When I was a Monk, having an ethical lifestyle consisted mainly in keeping the 5 following vows:
- Not to kill
- Not to steal
- Not to lie
- Not to consume intoxicants
It was tough to apply, but the framework was simple, the Buddha made it pretty straightforward for his hardcore followers.
Now that I’m back to a modern lifestyle, I’m forced to notice that having clean ethics is far more challenging in 2013: the globalized economy makes it far too easy to be harmful without even knowing.
I don’t trust governments and corporations to help me be a better earthling, so in an attempt to limit the damage I do to the planet and the people living on it I try to define a healthy line of conduct for myself.
But first, I’d like to illustrate what I mean by being harmful and unaware of it.
Have you heard of a Self-Help best seller called The Four Hour Workweek?
It’s mainly about optimizing your work habits and free more time for yourself. The author (Tim Ferris) did a great job packing hundreds of tips on efficiency at work and changing your mindset from a 9-5 to an entrepreneur mode, I recommend it to anybody into self-growth.
One chapter really ticked me off, though: in an entire chapter, Ferris advises to hire offshore Virtual Assistants and outsource all your time-consuming chores to them. The list of tasks to delegate goes from making online researches to managing your bills.
Sounds nice, right? No more Week-Ends wasted on the phone to return your vacuum, bygone the long hours trying to book a flight to Croatia with a layover in France. Your VA does all that for you and chances are he’ll do it better.
So far so good, I find the idea pretty great, except these VA guys only get paid 4-14$ an hour.
VA offshoring might sound like a good deal for Solo-Preneurs eager to maximize their profits, but those who want to conduct their business ethically will probably want to think twice.
I can sure understand the benefits of hiring a cheap assistant overseas, but if I was the VA, would I accept to be hired for 4-14$?
In developing countries, they do…They have no other options. Life’s tough in China or Bangladesh, and on top of that, working conditions are dreadful.
My point is this: can you claim to have solid ethics if you pay someone 5 times less than he/she deserves?
I guess not, and I’m guilty of the same complacency, I buy T-shirts for next to nothing, most of my manufactured products come from China or other poverty ridden dictatorships.
Now I’m trying to change that:
In my attempt to improve my consumerist habits, here’s a trick that always works for me: before consuming media or buying anything I try to ask myself this one simple question:
Would I be OK if it was me?
- Would I be OK to work in Bengladesh, in a factory so old that it collapses on me?
- Would I be OK to be sexually abused in a brothel in Thailand?
- Would I be OK to be a chicken or any factory farm animal and live in a cage smaller than me?
Definitely none of the above would be OK, and it’s safe to assume most other living beings feel the same way. You probably guessed that once you practice that policy, you seriously reduce your options at Walmart, right?
Maybe, but it feels nice to change the world :) I’m gonna pick three examples of how this policy has affected my life so far:
I spend less and less every year on disposable items and even electronic gizmos (lately, I’ve spent less simply out of sheer broke, but I had started even when well-off!)
I try to stay away from meat as much as I can, and it helps my finances and my health. It doesn’t make me a strict vegetarian, though hence the term flexitarian.
I definitely changed my way of seeing providers and businesses, and I’m always curious to know what they do and how they do it. I’m more aware of the power of changing the world by the way you spend your budget. Money can be used to deter some disgusting corporate practices (the Gap scandal is an example) of encourage the good ones, like these fair trade online clothe stores: (non-affiliated links: 1 2 and 3).
In all cases, there’s no doubt that all these good deeds will get me to Paradise, while everybody else goes to hell. That in itself makes it worth the effort :)