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Local, National, or Global

Sam, there’s so much crap happening in the world right now. Why are you focusing on comparatively minor things at Grinnell, like advising or breakfast?

That’s a great question. Here’s what first comes to mind.

I am utterly terrified at what is happening in my country, but don’t feel like I can do anything to make a difference [1]. In contrast, there is some evidence that I can make a difference at this very local level. My students make a difference in the world and many will make even more of a difference when they graduate. Supporting them now helps them make more of a difference.

Here’s an alternative response.

Maybe I’m just an over-privileged selfish bastard who doesn’t pay attention to the broader world.

You may decide which, if any, of these responses you consider correct.

I note that I face similar conflicts in considering where to donate. When I suggested to the legendary Kumail that he donate to Grinnell, he responded with something akin to

Sam, what’s more important? That I donate to a rich college or that I donate to help immigrants? [2]

I agreed with him that he made more of a difference with the way he uses his money. But I still think it’s right that Grinnell [3] is one of the primary recipients of my charitable giving. It helps make a difference in the lives of our students, many of whom are quite needy and many of whom do and will make a difference to others.

It would be a huge problem if no one gave to causes that support immigrants. But it would also be a huge problem if no one gave to Grinnell, even though Grinnell is rich. The base budget is not enough to provide the positive experiences that form the awesome people that Grinnellians become. So it’s good that some people donate to one cause and others donate to the other.

[1] Yes, I know, my mother would be so ashamed.

[2] That quotation was paraphrased.

[3] And the Department of Computer Science at Grinnell.

Version 1.0 of 2017-08-15.