The act of giving itself has positive impact

by Henry Howard1 min read17th Jul 20214 comments

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I think we are underestimating the positive impact of giving and by underestimating it we're damaging the movement

Choosing to give normalises giving. Being selfless normalises selflessness. The subtle impact of normalising something is difficult to predict and difficult to measure but it can have big impacts especially if large numbers of people are involved. It can influence how people think, behave and vote. This is how social movements work.

There is massive potential impact in influencing people around the world to think, behave and vote in ways that are less self-interested.

My experience of the Effective Altruism movement is that there seems to be a growing focus on pursuing high-impact careers (per 80,000 Hours) and less focus on giving. I worry that we are underestimating the potential impact of a coordinated social movement of giving.

We should be very careful about shifting focus from "Earning to Give" to "Impactful Careers" if we could be underestimating the positive impact of the act of giving itself

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Why do you think giving by itself might have a negative impact? 

Sorry, I'm trying to say the opposite. I've edited for clarity. 

I think the movement's underestimating the positive impact of giving. We're shifting focus from giving to impactful careers and in the process possibly losing a whole lot of positive impact.

Ah! Thanks, this makes more sense to me :) 

I'd be interested if you want to give some more information about what is the positive impact and how large that is. I'm assuming you think less of the effects of giving on happiness and more on some cultural change that generally makes people more moral? 

The positive impact is normalisation of altruism, which leads to others being more altruistic in the way they think/behave/vote. The size of this effect is very hard to measure - like any social movement - but because it could be large we should be careful about throwing the "cultural change" aspect of the movement out (which I think is what's happening with the shift in focus to impactful careers).

Personal anecdote: I'm a doctor in Australia. Doctors are paid very well and have huge potential to fund good causes and influence positive change. Despite this, I witness a lot of doctors getting caught up in jealously comparing themselves to other doctors and their lifestyles. Lavish lifestyle is the norm and I've seen this lead to doctors: 

  • Advocating for redirecting public funding to increasing their own wages
  • Taking the first class flight to that conference in Berlin because their colleagues do
  • Justifying buying a new Mini because the gastroenterologist drives a Morgan
  • Avoiding giving to charity

These represent a huge pool of resources that aren't being used because it's not the norm, and that's just within medicine.

Norms are hard to change but a coordinated movement of people giving might have a significant effect. It was certainly other people giving that inspired me to start giving.

I think we should at least consider that we might be losing effectiveness by giving too much space to 80,000 Hours-style impactful careers talk and pushing giving to the side. I haven't seen much consideration of this on the forum