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Blog: Simplify Your Life
How Are You Giving Back To The World?

I got into a rather lengthy discussion the other day with a woman I didn't even know (I do that a lot!) about our responsibility for leaving a legacy to future generations -- exactly what each individual on this planet should be giving back to the larger community in order to be considered a "contributing" member of society. Let me invite you to board my train of thought (now leaving on track 12), and then offer your opinions on this matter.

What It Means To "Contribute"

This began with a discussion of Guilded Age industrialists (like Rockefeller, Flagler, Guggenheim, and Carnegie) -- how these men, while ruthless in their business dealings, felt a responsibility to use their power and wealth for the greater good. Privilege paired with accountability. They built libraries and museums, founded colleges and funded the arts -- but is that enough to balance out a lifetime of Machiavellianism? And how will society judge modern-day capitalists like Bill Gates (simultaneously accused of monopolistic practices while being lauded for his philanthropy) and Warren Buffett (who has given away more than 85% of his fortune to charitable causes) -- versus folks like the Walton family, who donate less than 1% of their sizable income to the community (poor old Sam must be rolling over in his grave!) Wink

Of course, these are all millionaires and billionaires (who some feel were merely trying to improve their public image and possibly atone for a few past sins.) What about the average Joe Sixpack -- who has never intentionally profited off the misery of others, but who has also never been involved in a single charitable pursuit? Which has made the bigger contribution to society? My new-found friend suggested that it's easier to be generous when you have a large income, while I argued that it's simply easier to be generous on a grand scale. Even if you don't have money, you can give of your time and energy -- some of this country's greatest visionaries were nothing more than dirt-poor hard workers. They didn't have a penny to their names, but what they had was a calling. They were driven to serve a larger purpose, and it was their devotion (not the size of their bank accounts) that allowed them to change the world.

Unfortunately, it seems that this kind of commitment has become a bit thin on the ground, as of late. In modern times, the economy is more powerful than conviction -- and it's hard to get folks worked up enough about an issue to start a crusade when it doesn't come with a steady paycheck. It depresses me when I read stories about young people who planned to devote their lives to making the world a better place as doctors and teachers and scientists -- then gave up on their dreams because they could earn more by going to business school. What happened to the dream of finding a cure for cancer or discovering life on another planet or ending global famine? That sort of work is left up to under-funded non-profit organizations -- while the biggest accomplishment most ordinary people can imagine is getting a promoted to regional sales manager before they retire. I don't know if we've lost our passion or our sense of community or just our get-up-and-go, but the vast majority of Americans seem to be having a hard time seeing past their own front doorstep. It's all they can do to take care of their own families -- paying the bills, making sure little Susie gets to her flute lesson on time each week, and watching the next episode of their favorite sitcom. They're not really interested in being the next Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi -- but they're not out killing and stealing and causing chaos in the streets, either. They're just living their own little lives -- but maybe that's okay. Is it enough to just be a good person, or should you be doing something more?

I have no solid answer to this query, and I'm not sure there actually is one -- my opinion vacillates wildly from day to day. If you function according to the principle of "enlightened self-interest," you try to responsibly take care of your own needs while (at the very least) doing no harm to others -- and if everyone could manage this, the world would be a vastly more pleasant place in which to live. But our greatest social, technological, industrial, scientific, and artistic advances are made by those who are able to see the bigger picture -- who feel compelled to leave something greater behind, something that will benefit generations to come. If those folks scaled it back and just lived like "everyone else," we would never progress as a society. Where's the balancing point? Perhaps changing the world is like being a hero -- you appreciate the ones who are able to go above and beyond, but you can't fault someone for NOT being willing to enter a burning building or dive into icy waters to save another's life.

I know that I worry all the time about whether my work has any substantive value in the grand scheme of things -- will anything I'm doing now have a lasting positive impact on people after I'm gone? A hundred years down the road, is anyone going to care that I wrote a blog or took a picture, that I organized a closet or unearthed a bit of history about some lonely corner of the planet in my travels? Quite probably not. Does it matter? Who knows. It's possible that not everyone is meant to leave a legacy -- or maybe every one of us is doing exactly that every day by simply being and living and loving. How's that for an ambiguous conclusion?! Wink

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posted on: 10/2/2012 11:30:00 AM by Ramona Creel
category: General Organizing Tips

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Simplify Your Life

by Ramona Creel

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About Ramona:

I have been a Professional Organizer for more than 10 years, I am a NAPO Golden Circle member, and I was the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. I have worked one-on-one with scores of clients and have trained dozens of newbie organizers as they got started in the industry. I provide both hands-on and virtual coaching to help clients improve their organizing skills and simplify their lives. I invite you to visit my website at http://www.RamonaCreel.com, and I challenge you to find one new idea that you can put into practice in your life, to help you become better organized, starting TODAY! I am passionate about coaching folks toward a more balanced, productive, and enjoyable life -- and I firmly believe that if I can do it, so can you!

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