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Lions Roar : March 2016
I’ve been asked, do you have any regrets in life? I say, not when I’ve put compassion in action. There’s a saying in Bud- dhism that something that does not benefit others isn’t worth doing. I think it’s a good criterion. Peter Singer: Julia, you have come at altruism from a different direction. You and your husband, Jeff Kaufman, give away an unusually large amount of your income. How did you come to practice altruism in this way? Julia Wise: I was quite aware of people who lacked basic things that I think are pretty important to happiness. We’ve said here that most material things are not important, but when you are lacking basic material things, it really does matter. At the same time, I recognized I had advantages that most peo- ple don’t—being born in the United States, being born to a family that could provide me with things that I needed, being healthy. So I was coming from a place of trying to even things out some. Some of us are born luckier than others in ways. And things continue happening throughout life that advantage some people and disadvantage others. Peter Singer: How did you and Jeff decide how much to give? Julia Wise: As a younger person, I wanted to aim high—giving away as much as possible and living on as little as possible. My husband was coming at it from a bit more conservative view- point, so we ended up sort of averaging it. Peter Singer: The average between 100% and 0%, I should say. [Laughter] Julia Wise: Yeah—we give 50%, and we’ve been doing that for several years now. We’ve worked up to it gradually since our first jobs out of college, and we find that it works well for us. Fifty percent of what we earn is still plenty for us. Peter Singer: How do you decide how much you’re going to give or pass on to your children, and what you’ll give strangers? Julia Wise: Like most parents, we want to give our children the things they actually need to develop fully as people. But we don’t want to give them extra stuff that will spoil them or cre- ate unrealistic expectations. Half of what we earn is still plenty, especially by world standards. Certainly it’s much more than most people have, and most people are raising children on a lot less than we have, even after donating. So we don’t expect that our children will be deprived. We also think about what other parents go through when they don’t have enough for their children’s basic needs. A lot of the interventions we support are targeted at children, like mos- quito nets to prevent malaria or deworming treatments to treat children infected with parasites. These are effective causes, and it means a lot to me that I’m able to help keep other parents from watching their children suffer, which must be incredibly painful for parent and child alike. Matthieu Ricard is a French- born Buddhist monk based in Nepal. He is a photographer and translator, and the author of several books including The Monk & The Philosopher (written with his father, the philosopher Jean-François Revel), and the newly released Altruism. An active member of the Mind & Life Institute, Ricard is deeply involved in scientific research on meditation’s effects on the brain. In 2000, he founded Karuna-Shechen, which provides health care, education, and social services for the under-served people of India, Nepal, and Tibet. Peter Singer is a moral philosopher whose work addresses altruism, human and animal rights, economics, world poverty, and religion. He is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and a laureate professor at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Singer has authored and co-authored many books, including The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, and the seminal Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals. Julia Wise is a communications researcher at the Centre for Effective Altruism in Oxford, England, which runs and supports projects that promote altruistic ideas and aims. She also serves on the board of GiveWell, an independent, nonprofit charity evaluator. As well, she organizes effective altruism meetups in Boston, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and child. (A second child is on the way.) Wise writes regularly on her website, Giving Gladly: Altruism & The Good Life. VIVIANKURZVIVIANKURZDANIELFRIEDMAN LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2016 63