Most of us go through life hoping that our time on this earth will leave something positive in its wake. We want people to remember us fondly, as someone who did good deeds and made people happy. Maybe we’re ambitious enough to really want to change the world.
However we want to be seen, it’s usually in a positive light. We don’t want people to like us because we’ve manipulated them into thinking we’re nicer than we are. We want people to love us for who we genuinely are on the inside.
No one sets out wanting to hurt others. No one goes into life hoping that people will hate them, that others will be glad to see the back of them.
We want, ultimately, to be good people and to be recognised for that.
So we do good things.
We help other people where we can. We try to make a positive impact on the world around us. We recycle. We help old ladies across the road. We try to be empathetic and compassionate.
We try to be responsible.
But the world is not always conducive to being responsible.
A busy modern day schedule doesn’t give you much time to devote to others, especially if you have a family to provide for or have a particularly demanding job. You can still be good to those around you, but your output on the wider world will likely be somewhat restricted, unless you’re lucky enough to be able to incorporate it into your career or social life.
An easy way to offer a positive contribution is to support local producers and ethical businesses in the shopping you’re going to do anyway. This can get expensive, but doing it as often as possible gives more people a chance to flourish and it promotes moral behaviour on an entrepreneurial level.
Still, this can often be restricted, and not just by price.
Access to small businesses isn’t always obvious and, often, the corporations that cut corners to scale down costs are the ones that surge ahead. Figuring out which businesses – especially when it comes to the large chain brands – are using your money properly can be a real chore.
And it really shouldn’t be up to you to do that research, to find out which companies are paying their taxes properly and which are paying their workers a decent wage and which are treating their staff with respect and dignity, especially if they outsource their labour to far flung countries where regulations aren’t as strict.
Trying to be a good person when you suspect that your morning coffee is exploiting farmers can seem really difficult. Sometimes, it can feel like you really don’t have a choice but to choose between options you’d really rather not have.
But you don’t have to feel responsible for that kind of thing.
You’re not the one making the decision to hurt others. You just want a coffee and you don’t know which provider is the most ethical. You could guess, but you could be wrong. You could spend hours researching every business that offers coffee, but it’s really not fair of any business to put you in a position where you feel the need to do that.
Your few coins here and there are not going to make a huge difference to a big corporation. Drink your coffee and stop worrying. If you can find a better source, go for it. If you can’t, don’t beat yourself up.
You get to choose the things that you are responsible for.
If you decide that changing the ethics of the coffee industry is going to be your mark on the world, you do that. You set up petitions and protests and boycotts and really throw yourself into creating a movement. But if all you can do is stop buying your own cup every now and again, you’re not going to make a difference.
Choose a few things that you have the time, resources and energy to change and really make your efforts matter. Focus on those things. Worry about those things and let other people focus on the other problems in the world.
No one person can fix everything. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to solve all the world’s problems.
Decide what you want to be responsible for – that might be an injustice you want a protest against, or just making sure your kids are as nice and as smart as you can make them – and focus on those.
You’ll achieve a lot more than if you spread yourself too thin.
Remember that your own moral compass doesn’t have to bear the weight of the whole world. Let it guide you in your decisions, but don’t let the actions of others wind it right out of focus.
Author Bio – Kirstie Su mmers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.