169 To Whom Much is Given

Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast 


Episode 169


To Whom Much is Given



We live in a culture of over abundance. Unless you travel abroad, most of us have no concept of the level of poverty in the world. Yet 9.2% of the worlds population live on $2.15 a day. On a global basis 1.1 billion people live in poverty and in some countries as much as 80% of the population.


But the question is do the people who live in wealthy countries bear some responsibility for those that are less fortunate? After all, part of the sustainability equation includes people. If we are to truly build a sustainable future we have to include everyone, even the most marginalized populations. 


So join me for episode 169 which is called To Whom Much is Given. 


Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E169 which is called To Whom Much is Given. 


Now, the first order of business is the sustainability question of the week. 


What is the best way to teach sustainability?


So stick around to the end to find out the answer.  


Next order of business is the good news story of the week. 


Critically Endangered Gorilla Was Born in the London Zoo


The newborn at the zoo is a western lowland gorilla. This birth was cause for a lot of excitement because this species of gorilla is critically endangered. In the wild theses gorilla have been plagued by an exceptionally high level of disease and hunting. Consequently, their numbers have declined by 60% in the past 20 to 25 years.


The birth occurred on January 17th after an 8 1/2 month pregnancy. The newborn was fathered by a western lowland gorilla that arrived at the zoo in November 2022 as part of an international conservation breeding program. The goal of the program is to promote a genetically diverse population of western lowland gorillas. 


So this week’s round of applause goes to the London Zoo. 


Now let’s move onto to this weeks episode. 


Most likely all of us have at some point in time heard the following line of wisdom. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” What this means is that we are held responsible for what we have. On the practical side it simply means that if we are fortunate enough to have wealth, knowledge, talents, or just simply a lot of time, it is expected that we would make attempts to benefit others. 


Now some may very well disagree. You may say that you have worked very hard for what you have despite coming from a poor background. You may take the attitude that no one has ever given you anything. Therefore, why should you sacrifice for someone else. 


And I could say exactly the same thing. I came from a very uneducated farming family in Tennessee. There was absolutely no encouragement to get a secondary education. In fact it was never even mentioned as an option. But I voluntarily subjected myself to over 10 years of endless hours of work and study and at several points along the way I was truly living in poverty. 


Then I went on to build a very successful professional career which has included living and working in several different countries and teaching at several different universities. This afforded me the opportunity to buy the property I did, build the homestead and as well as do many other things in my life. I worked very hard for many years. So I could take the attitude that I don’t owe anyone anything because no one ever gave me anything. 


Although as you can plainly see it is very easy to take that kind of an attitude but is it really true? What I mean is that is it really true that no one gave me anything? Or for that matter I could direct that question toward most other people in our culture. 


In April 1986 one of the four nuclear reactors in Chernobyl exploded. This lead to a release of radiation 400 times greater than that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 1945. Following that explosion it was discovered that unless something was done the meltdown would continue and result in an explosion that would destroy the remaining reactors.  Such a disaster would be felt around the world. 


Three people voluntarily risk their lives and entered a highly contaminated area to manually performed the needed tacks to prevent that from happening. 


So maybe, they gave us the world back. 


NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, preferred to kneel during the National Anthem in order to protest racial injustice in the United States. This lead to several other players performing various acts of protest. The result of these protests was a firestorm of criticism. To this day, Kaepernick is still not employed by the NFL. 


Muhammed Ali refused to do military service because of his religious beliefs. As a result he did jail time and was stripped of his heavyweight title. 


Rosa Parks protested by refusing to go to the back of the bus. She was arrested and suffered great financial hardship. 


Charles Mulli sold his multi-million dollar business in Kenya and started an orphanage and adopted hundreds of street kids and served thousands of others.  


Mother Theresa committed herself to a life of poverty to care for the unwanted children in the streets of Calcutta. 


Jackie Robinson endured relentless racial attacks because he was brave enough to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier. 


Martin Luther King, Jr.  refused to give up his campaign against racial inequality despite numerous legitimate threats on his life. His unwillingness to cower to these challenges eventually cost him his life. 


Four hundred and twelve firefighters, police officers and EMTs died trying to save people in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. 


It is estimated that during the initial conquest to settle the Americas, as much as 8 million indigenous people died mostly due to the spread of disease. The atrocities that followed resulted in hundreds of thousands to millions more deaths. That was the price people paid for the settling of America. 


So you can see there are many people who have given up a lot in order to build the foundation of the world that we have today.  They too could have said, “Well, it’s not my responsibility.” But instead they made considerable sacrifice in order to pave the way for a better future for others. 


Consequently, I would contend that since the world we have today is built on the foundation of sacrifice by many people who helped those that were less fortunate, those of us alive today should do no less. Because much has been given to us much will be required. 


What I am taking about here is social responsibility in the context of sustainability. This is because social responsibility is a means of achieving sustainability and directly supports one of the three pillars of sustainability which is the people. 


Yet such concepts are likely difficult to accept in the individualistic cultures of North America and Western Europe. Countries such as the United States, Germany, Australia, South Africa, and Ireland are strongly individualist cultures that stress the needs of the individual over the needs of the group. 


Furthermore it is well known that our culture strongly influences how we think and behave, especially our social behavior. In individualist cultures people are considered “good” if they are independent, assertive and self reliant. In a collectivist culture being dependable, generous, helpful and even self-sacrificing are considered of greater importance. 


For example,  in an individualist culture, being dependent on others is considered shameful or even embarrassing. Independence is highly valued. Individual rights are at the forefront. People are self reliant and greater emphasis is placed on being unique. This type of culture emphasizes autonomy, self direction, personal achievement, self sufficiency and individual rights and liberties. 


People in a collectivist culture would be more likely to turn to family and friends in a time of need. They are more likely to sacrifice their own comfort for the greater good. Their culture focuses on the importance of the group and social cooperation. 


Obviously there are pros and cons to each culture. Individualistic cultures tends to promote strong self esteem, confidence, self-sufficiency and a greater sense of well-being. But people in these cultures also experience a lot more stress, have far less social support, and exhibit much less prosocial behavior. They are also much less likely to help others or even ask for help when they need it. 


I do wonder sometimes if, at least in the United States, this is why we fail to be the world’s foremost leader in sustainability. Yet Germany, which is a very individualistic culture, has nearly a 50 year history of sustainable policy making. So, why the difference?  


I also find it interesting that if you compare a list of the top ten most progressive countries in the world, those with a uniform social purpose, to a list of the top ten most sustainable countries in the world, there is a tremendous amount of over lap. So it is completely possible to be sustainable and socially responsible. 


So, back to this idea about social responsibility to the less fortunate.  Are we or should we be responsible or should we reach out to at least help countries that are less fortunate?  


So bear with me for a moment because I want to propose something.


I think it is safe to say that the largest percentage of us have some sort of an expectation of social responsibility when it comes to big business. What I mean is that we expect businesses to be social responsible. In other words we expect them to have fair operating practices, engage in fair labor practices, be accountable, be transparent, exhibit ethical behavior, respect the law, respect human rights and international norms of behavior.


And why do we expect this? Well, it is obvious that a big business has a big impact. It has the power to impact an enormous amount of people. But is it really all that different or should it be different with each individual?  


A author names Mitch Albom wrote a best-selling novel, Five People You Meet in Heaven. I have read this novel and it is really quite good. In the book a man named Eddie dies. Upon his entry into heaven Eddie must meet with five people who had a significant impact on his life, or on whom he had a significant impact. Of these five people, two were people he knew and three were strangers. 


But how could this be? All of us no doubt believe that we have the greatest impact on the very people we spend the most time and energy with and in turn it is these people that have the greatest impact on us. However, what most people fail to realize or accept is what philosopher Carol Gilligan once said, “We live on a trampoline-if we move it affects a whole lot of people.” 


And you are sadly mistaken if you think you bear no social responsibility. How many times do you purchase a product that is made in China? How many times do you purchase fresh produce that is imported from Mexico? When is the last time you purchased clothing that was made in Vietnam? 


Yet the average wages of the people that supply us with these goods are $2.18/hr, $4.18/hr, and $1.36/hr respectively. If we purchase their products then we impact their lives and we support the businesses that impact their lives. So how can we possible say we have no social responsibility just because we can’t see nor do we know the people whose lives we influence. 


But I dare say that it takes a bit of moral imagination to be able to remember the people we cannot see and give them fair representation in deciding how we should or should not act. 


Example of Social Responsibility


So, let’s step back for a moment and look at a four examples of social responsibility that we would typically expect of a large corporation.  Obviously corporations use their profits for a number of different things. But some of those profits are directed toward producing some social, environmental and economic impact. For example: 


1) Environmental responsibility: this is when an organization actively promotes sustainability and conservation of the environment. What if an organization pledged to plant 5 trees every time someone purchased their product and provided their customers with seeds to encourage them to plant a tree. Now that impacts people far beyond their board room.



2) Ethical responsibility: This is where companies ensure equal opportunities and do not discriminate against employees, investors, suppliers or customers. Such policies help to promote an inclusive culture. For example, a company declines to purchase supplies from an organization to utilizes child labor.  


3) Philanthropic responsibility: This is where a company donates a portion of their profits to an environmental or social cause. They may donate to charities, non-profits, or even start a charity for a particular purpose. 


4) Economic responsibility: This is a blending of environmental, ethical and philanthropic social responsibilities. This is where certain business decisions go beyond just focusing on profits. For example, working with companies that produce only sustainable packaging and finding ways to make that approach financially feasible. 


Addressing these four areas of corporate social responsibility is actually very common in the business arena and goes a long way toward promoting a positive public image for a business. 


But when it comes down to individual social responsibility should it be any different. I would say absolutely not.  As individuals we should be held to the same standard that we expect from others. For example: 


-What if we each made the commitment to not only go paperless but to plant 5 trees every time we actually had to use paper for some reason. 


-What if we made the commitment to not purchase products from companies that utilize child, pay their workers substandard wages, or engage in unethical business practices. 


-And what if each person decided to donate some time or money to a non-profit or charity of their choice, perhaps a conservation or environmental cause. 


So again I would ask “Why should our individual social responsibility be any different from what we expect others to do?” If we expect big business to be accountable and fulfill their civic duty and even take actions that will benefit society, why should it be any different from each and every one of us? Well, it shouldn’t!! The concept of social responsibility is essentially an ethical framework that benefits society. 


And once again I find it interesting that countries where there is a strong social network embedded in individual behavior, corporate responsibility and even government policy are rated the happiest countries on the face of the planet. 


Now I will be the first to admit that sustainability is an ideal state. Zero waste is an ideal state. Living a plastic free life is an ideal state. But as I have said before we don’t need a few people that live a perfectly sustainable life. What we need is millions of people trying to live a perfectly sustainable life. 


The same is true with social responsibility. We all need to closely examine the aims and ideals of social responsibility and embrace that as a natural and progressive extension of the path to sustainability. 

We need to embrace the concept that the three pillars of sustainability, that being people, planet and profits, are mutually inclusive. Corporations can make a profit without harming the environment and without exploiting people. Each one of us can live our lives without harming the environment or exploiting people. 


You have to remember that we all live on a trampoline. If we move it affects a lot of people. For example, fair labor practices require companies to pay fair wages. This affects the surrounding economy. Basic human rights, such as non-discriminatory practices, directly impact society. Corporate environmental responsibility can have a direct impact on human rights, such as the right to clean drinking water. The products we purchase will have a direct impact on people in another country if that company is unfair, pays poor wages, utilizes child labor. 


And while I do understand that the world we live in is a big place with big problems and as individuals we cannot tackle the whole world. But what if we simply came to the realization that many people made significant sacrifices to give us the world we have today. Consequently, we need to do something on an individual level to make the world a better place. What if everyone did that? And it doesn’t have to be anything huge. 


Donate some money, donate some time, work in a homeless shelter, volunteer in a soup kitchen around the holidays, be fair to others, be honest in all of your business affairs, recycle, finds ways to have less impact on the environment, go plastic free. Being socially responsible should be a natural extension of who you are just as being sustainable should be a natural extension of how you live.  


Just recently I started finally cleaning out my storage shed and getting rid of a lot of things from when I had the house in South Carolina. Most of the things I no longer use or need I have been donating them. But I have also been getting rid of a lot of old financial records. In the process of going through these records I realized just how much of my adult life had been spent being really poor. Granted part of that was during my educational process.  


But it made me remember some of the things that I had to do to survive. My meals were very basic and I never spent that much money on food because I could not afford to do so. One of those things I did to get by was to take advantage of local food banks where I could get free stuff. Needless to say the donations of other people helped me out in a big way. 


Occasionally when I go into my local supermarket some organization has a table set up at the entrance because they are doing a food drive. I truly feel compelled to purchase a few extra things to donate because someone, who I will never know, did the same thing for me. It is all about giving back. 


But the same is true for everyone of us. So many people gave some many things to make our culture what it is today. Since those people are long since dead and gone we cannot shake their hand and say thank you. But we can say thank you by giving something back and being socially responsible which is a natural extension of sustainability. 


Too whom much is given much, much will be required. And as Simon Anholt once said, mind your privilege. 


Well folks that’s about it for this episode. I want to round things off by answering the sustainability question of the week. 


What is the best way to teach sustainability? 

Confucius once said, “If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundreds educate children.”


And that is the best way to teach sustainability. Teach young children so they embed healthy, sustainable practices in their daily lives without even thinking about it. Just remember preventing one piece of trash from going to the landfill is not what is going to save this planet. But a lifetime of sustainable habits will. So teach the children. 


Well folks that wraps it up for this week. I hope you will join me again next week for another informative episode. 

Until then, this is your host Patrick signing off. Always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future.  


Critically Endangered Gorilla Was Born in the London Zoo


50% Complete

Sign up to get regular updates

If you want to know more about sustainable living, being off the grid and having more control over your own resources.....