Normally you attend First Day meeting in jeans and a short sleeve shirt, but today you came in a suit and dress shoes. After meeting, you have an important job interview (a little strange, admittedly). You’re trying to relax before the interview. So, you take a walk around the pond at Powell House to calm your nerves.
To your surprise, you see a small child thrashing about in the shallows of the pond, on the point of drowning. You face a decision. If you wade into the water to save the child, you’ll get your $200.00 shoes and suit wet and muddy, maybe ruining them. Moreover, you’ll even be late for your interview. What should you do?
You should, of course, save the child. Everyone will agree that it’s an easy choice to make, but what about sending $200.00 to an overseas charity that can save a hungry or sick child? Although comparable to the suit and shoes situation, that seems to be a harder choice. That’s the dilemma posed by philosopher Peter Singer in his book, The Life You Can Save .
And even if you agree to save a child with a charitable donation, why should you stop at saving just one child? Shouldn’t you give $200.00 several times and save multiple children? And couldn’t such generosity cause you financial distress? If you keep giving, couldn’t you be short-changing your own kids?
Singer argues that saving one child is better than saving none. I agree. In his book, he recommends several effective charities. It appears that $200.00 could save the life of a child in Malawi, which—I discover—is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa. Before summer’s end, I should easily be able to send that amount to Development Media International, which sponsors radio ads in Africa about how to improve health. This method is surprisingly effective in getting people of the Third World to adopt behaviors like going to a doctor when one has symptoms, for example, of malaria.
I can save a child afflicted by malaria when the parents go to the doctor. I can feel rather proud of myself…. But should I save a second child?
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