My Greatest Year on the Planet

In a few weeks time I will have been on this planet for a quarter of a century, and none of those 12 months have been as good as the dozen that have just passed.

Despite family health issues, despite being unemployed for a large portion of it, and despite ending my longest ever relationship with a girl that I had loved for years, 2014 has undoubtedly been my best year on this rock we call home.

I believe that life is a constant process of becoming a better person, and from January 2014 until December of that same year, I think that I made more meaningful strides than I have ever done. It may not have been my happiest year, or my most financially beneficial, but it is the year whereby I believe I made the most positive changes and had the greatest impact.

2014 was a year in which I continued my education. With university over, and with a distinct lack of funding to progress towards a masters, a new route was taken; distance learning. Very kindly loaned the money to pay for the course, I enrolled on a NCTJ diploma in Journalism. Aside from our waistlines, it is only through expanding our minds and knowledge that we are able to grow, and learning is just one aspect of becoming a better person. The worst, and most absurd statement anyone can make is that they know enough. As Socrates said: “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing”.

2014 was also a year for the continuation of my love affair with reading. The target from the year before was set at 29 – a book every 12.5 days – and although I fell short of that figure by 2, it was a worthy effort. The easiest way to gain knowledge is to read, and anyone who chooses not to delve into a book or 10 is choosing self-imposed ignorance.

Knowledge and learning are elements of self-development, but what was I able to do for others?

It was early in the year that I discovered Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Savewhich is an organisation that encourages people to donate a percentage of their pay check each month to charities whose work saves lives in the developing world. Despite being on benefits at the time, I took the pledge and committed to donating 3% of my income for the next 12 months. When I finally found a way of generating income, I honoured my pledge, and by the end of the year I had donated a total of £268.02 to a wide range of charities.

I know this figure may not seem like a lot, but to put it into some perspective, as well as being 3% of my entire earnings over that year, it is also more than what a large number of the UK public give. The Guardian reported that only 39% of people give more than £50 a year, and in 2010/11 NCVO stated that the UK median donation was just £11 each month.

Charity played a large role in my life over the last 12 months, along with the regular monthly donations I was also thrilled to start work with Renewable World, a charity that works with renewable energy to alleviate poverty in developing countries. Following a brief, but all-too-depressing stint working in the world of capitalism and for-profit business, a move to the non-profit sector was very welcome. It is where my passion and my heart lies, and I see far more honour in seeking to achieve funding for a remote village in the mountains of Nepal, than I do lining the pockets of a business person in the UK.

I continued this charitable theme later in the year by adopting strategic buying practices. Birthday cards were bought from Oxfam, new clothes were bought from charities online stores, and at Christmas all of my family received a donation in their name as a present alongside their usual gifts.

The biggest, and greatest change that I made in 2014 was to give up fish and meat. Admittedly I had one slip up early in the year when simply out of routine I ate some sausages and chips following a football match, but aside from that not a single piece of animal flesh has entered my mouth or landed in my shopping basket. This is quite an achievement for anyone, but for those that know me it is particularly impressive as previously I was the biggest carnivore around. Not a single day would pass whereby I would not eat meat, and the amount of animals that had to die in order to satisfy my desires would, I imagine, number in the hundreds each year.

I had always known that giving up meat was the ethical and moral thing to do, and I had always continued with my hypocritical eating habits. Inspired by my former partner, and one of my best friends, 2014 changed that cycle, and I feel so much better for it. I very much doubt I will ever return to meat again, there is simply no need for it in my diet, nor in anyone’s diet. The point that society has reached in terms of development and availability, means that eating meat is no longer necessary to sustain a human life. We can do without, and I am.

What more has been done? Raising awareness of issues through my writing, supporting causes and being active through demonstrations, protests and activism, and participating in a gruelling 24 hour football match organised by a friend that raised money for Cancer Research UK. But the process of progress must continue.

Though perfection may be an unattainable target, one which is constantly just over the horizon, it should be one that we all strive towards. One step at a time, always moving forwards, despite knowing that we will never reach the desired location. Regardless of the fact that I will never reach the utopian province of perfection, I will strive to get as close as I can to the city walls. Hopefully, by the time my existence on this planet has come to an end, I will be bathing in the shadows of the great city.

We are a week into 2015 now, and already I am looking at ways to improve further. All suggestions and recommendations are welcome, and I would be honoured to walk alongside you as we strive to improve ourselves, and our world.

“Believe. Begin. Become.”

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