Friday, 28 January 2005

Doing good

Good is often done for selfish reasons – to massage an ego, to ease a conscience, or in the expectation of reward in the next world. But this doesn’t really matter; it is surely better to do good with the worst of motives than to do harm with the best of intentions. So it is odd that do-gooder is used as a term of contempt, as is Guardian reader or muesli eater, as if there is something despicable about these activities; it is a pity that do-gooding seems to have become associated with pretension or sanctimony or hypocrisy, or other Tony Blair-like qualities.

It is wise therefore, if one is impelled to a noble action, or even a vaguely well-meaning one, just to do it and then shut up about it. The opportunities, of course, are limitless, but for anyone seeking ideas for ways of making the world a better place there is a helpful blog called So What Can I Do? This offers a huge number of suggestions, constantly being added to: some of them, if followed by everyone, would change society for the better, while others would merely give a small pleasure to someone or be of some tiny ecological benefit to the world. It would be a sad person indeed who could not find something here which they would like to do, and if the only motive is to get a nice warm glow of self-satisfaction then it’s still worth while.

The website was started and is being developed by a distinguished American academic called Karama Neal. Though many of the references relate to the United States, the principles behind them apply everywhere.

Karama is an alumnus of Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania (as are four Nobel Prize winners). Swarthmore is a good representative of America’s liberal arts colleges, which have no exact equivalent in Britain. It was a nineteenth-century Quaker foundation and has an endowment of $1 billion, enabling it to admit academically qualified students without regard to their ability to pay.

These colleges are mostly ancient (by American standards) institutions but are intellectually and educationally advanced. Though small in number when compared to America’s large public universities, liberal arts college graduates are represented disproportionately among leaders in the arts, education, science and medicine, public service and business. A 1998 study found that even though only 3 percent of American college graduates were educated at residential liberal arts colleges, alumni of these colleges accounted for:
8% of Forbes magazine’s listing of the nation’s wealthiest CEOs in 1998
8% of former Peace Corps volunteers
19% of U.S. presidents
23% percent of Pulitzer Prize winners in drama, 19% of the winners in history, 18% in poetry, 8% in biography, and 6% in fiction from 1960 to 1998
9% of all Fulbright scholarship recipients and 24% of all Mellon fellowships in the humanities

1 comment:

Karama said...

Thank you so much for this post, Tony. I am so pleased you like the site and suggestions. Together, we really can change the world for the better.

I hope you and your readers will visit again soon.