Values into action: Easy Virtue

Message, by Angela Neustatter

Easy Virtue …. sounds appealing doesn’t it? This idea that we can do good, and feel a frisson of virtue with very little effort is appealing. After all so many of us feel horrified by the harshness, injustice, fearsome political manoeuvring taking over our society, and at the same time we feel powerless to change it all. We may find a cause or two and dedicate what time, effort and money we can manage, but for many of us that is very limited and there seem to be so many worthwhile causes.

Which is where the idea of Easy Virtue comes in. It is a very simple concept where, rather than requiring the resources you cannot give, you organise your life so that the many things we all do, routinely, are chosen because as well as being what we want and need, they do good. In other words we build a life style – how we shop, what products we buy, where we go for a meal out or how we get our entertainment, and so on are chosen if not always, at least sometimes, because they have value added in helping others.

It is all too easy, of course, to say come on, how can my buying  from that shop or  wearing those clothes really have impact, but as we have seen when protest actions against say companies using child labour have taken off, what we do impacts on the world. And if enough of us make Easy Virtue a part of our everyday lives, in a variety of ways, we can be very effective.So the idea is that you look out for initiatives, charities, enterprises  that can take just moments to support , to choose to buy from, or network with, yet if enough people make the effort, the results can be startlingly beneficial.

child-labour-1.jpg

I have included brief write-ups about the initiatives chosen because I believe it is interesting to know what it is all about, and also helps us decide if it suits what we want. My list is haphazard, ideas I have come upon by chance, and my aim is to build the list, as an ongoing resource, adding in anything that really seems to make sense for Easy Virtue thinking.

I came to the notion of Easy Virtue by chance. One morning while I was working online a logo for something called Give As You Live flashed up. I was impressed at how this team of philanthropists were offering a way of giving to a charity of my choice (in my case the Trussell Trust)  that could be an effortless part of my daily life and allow me a dollop of feel good factor.

Give as you Live was launched in 2010 and the founders describe helping charities as “being in our DNA” and this is one way they make it possible for you and me to raise funds for the UK charity of our choice, without it costing us a penny. It also couldn’t be easier. When you sign up a symbol appears at the top of your computer screen and when you buy from anywhere supporting Give as you Live you just click on the symbol.

A great many online retailers have signed up (all listed on the website) to give a commission . They take half to run the organisation and pass half on to your charity. The retailers signed up include  Waterstones, John Lewis, Trainline, Booking.com, Majestic Wines, and Preloved which gives a high 20% of what you paying a great many others.

It was as though finding Give As You Live set my antennae working. I seemed to spot other schemes which, if we patronise them, can really make a difference . If we make a list, or keep in mind, those initiatives that appeal with what they are doing, and make it a habit to support them whenever possible well… that seems to me Easy Virtue.

Another point: evolving your own brand of Easy Virtue is fun, choosing causes you like the sound of , learning more about them, getting involved in networks and being thanked for being such a kind  person . There is nothing hair shirt about being Easily Virtuous.

On the other side Easy Virtue also applies to the choices we make. For example increasingly people are feeling unhappy at some of Amazon’s practices and the controversies over tax and their advertising with the alt right Breitbart website , but do not know where else to go for the films, book sales, economy prices etc. that they offer. Yet it is often possible to find an alternative with a little research, and this way you are helping support companies where the ethics  appeal more.

So don’t let the sneery line of American priest Theodore Hesburgh ‘all of us are experts at practicing virtue at a distance’ put you off. There’s nothing wrong with distance if the virtue does its stuff.

Better that we cock an ear to Confucius who had it that ‘you change yourself, you change the world.’ And to the Unitarians, a movement born of the Enlightenment and a quest for human justice, who have it right with their straightforward credo Believe In Good.


Angela Neustatter is a feminist, journalist and author of ten non-fiction books and teaches writing skills. She is a mother of two grown sons, involved with various local groups in Islington where she lives. She is about to launch a webpage called Easy Virtue to describe the very many projects, initiatives, ideas there are out there which offer opportunities for doing good, being an active participant in helping to create a society that is good for all, but which do not involve huge amounts of your time, going to live in the developing world etc. Yet cumulatively they can have a lot of impact and echo the words of Confucius: you change yourself, you change the world.