Benefit others with ethical careers

Daphne Yu

Sophomore Cannon Hackett. Photos by Halley Hollis.

If you could help either one person or 10 people with similar amounts of effort, what would you choose to do? We could probably agree that helping 10 people is the more reasonable choice. Helping one person is still a good thing to do, but it makes more sense to spend your time and effort helping 10 because of the far more significant impact you’ll have.

So if you want to make a difference by helping others, what career should you choose? It’s well known that social workers, aid workers and teachers can do a lot of good for others, but don’t take home very much in the way of income. If you were to become any one of these, you would likely have a positive impact on the world. However, what if you had the option to make 10 times the impact? Consider that a banker making $600,000 would easily be able to hire 10 social workers to help people with disabilities or help drug addicts get over their addiction. A CEO who received a fairly normal compensation package of $6 million would be able to hire more than 100 people to do similar tasks. I’m not suggesting that bankers or CEOs actually do things like this, or at least it’s not very common. But someone who starts off by looking at how they can do the most good, and has the smidgen of self-control needed to make the choice to buy mosquito nets or vitamin A tablets for others as opposed to mansions for themselves, ought to at least consider attempting to make lots of money to donate to good causes. Even if you’re better at helping people than the average aid worker, you probably won’t be better than 10 or 100 of them. If you believe you have the ability to perform a high-paying job and the commitment to use your affluence for a positive change, it might be the more moral career choice.

There are other categories of work where there are huge opportunities to change the world. Research is one. Agricultural researcher Norman Borlaug developed a strain of wheat that was especially resistant to disease and gave up to three times the normal yield. His research created a “Green Revolution,” which caused wheat production in India to increase from 12 million tons in 1965 to 20 million tons in 1970. His earlier work in Mexico helped to double yields in about a decade. All of this served to prevent a looming food crisis. Nowadays, artificial intelligence and medicine have become similarly high-potential fields for research.

“Influencers,” people who (politically or non-politically) spend their time advocating for something positive, also have a great opportunity to improve the lives of people. Warren Buffet has not only pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune, but has also, along with Bill Gates, convinced 40 billionaires to give away at least half of their wealth. Viktor Zhdanov (who did not even have a Wikipedia page until 2010) convinced the World Health Organization to adopt a program to eradicate smallpox that probably saved millions of people from a terrible disease.

Even at work at so-called “evil” organizations allows for the possibility of having a positive impact. If you are interested in protecting the environment, a job at Chevron might not intuitively seem like a good choice. But consider you’ll have an opportunity to convince the company to adopt cleaner policies. Even a small change in a company that pumps millions of barrels of oil per day can have massive benefits for the world. Consider that Stanislav Petrov worked for the Soviet military, but is arguably responsible for preventing a nuclear war. He was the commander of a nuclear-attack-warning command center on Sept. 26, 1983, during a month of heightened tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The system he was suing reported that there were incoming missiles launched from the United States. The system was new, and he suspected he couldn’t trust the readouts. So despite a lack of certainty, he reported the warning to be a false alarm. It turned out that this was what had happened. But there’s no telling what would have happened if the person in charge had been a less peace-valuing individual.

Neither I nor anyone else can say for sure which career will offer the greatest opportunity to help others, and the best option undoubtedly depends on the strengths of the person trying to choose. Focusing on research, influencing, or money are all good options, In any case, choosing an ethical career isn’t simply about rejecting the greed-enveloped corporate world to become an altruistic employee of the Red Cross (or any other charity). It’s a lot more complicated than that.
By The Rock