Fernando Martin-Gullans with Artists of Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch's In Good Company. Photo by Lawrence Elizabeth Knox (2021). Courtesy of Houston Ballet.
We recently spoke with Fernando Martin-Gullans, a professional ballet dancer from Houston, Texas. He shared how he was inspired to take the GWWC pledge after reflecting on what his "ideal self" would be like and told us about his visions for a better world.
I'm currently a professional ballet dancer, so I spend a good portion of my week rehearsing, training, and performing. Besides that, I really enjoy reading and learning more about different topics, such as effective altruism, philosophy, economics, and history.
I stumbled across effective altruism (EA) after listening to a Sam Harris podcast episode with Toby Ord in the summer of 2019, in which they discussed 'existential risks' and briefly touched on the logic behind EA. The idea seemed incredibly intuitive to me and felt like something I had been looking for for a long time. Hearing about EA on the podcast got me into reading more about ethics, particularly the works of Peter Singer, and led me to question a lot of the life decisions I had made up to that point — namely, the pursuit of financial wealth and independence above most else. Since then, I have taken the GWWC pledge, become an ethical vegan, and am now looking to transition careers into something more EA-aligned.
I am so privileged to have been born — through sheer luck — to loving, highly-educated parents in a developed nation, and I feel a responsibility to give back to those who have not been so lucky.
I took the Giving What We Can pledge because it’s what my “ideal self” would do. I think it’s useful to cultivate a vision of what your ideal self would be like — how they would act, how they would look, and how they would impact the world around them. When I thought deeply about this version of myself, there was not a doubt in my mind that he would dedicate a substantial amount of his time and resources towards having the most positive impact he could on the world.
There are several issues which I feel quite strongly about, such as ending factory farming, ending global poverty, eliminating preventable diseases, expanding the moral circle, improving epistemic processes, legal justice reform, improving political processes, and avoiding x-risks and s-risks (existential and suffering risks).
I think one of the greatest things about the pledge is that it is proportionate to your income. Therefore, if you find yourself having less income to give, you can give proportionally less. I, for example, am about to leave a financially secure job to pursue a more speculative venture, and my income will diminish to almost nothing in the short term. As a consequence, my pledged amount for this year will also decrease significantly. That's okay!
1. Start where you are: no amount is too small. (Any effective giving is better than no effective giving.)
2. Increase your giving mindfully and sustainably; while it can be tempting to want to give more and more, one has to consider the long-term effects this might have. Sometimes giving a little less, but more sustainably, can have greater positive impacts in the long run. There have been years when I’ve been able to give as much as 30% and others where I give as little as the suggested minimum of 10%.
I would love to see a world in which tremendous suffering is a relic of the past: factory farming does not exist; all people have access to clean water, food, a roof over their head, and an education; we eradicate preventable diseases and continue to make headway on those currently thought to be incurable (including aging); we possess better epistemics and exercise greater reasoning; we expand our moral circle to include all sentient beings; we establish laws and governments which preserve and protect our interests and well-being; and we live forth in excellence far into the distant future.
Doing Good Better by Will MacAskill is a great place to start if you want to learn more about how to have the greatest positive impact with your life. Beyond this, I would recommend most of Peter Singer’s works — specifically his book The Life You Can Save.
I have found that starting with a truly basic statement that most people agree with, such as '”saving two lives is better than saving one life, all other things being equal” can be instrumental in getting people to understand some of the basics of the thinking behind effective giving.
I’ve also found that talking to others who are already motivated by effective giving has been extremely helpful to me! It sounds simple, but joining a community of people who are all aligned in their desire to do good has been instrumental in empowering me to take on greater challenges in an attempt to make the world a better place. I highly recommend attending the EA monthly meetups, yearly events, etc.!
I feel a far greater sense of contribution and purpose having taken the GWWC pledge.
Shoutout to Luke and Grace and all the great work that they do!
This post is part of the “People of Giving What We Can" series, which profiles a selection of the Giving What We Can community. The Giving What We Can community is comprised of people from all walks of life, with different perspectives and motivations for giving – all united by their desire to make a significant commitment to use their income to effectively help others.
-Read more member stories.
-Share your effective giving story to help inspire others to give more, and more effectively.