In an intimate wedding ceremony with his laptop, LUKE ILOTT vowed to give 10% of his future earnings to charity. He thinks we should all do the same
Fuck the laptop, let’s start serious.
There are two things that apply to all of us at Cambridge. First, we’re on the cusp of adult life, about to enter the real world and face all the responsibility it can throw at us. Second, we’re in the biggest ivory tower we’ll ever inhabit, delightfully pooh-poohing the idea that any spectre more sobering than getting spoons in bumps, or bumped in Spoons, is waiting in the wings for us.
If you’re anything like me then you’ll have spent your time at university trying not to think about your own potential. It’s far easier to eat, drink and be miserable than to stand up, step back and realise just how much you can achieve.
If you try your hardest, give up sleep, and turn friends into competitors and amphetamines into friends you might wind up with some pretty impressive achievements on your CV. You might even get your name on a front page or two. On the other hand, you could throw all your efforts into a goal, only to see others swan ahead of you and reach it with ease.
But at least then you could spout that old line: “What can you do, I tried my hardest.”
We need to challenge this idea that success is about how much you put in. It’s just another way of hiding from ourselves, and having a handy excuse when things don’t quite go to plan.
You might have got further if you didn’t waste your youth throwing everything you had into Sisyphean pursuits, and instead put a fraction of that energy into looking for the easy targets. There are chances to succeed lying right there in front of you.
What if I told you that poverty was one of those easy targets? That disease was no biggie? That every child in the world could have the education they deserved, just like that?
You’d laugh.You’d scoff. You’d say I was making light of a tough situation.
The fact is we make such mountains out of the suffering of our fellow humans that there’s nothing for it but to simply laugh it off. We give up, turn around and carry on making dinner.
Facing up to suffering, just like facing up to our potential, shouldn’t be daunting. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand. One of the easiest, and certainly the greatest, things you can achieve in your twenties is to alleviate the suffering of thousands of other people with the click of a mouse.
Thanks to the people at Giving What We Can, we now know how simple it can be to do immense good. They evaluate charities based on their effectiveness: if I give one pound to that charity instead of this one, will it make more of a difference to another person’s quality of life? The answers do a lot to counter my worries about what on earth I’m going to achieve when I leave university.
If I earn the average Cambridge grad salary next year, and pay my income tax including student loan deductions, the internet tells me I’ll be left with £19,767.57. That’s still plenty. I can spend a quarter of my income on rent, and keep your average one-bed flat in Manchester all to myself. I can spend an eighth of my income on food, and eat as well as a whole average household. I can spend a thirteenth of my income trying pitifully to recreate the Cambridge life, and have myself a Gardies falafel every night.
And with just a tenth of what I earn, I can save five thousand and nineteen people from intolerable suffering by providing the medication that will stave off potentially deadly bilharzia and intestinal worms.
Poverty, disease, hunger… there’s no denying that these are enormous problems. But think about how enormous the potential must be that lies within every student in your building. And then think about the enormous number of people like them around the world.
If each one of us gave just a fraction of our energy to helping the people who would benefit from it the most, we would make this the happiest era in human history. If only a few of us gave a little time and money, we would at the very least ensure that for tens of thousands of other people, discomfort, disfigurement and death no longer lingered menacingly on the horizon.
All it takes is to think about success a little differently. Lately, I’ve been trying my best to do just that.
It’s why I made a pretty special pledge with my laptop earlier this week. And it’s why you should too.