How to have a meaningful life without kids – Part 4/5 – Help the vulnerable
How can you create a meaningful life without kids? Help others.
So far in this series, we’ve looked at some specific ways you can create a meaningful life without raising children. In this article I’m going to focus on developing a mindset that will ensure you have a fulfilling life whether or not you have kids.
Helping the Vulnerable
When you set out to create your own business, find the right volunteer opportunity, or start on your career, it’s your motivations (more than your precise actions) that will lead to a fulfilling or unfulfilling life. Your specific line of work or lifestyle choices don’t matter; if your intentions are short-sighted and selfish, your life will likely end up shallow and bitter. Whereas if your intentions are genuinely to contribute to the world in a positive way, you’ll be more likely to end up feeling fulfilled.
In essence, finding meaning in life means finding meaning in something outside of yourself. This doesn’t mean becoming a martyr or neglecting your well-being. It means being truly aware of how connected we all are, and that loving your neighbor is loving yourself.
The Human History of Helping
This idea of finding meaning by helping others is ancient. We evolved as highly social beings, in groups where helping one another was necessary for survival. However, it quickly moved beyond what was necessary. For instance, some of the earliest remains of our human ancestors show that they cared for the injured and elderly. Some cases show evidence of debilitating injuries which would require months of rest. Yet the other tribe members cared for this non-contributing member no matter how long it took them to recover.
Later on, Aristotle philosophized that one finds real friendship in loving, rather than being loved. He remarks that a mother loves her child without seeking love in return. This is the essence of having meaning in one’s life. To love, to give, and to help for the sake of those things.
Where Kids Come In
Truthfully, I think this is the reason that a lot of people have kids. How often have you heard something like, “When I had my daughter, it all came together. I realized there was so much more to life than just my life”? Or, “You don’t understand love until you start living for someone else”? And though Aristotle’s ideal of a mother’s love is a strong example, you don’t need to create a new human to devote your life to the service of others. There are plenty of people who already exist who need help right now.
Who are “the vulnerable?”
Our world is filled with people who are:
- susceptible to injury
- have undergone financial or emotional hardship
- at a higher risk for misfortune
People (human and non-human) who have little to no control over their lives are also vulnerable, as their well-being depends on the will of another. These include children, animals, and people who are institutionalized (in prison, mental health facilities, or senior citizen homes). However, they can also be people living in your town who are (through economic and other factors) at higher risk for lower quality of life.
How do I help them?
When offering aid, it’s important to do so without coming across as patronizing. You should always offer assistance in a spirit of humility, drawn from the realization that if only a few things in your life had been different, you could be the one in need of help. Remember, it’s all about intention.
That being said, there are numerous ways to offer your service to those who need it.
Volunteer Your Time:
Animals, especially farm animals and pets, are legally property. And though we have laws in place to protect them from abuse, they are still often seen as and treated like commodities. Yet animals likely have as great a capacity to suffer as humans do. But unlike many human beings, animals cannot advocate for themselves. That’s where we come in.
If you’re looking for a good starting point to begin to volunteer with/for animals, Animal Charity Evaluators is a great resource that examines the effectiveness of various types of charities and volunteer efforts designed to help animals.
Childfree people don’t necessarily dislike children. In fact one of the reasons some people choose to be childfree is because they can empathize with children. It’s easy for a frustrated parent to forget the ways they felt and thought as a child, but the cool childfree aunt remembers.
Some of us choose to be childfree because we appreciate just how difficult being a good parent is, and we aren’t willing to do a poor job at it just for the ‘experience’ of becoming a mother. Others see bringing yet another a child into a world crowded with children whose needs are unmet as irresponsible.
If you care about kids, you can do good by helping the vulnerable children who are already here. To get started, visit Great Nonprofits’ page for at-risk youth to learn about opportunities in your area: http://greatnonprofits.org/categories/view/children-and-youth
Even more neglected than children are the elderly. Some underserved older adults are neglected by their grown kids. Some have no family left. Either way, this demographic is perhaps the easiest to ignore.
Create the Good has an excellent guide on volunteering to help the elderly here: http://createthegood.org/campaign/volunteeringwithseniors
Involve Your Business:
Whether you work for a large company or have your own small business, you can still involve your workplace. Charity Navigator has written an article with some great advice about giving through your workplace: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm/bay/content.view/cpid/159
If there’s a particular cause you’d like to aid, ask your workplace to consider contributing.
In The End…
You don’t need to have kids to learn to truly care about someone besides yourself. Instead of creating a mini-me to love, why not focus on people who are already here? Fostering a spirit of generosity directed toward the most vulnerable members of society is one of the best ways to create a truly meaningful life without kids.