on Mar 20, 2013

Isn't it good to help more?

8:07AM PDT on Jul 16, 2012

hope that so many people identifying with Lennox leads to broadspread concern about the problems of BSL.

7:48AM PDT on Jul 1, 2012

You can only hope so.

6:45AM PDT on Jun 19, 2012

Helping one can sometimes help many. Either way, you should always do your best to help just one because their life is important to them as yours is to you.

5:26PM PDT on Jun 18, 2012

Compassion for animals sometimes comes in stages, for some never at all. Education is not always enough. Most of us know that factory farm animals have miserable lives and deaths. We still eat meat. Video of an farm animal being does bother some and for others, it's a call for action. For us to act, it must be personal or generate an emotional response. It doesn't matter if it's about animals, children, or the those suffering in Syria. It must touch our soul before we are committed to a cause.

4:56AM PDT on Jun 18, 2012

Interesting. I think a lot of the time it's more about people wanting to see results of the money they're spending rather then having faith that the money will make a difference. In that sense it's harder to donate to the over all than to the individual.
Most of the time I tend to do the opposite and donate what I can to the overall. Often I don't have much money at all to spare for donations(as I live on about $255 a fortnight, lucky for me I live at home so no rent) but it's very important to me to give what money I can so I like to give it to the overall who can do more with the little that I have.

3:52AM PDT on Jun 18, 2012

thanks for sharing :)

6:18PM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

Monika,
If you read through my post you'll see that I came to deeply appreciate the helping of one (or three in this case) which is why I work to help both individuals when I can and change systems. There are 1 trillion (with a T) animals killed for food every year around the world - the vast majority in the oceans. It is simply not possible to individually save them one by one, but we can influence people's choices, habits, and behaviors and so diminish the harm, death, and suffering we cause. Given our limited resources in terms of people, time, and money, I believe we simply must be strategic to try to help the most we can.

6:14PM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

Monika, I hope you read through my post and see that I came to believe as you do that it's so important to help the individuals - which is why I do so, along with education. The problem is that there are 1 trillion (with a T) animals killed around the world every single year just in food production and procurement. It's is not possible to save them all hands on. It is possible, however, to change our habits and choices and behaviors so that 1 trillion are no longer killed. With limited resources in time, money and people power, we inevitably have to make choices. Generally, I choose to try to help the most I possibly can.

9:54AM PDT on Jun 17, 2012

It's just exactly this kind of thinking that perpetrates suffering in the world! Each and every life matters! It's the difference between Greenpeace, who now take in millions of dollars and then sit on their butts and try to "educate and legislate" while the last whales are slaughtered, and Sea Shepherd, who take every dollar they can raise and risk their lives to stop the slaughter one whale at a time! It's the difference between PETA, who kill nearly every animal that they "rescue" while spending all their money to "educate" people through the use of pornography, and small hands-on rescues like Break the Chain and Pit Sisters who use every dollar to go out and save animals one at a time. How can you so casually say "I found the rescue’s price tag (around $1 million) alarming, because I knew what 1 million dollars could do for animals, for humane education, and for creating a more humane world for countless individuals.", like it was wasted saving these lives? What is "humane education" if the animals are suffering and dying? And probably most disturbing of all is your statement, "I also was irritated by the irony that whalers and governments that harm marine mammals (my own and Russia’s) were suddenly coming to the rescue of three whales.". So, when people do begin to take steps in the right direction, when they do learn to be humane and to care, it's irritating and ironic? Every animal saved from suffering and death counts, every step toward a compassionate world

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