Making a difference isn’t always romantic

Art Carden says well in his recent EconLog blog entry, You’re Not Pushing Paper Across a Desk. You are saving the world, what I tried to say in these two blog posts here and here.

Here’s Carden’s opener:

In my profession as an economics professor and through churches I have attended, I’ve been around a lot of people who want to “make a difference.” They almost inevitably equate “making a difference” with “working for a government or a non-profit organization like a church that is dedicated, at least in part, to helping poor people.” Rarely do I hear anyone say “I want to work in accounts receivable for a company that makes faucets–or worse, a company that just sells faucets and other sundries.”

But here’s the irony: I suspect that you will probably make a bigger, albeit harder to see, difference in the lives of many by working in accounts receivable for Amalgamated Faucets than you will on your two-week summer mission trip or in your career as a relief worker.

Carden goes on to explain:

Cleanliness, while not necessarily next to Godliness, is at least a few more steps removed from filth and the associated disease transmission. One quick and easy way to improve the lives of the people around you is to make sure you wash your hands carefully after using the restroom. By helping the faucet company run a leaner operation, you can help them expand and improve their faucet offerings. This in turn helps people wash their hands carefully. This in turn reduces disease transmission. Reduced disease transmission means less tragedy and higher productivity. It might not seem like much, but congratulations: by helping Amalgamated Faucet produce more, better, and cheaper faucets, you’re reducing the probability that someone, somewhere gets sick.

So few people recognize these benefits. Carden explains:

Is it romantic? No. Will people write books about you and give you humanitarian achievement awards? No. Will you be recognized in church? Sadly, almost certainly not.

Sadly, yes. Perhaps churches and other organizations should start recognizing these unseen and under appreciated deeds. That may be a new idea for a thread on this blog — how people make a difference by doing something that appears to be boring and regular.

I’m reminded of the story Mitch Albom told in his book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the people Eddie meets explains to him that his seemingly boring and unromantic job as an amusement park maintenance worker was valuable because he kept untold numbers of kids safe for all those years and he paid particular attention to that safety because of what happened between Eddie and this person.

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