Empathy, Apathy and the Categorical Imperative

The world will never be perfect, as adults we accept this. It's unlikely any of us will live to see an end to world poverty, hunger or the ills of man. However, what I often find myself most astounded by is the lack of human empathy displayed by those of us who are fortunate enough to live without having to worry where our next meal will come from.

We live comfortably, in a modern era of convenience. We have dishwashers to clean our dishes, washing machines to clean our clothes and Google to answer all of our questions. So how is it that we have less time than ever to share with others, despite our burgeoning social media accounts?

Is it that we are we so bombarded with the boundless problems of the world that we feel nothing can be done? Are statistics presented in a format so clinical that we can no longer recognize the human component? Many well-intended people satisfy the need to do their part by reposting info-graphics on Twitter or Facebook. Though I'll gladly acknowledge that awareness is a very important piece of the puzzle, knowledge isn't enough. According to recent surveys, (Gallup, IFIC) more than half of the American population is trying to lose weight. Does that mean that people don't know that spinach has greater health benefits than potato chips? Of course not. It means that making a decision to change our habitual behaviors is hard. Stepping out of our comfort zone takes commitment and effort. Many of us have no idea where to begin.

Picking a cause isn't about weighing out who needs our help the most. Getting involved with something that speaks to your own beliefs is the best way to ensure your continued involvement. The only categorical imperative that I believe truly exists supersedes all the differences...

All unnecessary suffering is unnecessary and ignorance isn't a victimless crime.

Making a lasting impact begins with small measures. It can be as simple as adding a weekly reminder to your calendar or spending a few minutes researching a cause that motivates you into action.

Need some ideas on how to get started?

Become a 'Big'.
Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs young people with role models to help them reach their full potential. Spending time with a 'Little' a few times a month is a relatively small time commitment, but can make a huge difference by inspiring a little one. Scheduling is often flexible, but consistency is the key.

Take a stand against factory farms.
Many times we rationalize away the gross mistreatment of animals, feeling that their suffering fills too great a 'need' to be viewed as anything other than a necessary evil. The truth is that factory farms are anything but necessary. Make an impact by trying out a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle or keeping meat off your plate a few nights a week. Keep a log of how you feel when you replace a steak with a balanced meal of veggies, whole grains and plant based protein. You might just find that your body thanks you for it!

Donate to a charity anonymously.
Even better? Make a donation in honor of a friend or loved one.

Help a child learn.
At DonorsChoose.org you can help provide classrooms with the tools they need to help teach and inspire children. Rather it's replacing a broken speaker for an after-school music program or providing books for elementary school students, a small tax-deductible donation can make a huge difference in the lives of dozens of kids.
BONUS: Donate more than $50 dollars and you'll get handmade thank you notes from the classrooms you've helped.

Be Positive.
Small efforts can still have a lasting effect. Show respect in your daily life for the people around you. Make a (hands-free) phone call to an elderly relative while you sit in traffic. Buy an extra cup of coffee for the homeless man outside or send a letter of gratitude to someone who's made an impact in your life.

The best part? All of these behaviors are proven to improve your quality of life, bring you fulfillment, and make you happier.

So get up, live consciously and spread the joy!

Special thanks to Dr. Paul Bloom, Dr. Bernie Siegel, Joshua Rosenthal, MScED, Alexis Ohanian, Raymond Braun, Amber Morasse, Michelle Cho and Sam Simon for living lives that inspire countless others.