su-re.co Giftmakers = Effective Altruists?
Hey it’s Fabian again from the think team but recently the others as well. A giftmaker nonetheless. But what actually is a Giftmaker? What constitutes one?
Here in su-re.co, we often talk about who we are and who we aren’t (in our retreat). So far, we agreed that we aren’t activists. Personally, I would argue we are, just not the conventional ones as we employ a very different method. We don’t communicate to governmental officials with signs in the streets, but we do over whatsapp and dinners – and eventually through our workshops.
Of course, I am not here to say that activism is not important, if anything I am more than proud that Greta Thunberg is able to set the world on fire, by saying that the world is literally on fire. Social movement theory is also an academic discussion behind activism. But if we aren’t conventional activists, what are we?
I remembered before entering su-re.co, I was conflicted. I was accepted to a Master’s of Cognitive Neuroscience (which I postponed), yet I felt so lost in how I could contribute to the world. I saw a gap between my passion and my deed. We live in a world with contrasting pandemics such as obesity and hunger, a spectrum of having everything or nothing, overconsumption and underconsumption. It gets overwhelming to find where one should stand on or to find a lane to save the world. It's almost as if I thought neuroscience was useless. It gets especially demotivating to be told that there’s a ticking time bomb. We may as well save our energy and not waste it on solving the impossible. Along the way I guess I've felt challenged by peers and acquaintances, “why do you even try, chaos is inevitable”. There is some truth to that statement, but I just do not want my descendants to be disappointed by me.
And so, solving climate change is an impossible task, but thankfully I am not alone. If you feel overwhelmed, demotivated, or even have severe case of eco-anxiety , I invite you to explore Effective altruism. A dear friend introduced it to me as an antidote to my chaotic mind. It's literally a guide on “how to save the world ASAP” well maybe not. It’s a very positive yet realistic view on how a lot of things big and small have made the world a better place to live in and how you can join the club.
In effective altruism, it is mentioned that we humans seldom give credit to work that is actually really beneficial. The discovery of a fire escape route in every house may have saved more lives than the discovery of a pill. Stanislav Petrov may have prevented all-out nuclear war simply by staying calm under pressure and unwilling to obey orders. Big contributions can happen in many forms., which can also remain unnoticed.
Back to my dilemma of choosing a master’s, I used to ask myself a lot. How could I solve climate change with Neuroscience? Earlier this year I had a chat with Niall O’Connor, head director of SEI Asia. We talked about a lot of things before we did a two part interview video with him off camera. I confronted him with my dilemma of studying Neuroscience in a world where we need other scientists. He disagreed, saying that (not word by word):
"there are potentially too many battles to fight for and we’re probably not moving quickly enough. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But before we can properly provide solutions to big problems, we need to understand how the human brain works."
I don't think anyone will ever understand how I felt that day. I immediately thought “this is where I come in”. I never felt so powerful in my life. The gap between my passion and deed doesn’t seem too far now, it’s now a matter of execution.
Throughout my life of interacting with various groups of people, I can fully say that convincing some people that climate change exists is still a challenge, let alone telling someone to adjust their habits for it. Being in the research team, I was exposed to many social humanitarian projects that I didn’t know existed. Through some of our publications, I learned that we don’t actually have to keep convincing everyone that climate change exists. But we definitely should equip vulnerable groups with what they need. But before we provide them with what they need, we need to understand what they actually need, from the very basics of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. This is where psychology and neuroscience come in, to intervene with proper behavior change. I'll leave it at that for now as this topic can be a blog on its own (most likely the next one).
And so just because you can’t convince everyone climate change is real, doesn’t mean you've reached a dead end. The danger lies within not wanting to try because you fear committing to big things. Everyone should in this case find their “style” of helping others, if that’s what they care about.
“To have a dream job, don’t worry too much about money and stress, and don’t endlessly self-reflect to find your one true passion.” - Effective Altruism
I was stuck with Neuroscience because it was and still is my passion. Doesn’t mean I cannot learn other things along the way. If anything, postponing my master’s has been my biggest blessing, as I am able to learn what I can actually do. More importantly, be exposed to all the infinite job opportunities - including those that are really needed. Exposure easily became valuable to me, as I realized that having an option is a privilege.
“By remaining open to working on different causes, we also remain able to change course to where we can make the biggest difference, without unnecessarily restricting ourselves.” - Effective Altruism
Acknowledge that there are many lanes to occupy. That an overwhelming world means there is an overwhelming amount of opportunities. And so we, su-re.co giftmakers, occupy a variety of lanes. Bridging policymakers and companies through workshops, connecting farmers to the organic market, providing the right tools and knowledge to those who need it the most, and much much more. We focus on making use of our resources and not stress too much about what we don't have. You can always argue that helping one community is not equivalent to saving the world. But if that mindset prevents you from even trying, I can safely tell you that’s not what we need right now. Every contribution counts. Trust that there’s a lane waiting for you to run on.