Making 'Good' Choices

A tiny mountain of sand stood in my path, created by a community of ants who probably spent years of their life (days of mine) constructing a tunnel into the Earth. The thought of placing my foot down felt wrong and selfish.

I do a lot of thinking. I take every idle opportunity to think deeply and consider what I should or should not be doing.

When I'm walking around and looking down at the ground with a blank state of mind, I'm thinking about where I want to place my foot next, what spot makes the most sense.

The other day while I was walking to the train station, I approached a puddle in the road and found two doves sipping from the waters' edge. They began scuttling away as soon as I approached, keeping an equal distance from me with each step I took forward.

Doves have always struck me as an odd creature, more relaxed, as if they love not flying, as if they'd rather not be bothered to needlessly expend energy if they can avoid doing so.

It was then that I realized I had a choice: I could walk to the right of the puddle (closer to the doves) and they would surely feel outpaced and take flight, or I could walk to the left and they would remain on the ground, at ease with my distance.

So which way should I go, left or right?

In the end, either choice would take me to exactly the same place on the other side of the puddle, but it was obvious to me that one of those two choices would have would have a drastically different effect on the world around me.

If I felt a sense of entitlement--if I felt that my being born as a human gave me some inalienable right over all other life--then I might not care which direction I stepped; I'd feel entitled to do whatever I wanted.

But the simplistic notion that all life resides somewhere on a food chain, and that anything below your spot on the food chain is somehow worthy of less respect, is ignorant to say the least.

Life is more than a hierarchical order of things.

Carrying the Best Intentions

My friend Niall Doherty--not to pick on him, but because he recently wrote something that helped me learn more about myself--quit being vegan after two years of sticking with it, siting serious doubts around the three arguments that initially led him to the vegan lifestyle.

Reading through his doubts I quickly realized why I've always found myself drawn to veganism: it's not about the effect my diet has on the environment, or about avoiding any needless killing, or even about taking care of my own health.

For me, those things are just practical and logical bonuses on top of the real reason that I gravitate towards veganism.

It's the same reason why, when given a choice, I avoid stepping on an ant or scaring away the doves: my actions, no matter how trivial they may seem, affect the world around me and, as the one responsible for my actions, I have a duty to ensure that my actions carry the best intentions.

How many people do you know who wouldn't tense up or put their foot over the brake when a squirrel or any other small animal runs in front of their moving vehicle? A small animal poses absolutely no threat to the person inside the vehicle, and yet we risk danger to ourselves by slamming on the brakes or swerving on the road.

When our subconscious is presented with a choice between life and death we instinctively choose the action that preserves life, because non-violence is an integral part of human nature.

While all life has meaning, purpose, and value, a human existence grants me something unique to the animal kingdom: the ability to make conscious choices based on rational and empathetic thinking.

Because I'm human, I can choose left or right based on conscious thought.

Because I'm human, I can look at the world around me and ask myself how my small, seemingly insignificant actions today will affect the bigger picture tomorrow.

I'm able to think about how my actions are going to affect not only me, but how they're going to affect everything around me, and not just for today or tomorrow but for generations to come.

No other species on this planet can make such conscious and globally empathetic decisions. No other species can consciously recognize that its actions may be copied by others and therefore amplified to create change on a greater scale.

Setting a 'good' example that I would want others to follow is important to me, but so is feeling good about the choices that I make. Making choices that I'd want others to follow, it just so happens, usually leads to choices that make me feel good too.

I doubt that anyone saw my instantaneous decision to walk left around the puddle, but it felt good, just like stepping over the mountain of sand and choosing to eat plants instead of animals.

Perhaps I think this way because of an innate understanding that what affects everyone and everything around me eventually ends up affecting me too.

Globally Conscious Personal Choices

Earth is an ecosystem, a community of life, and we're all born with an innate understanding that what affects the community eventually affects us too.

Good choices, then, are those that are not only good for us, but also good for the community.

For most of human history, our community has consisted of a few hundred people, or a few thousand at most. Today we're living in a global community of more than 7 billion people, a community where what we buy, what we eat, and what we choose to do with our time has a measurable affect on all corners of the globe.

It's not enough to just think globally. We must also live globally and that means making globally conscious personal choices, choices that are made while being conscious and informed of how those choices will affect everyone else.

If everyone on the planet copied your personal choices would that be good or bad for the global community?

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  1. Hiya Raam.

    I know youre not a “vegan’s vegan,” nor in a sect or on a bandwagon. So your post is all the more valuable.

    Thanks for boiling things down to common sense. Good choices usually are, even if no longer actually common, as our sense perception is compromised.


    • Thanks, Ali.

      Commonsense is only common when we’re conscious. If we act and live unconsciously, commonsense won’t be obvious at all. The goal then should really be to live more consciously and that means living more empathetically, as we are, after all, empathetic creatures whose capacity for empathy separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

      • I am also a recent vegan and will remain so for the rest of my life. I agree with most of what you say about empathy, but also feel that many animals are capable of empathy. We know that seeing eye dogs help blind people and that some dogs have saved babies from drowning etc. This means they also love their puppies the same way. This is just one example. Gorillas and other animal species exhibit empathy. Humans don’t own this trait alone.

        • Oh, I agree. Absolutely. It’s obvious to me that animals are capable of empathy. I also feel that far more humans would choose not to eat meat if they were required to witness the animal being slaughtered prior to it being cooked for their meal. If they were given non-meat alternatives, I believe most people would choose them. The problem, as I see it, is that people are so far removed from where their food actually comes from that they don’t experience the desire to choose something more humane.

  2. Yes, Raam, I so agree with you–that all the everyday choices that we make have
    an effect on other people and animals and on our planet.
    For example, I always buy eggs that come from humanely treated free-range chickens. I cannot understand why some people will buy the other kind just to save a few pennies. Surely even chickens deserve respect.

    • Hi Carol,

      It’s great that you think about where the eggs came from and that you want to only support humane practices, but I would ask: If you wanted to respect the chickens, why would you support taking their eggs in the first place? Are those eggs necessary for your health? Will your health deteriorate if you stop taking eggs? Have you no other options?

  3. I have since come to realize that I am almost to sympathetic towards living things. I remember when I was a kid, stepping on ants was a game. Now I go out of my way to save them if I can. If a spider is in the house, I try to get it outside rather than squish it.

    I like fishing, or liked fishing. My problem now is hurting the fish. haha. This makes no sense really considering I still eat fish anyways. At the same time, should animals grow old and die or should they at least provide us (or other animals) with food at some point. Tough questions.

    I like that you chose to step around the puddle. Makes me realize that maybe I’m not to sympathetic.

    As far as making the world better with our choices. This is also a tough one for me. I think for the most part, yes, if my principles and actions were copies – it would be better.

    But I also love travel. I love going to a different country with a different culture. I think everyone could learn so much. But at the same time, that releases a ton of poison into the air and also would bring much more tourism to these places, which could inevitably change them.


    • Hi Matt,

      I agree: If you avoid fishing because you don’t want to hurt the fish and then you eat fish anyway, that’s hypocritical. Should animals grow old and die? Why not? And if not, who are we to decide that? Humans are part of nature, yes, but we’re not so stupid and incapable that we’re forced to succumb to following the rest of the ‘dumb’ animal kingdom. We have the ability to make conscious choices while the rest of the animal kingdom simply responds to its environment and its natural urges.

      I feel that humans who follow in the footsteps of animals and use the excuse that “the rest of the animal kingdom does it” and “we’re higher up on the food chain” are just being pure lazy. At the most basic level, we’re capable of more than that. We’re capable of thinking for ourselves, of free thought. Instead, so many of us (myself included, for several experimental years) choose to throw away that basic freedom and act like the rest of the animals.

      As for your points about travel: Yes, I love travel too. But what if to help balance our unusually high volume of travel we take that experience and use it to help others in a way that those who don’t travel could not? What if every year we add up how many flights we took and how many miles we logged and purchased carbon offsets or invested in green energy or donated to a poor country?

  4. This is a great sentiment, especially for this moment. However, I wouldn’t underestimate the rest of the animal kingdom and their abilities to be kind and make good choices. Perhaps it just isn’t explicit.

    • I agree, Amanda. My point wasn’t that animals are dumb and incapable of emotion or even conscious thought. My point was simply that humans have a much greater capacity, which gives us abilities greater than those in the animal kingdom. Failing to recognize that leads to things like joining in their instinct-driven practices of killing for food when an alternative exists.

      • Yes, Raam, if you’ve  been keeping up with research developments, it turns out that dolphins and elephants are two creatures that have the same level of conciousness as us.

        However, I still agree. Humans do have the most impact on the world, and a statement to that fact is that most of our problems have little to do about the world.

        Your testament at the beginning reminded me of Jain monks. When they travel, they walk bare-footed and have a handkerchief over their mouths, and then proceed to walk as cautiously as they can for hours a day.(It’s the only way they travel. Other forms pose too much risk.) It was interesting to read your POV being so similar to monks.

        Good post. I love reading these. Also, before I forget, you have a typo in the first paragraph under your last heading.



        • Thank you for pointing out the typo, Radhika, and for sharing your thoughts here. 🙂

          I have been hearing more and more about how scientists are discovering that some animals, like dolphins and whales, have a high level of consciousness. But you took the thoughts right out of my head with what you said next: they may have a high level of consciousness–perhaps even equal–but they certainly cannot have the level of affect on the world that humans can. We are more capable creatures and as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

  5. Hi Raam, I've read some of your posts and find them intriguing. I have never met someone that approaches life the way you do in that you devote yourself to seeing its beauty and trying to understand it while others I know, although they may share the same sentiments, are so easily caught up in the 'normal' world; a world of material wealth and adhering to a flawed society. I thought that if anyone could help me, it'd be you.

    I want to try and change the world. The scale isn't as important as the individual effect to me, not yet. I want to be able to help people by first changing myself and the way I live, and I understand the need to first change the way I think, so I intend to travel and see the world; not just with a youthful curiosity but with the desire to better myself.

    Unfortunately, I'm 17. I have another year of college (I'm British – 'college' comes before 'university' for us) ahead of me beginning in September, and so can only hit the road next year. I thought about dropping out and making my own way in life, but after the care, effort and money that my parents have put into my education, placing themselves in heavy debt for my sake, it wouldn't be fair to throw that in their faces now. They have already accepted that I won't go to university. And yet, this education only seems to teach me closed mindedness – my disillusionment at the world I continue to live in only fuels my anger at everything around me.

    I just returned from a 2 and a half week trip in which I set off alone and cycled/camped for a lot of reasons. I learnt more about myself and was reminded of many of life's lessons I'd forgotten, and for what felt like the first time in my life, I experienced complete freedom; no strings attached.

    In less than a week I'm leaving for a month to go hiking and am sure to feel that same feeling, but the short time I've been back at home has shown me that I can't readjust. I've experienced freedom and I just can't go back; nothing here holds any joy for me anymore and the pointless distractions I'm surrounded by only remind me of what I'm missing out on. I fear that, when I return in a month to go back to college, I'll struggle even more. I don't think I can be happy anymore until I'm away from it all.

    Have you ever suffered from this? Do you have any suggestions?

    • Andrew,

      Thank you for reaching out. I took the liberty of breaking your comment up into paragraphs to make it easier to read.

      As I read your comment, I was thinking to myself, “I can relate.” But then I read the part where you said, “unfortunately, I’m 17.” Unfortunately!? Man, you are so far ahead. You have a HUGE head start on most people. It took me until I was 28 before I realized what you’re realizing at 17. My immediate advice is to stop worrying so much. You’ll get so much more done if you’re relaxed and at peace. You likely have a long life ahead of you and if change is what you want, change is what you’ll get.

      I would suggest finishing up college — you’re almost done anyway, why not just get it over with? Use the time to make observations and to reflect on the world you’ll leave behind once you’re done.

      Start writing (and optionally publishing online, which I cannot recommend enough) your observations of the “pointless distractions.” There are so many people, young and old and myself included, who would gain so much value from those thoughts of yours. If you want to start changing the world, start there. You can start while you finish up college.

      After you’re done with college, I suggest traveling and exploring until your heart is content, or until you feel a stronger pull to do something else. There are few great teachers like that of travel with an open-mind.

      Happiness? Happiness comes from within. A man sitting in a dark musty prison cell can be happy, while somebody sitting on the summit of a mountain in the middle of a wilderness can be miserable and unhappy. Happiness is not a factor of your circumstances or your environment, it comes from within.

      • Wow, I don’t know where to start – thank you very much for your reply.

        I have already been writing some of my thoughts down for a while, but I never thought about publishing them; do you mean in a blog or something like that? I’m not really sure how to go about this, but it makes complete sense. For all my talk about making change it never occurred to me that I could start so soon; I always just assumed I’d have to learn more about myself and the world before I could make a difference.

        And I do intend to finish my last year of college, although I have little care for my grades anymore. I agree that I should stop worrying too and be at peace, but that’s where problems arise. I can’t feel at peace because I’m always uncomfortable. My problem now is that nothing feels real to me anymore. I feel like I’m living some kind of fiction in which I go through the motions. I listen to people talking about their day to day lives and their seemingly carefree approach to everything and it just feels wrong; like they’re deluding themselves.

        And yet I do exactly the same! I nod along and smile, crack jokes and pretend nothing’s changed, hiding my real feelings from everyone.

        I even find all my friends feel strange to me now; I have no way to relate to them apart from through the ‘pointless distractions’ I’m trying to avoid and they don’t seem to notice. So how then can I be at peace? I’m not so much worried about the future as I am angry about the present. Please don’t misunderstand, I don’t in any way take what I have for granted; I understand how privileged I am even to be able to type this, but I can’t accept it. That too is another source of anger for me; I watch myself essentially living in luxury knowing full well the suffering others face.

        I know happiness comes from within too. That was one of the lessons I was reminded of on the road, when I’d naively thought that just by being away from it all I’d be automatically happy. As closely as freedom and happiness are intertwined, I understand that. And yet there were so many times out there when I smiled; a genuine smile for all sorts of reasons, big and small; as opposed to so few times I really feel happy when I’m at home. Simply being myself often made me happy, and in this environment I don’t feel I can be myself.

        • Andrew,

          Just based on your writing in these comments I can see that you have a ‘knack’ for writing. You’re able to articulate and express your thoughts far better than most people. Some would call that a ‘gift’ (I like to think of it as learned clarity of thought).

          In any case, YES, please start now. See if sharing your thoughts about what’s going on around you helps relieve some of the tension you feel.

          I would recommend starting with a free blog. If it eventually grows and you want to move it to your own domain, WordPress makes that really easy to do.

          If you have any questions at all, or if I can help in any way, please do let me know.

          Heck, you can start by copy-and-pasting the above comments and turning them into your first post! Then hop on Twitter and share it. Do a search and find others who are talking about something similar and ask them to check out your site.

          Also, if you haven’t already, you might want to check out Niall Doherty and Chris Guillebeau. Both of them have an enormous amount of resources on their sites and huge communities of people around them that I think you’d gel with.

          • Thank you for all the help – I’ve always enjoyed writing. When I get back from my trip I’ll get into it then, and I’m familiar with Niall Doherty but not yet Chris Guillebeau, so I’ll take a look at him too.

            Thanks again Raam!

          • My pleasure, Andrew. When you get your website up and running please do come back and share the link here so that I can take a look (and so that others reading these comments can too)!

          • Hi Raam, I’m back.

            I’ve more or less got my website up and running now – just a few things to tweek. I’ve made a kind of explanatory page and was wondering if I could use your profile picture in it, to give credit where it’s due. I’ll post the link here once fully set the site up. Thanks.

          • Hi Raam,

            You’re a father! That’s amazing, I’m so happy for you! Heh, you kept it pretty down-low eh? I can’t imagine what it feels like.

            I finished making my blog now, thanks again for all the help! I’m really glad to be able to vocalise my thoughts, it feels liberating. Have fun with parenthood, see you soon.


          • Thank you, Andrew! Yes, I was keeping it on the down-low until after Ananda was born. 🙂 It’s been an amazing journey thus far and I’m sure the adventures have only just begun. I’ve been trying to find a way (and the time! between changing diapers and catching up on work and sleep, there isn’t much time left over…) to articulate my thoughts and feelings so that I can share them here with everyone.

            Congrats on starting the blog! It looks great and your writing will definitely inspire others. Keep at it!

          • Dear Andrew. I applaud your youth and eagerness to follow your dream. I also caution you to make sure you are able to earn a living too so you can feed yourself, pay for your travels, etc. How will you pay for food, travel, lodging, medical problems, emergencies, etc? How will you pay for your bills in old age if you have no savings? A higher education can give you a profession to earn more money.

          • Hello WebProf,
            Thank you for replying to me and offering advice, I appreciate it. I think, however, that we have pretty different definitions of travel.

            For me, travel is sustainable and continuous; not something that I should just stop and start to return to my country of origin (or any ‘first-world’ country for that matter). I don’t mind having a ‘base’ or spending a few months or more in one place, but I have no desire to see it as a constant career. An occasional stint abroad followed by months of saving doesn’t feel sustainable to me.

            And I don’t really see why I should need higher education to accomplish my goals. The kind of work I’m interested by or passionate about isn’t the kind I’m willing to spend extortionate fees to learn in university, and even were I to find a good deal for some kind of relevant course, I have no interest in tying myself down like that for 3 years (or whatever).

            In any case, I’m deeply against the kind of educational system I’m a part of and, although I’ve never been and so can’t really bash it, university is an extension of that. Despite the huge variety of courses that seem to be out there, the 15 years or so I must have been in school are quite enough for me. Plus, I hate academic work with a passion.

            As for making a living, I’ve mentioned I’m not opposed to stopping and living/working en route. I have low living standards out there and know to an extent how to survive and a few ways I can make money on the move. Otherwise, there are countless opportunities out there to make my way in the world that I’m ready to strive for, most of which I don’t yet know exist.

            I don’t think it’ll be easy, but I choose the hardships of travel over the fears of settled life. And as for paying the bills, if I’m still so financially dependent by the time I’m ready to settle down, not only will I not be much worse off than my ‘civilised’ counterpart, but I’ll have led a more fulfilling life to arrive there. As it stands, I don’t intend to be financially dependent on others in my old age, and I think that 17 is far too young to already be worrying about the end of my life. 🙂

  6. Hi Raam,

    I´ve been a quiet reader for a while, but this post resonates with me a lot. I never thought about my reasons for veganism and other life-friendly choices I make, but you hit the nail on the head.

    I recently had a conversation with a friend about whether it´s ok to eat an egg, if it´s unfertilized and from a chicken that lives a happy life with you somewhere on a farm – and won´t ever be killed. I was ok with that, but she said – if it´s ok to eat this one, then it´s not far from it being ok to eat any egg. In other words, it´s setting a bad example. Or in your words – If everyone on the planet copied that, it would not be ok. (and unfortunately this is the reality in this case).

    So this:
    If everyone on the planet copied your personal choices would that be good or bad for the global community?

    Is an amazing tool to use to evaluate our daily decisions. I think Niall mentioned something similar – would you still do what you´re doing, if your actions were public?

    Thank you for this deep thought :).

    • Lukas,

      Thank you for sharing a bit of that conversation with your friend. The more I think about it, the more I realize how great a simple egg is for this example.

      The current U.S. egg consumption is 250 per capita per year. With a U.S. population of 310 million people, that’s 77,500,000,000 eggs per year or 212,328,767 eggs per day.

      If all 7 billion people on the planet consumed the same number of eggs as the United States, that would be 4,794,383,558 (4.7 billion) eggs per day, or 1,749,949,998,983 (1.7 trillion) eggs per year.

      Is that sustainable? Does that even make any sense on a global scale? No. There are simply better ways of getting the same nutrients for such a large number of people.

      To me, that makes it plainly obvious that consuming eggs makes no sense, farm raised or not. It’s setting a bad example and maintaining a status quo that impedes human progress. The same is true for consuming meat and fish.

      (I’m not blind to the reality that in some parts of the world people don’t have a choice; some people live in areas where vegetables and fruits simply cannot grow. I’m not referring to those specific cases; I’m referring to cases where we have a choice, as most people living in a modern society do today. For those who have a choice, their individual choices are informing and influencing forward progress.)

  7. Your last question is an important one, and one that I agree everyone should ask.

    I know I could quite confidently say I’m close to living a lifestyle that is a good model for others to live by, but I’m obviously biased.

    • I don’t think I’m anywhere near living a lifestyle that is a good model for everyone else (all 7 billion people).

      It’s probably a better lifestyle than most who have as much access and opportunity as I do (while I can afford lots of expensive things, my minimalist mindset keeps me from purchasing things I don’t need), but all aspects of my lifestyle are certainly not scalable (7 billion people couldn’t fly on planes several times a year or drive a combustion engine vehicle without destroying our planet’s environment and depleting its resources).

      However, since I’m always thinking about that, about how my actions might scale to 7 billion people, I’m more inclined to walk and take public transit and to plan trips that don’t require excessive flying. I’m also more inclined to think about things like what diets and shoes are sustainable for 7 billion people. If I wasn’t thinking about scale, it would be incredibly easy to make choices that feel good, but in actuality are contributing to the problem.

      More important that actually living a lifestyle that can be replicated to 7 billion people, I think, is living in such a way that we are always looking for ways to live better and more sustainable.

  8. “an innate understanding”, as you mention in the article, seems to underlie the conscious awareness with which you seek to “walk” through life, sparing impact on other aspects of this world. Sadly, it appears, that a very many caught-up in the me-me-me world that indoctrinates them in its own interest of self-perpetuity, have none or not much contact with “innate understanding”. Some, such as yourself, can but live as you live and share it as you do. Good words in this piece! Thank-you!

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts here, Ricky. A rebellious compassion-driven spirit, which is something that can be adopted by anyone, can help us resist the constant indoctrination into the me-me-me world and it can inspire us to look–and act–beyond ourselves.


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