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


Image courtesy of dfletcher via Creative Commons.


Sheryl D
Sheryl D18 days ago

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Fi T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Isn't it good to help more?

Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago

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

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton5 years ago

You can only hope so.

ryan b.
Ryan B5 years ago

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.

Patrish Dehler
Patricia Dehler5 years ago

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.

Mandy Harker
Mandy H5 years ago

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.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Zoe Weil
Zoe Weil5 years ago

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.

Zoe Weil
Zoe Weil5 years ago

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.