Tipping is wrong but not tipping is wronger.
March 13, 2009 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Without becoming some kind of super activist, what can I do to assist social change?

There are things about society that I disapprove of/disagree with. I am not in the slightest willing to get into politics/advocacy/anything really involving publicity and people. I can however donate some amounts of money and time, and I don't mind doing stuff that involves people (hard to delineate what is 'too much people', but I have worked in hospitality, for instance. I would not be interested in approaching strangers for discussions).

The impetus for this question was the (yet another) tipping thread below. I think tipping as practiced in America is an inefficient and unfair arrangement, but simply not tipping is not going to change anything except stiff the waiters who serve me. Is there anything normal individuals can do that would affect the practice?

Obviously there are other issues in life, but big ones like homelessness/inequitable school funding/etc are either much more widely supported or just seem way out of scope. In general, however, I am looking for action I can take within my normal life (ie; not changing jobs/moving anywhere) that would affect social structures and arrangements that seem entrenched.
posted by jacalata to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Vote. Sign petitions. Recycle.
posted by AlliKat75 at 8:15 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Smile. Being outgoing and friendly with strangers. Leave larger than required tips. All of these things can be done within the context of our regular routine and life and will increase the net happiness in the world. I don't have the citation, but there was recently some very intriguing research showing that happiness is quite contagious, especially among acquaintances (as opposed to domestic partners / close friends).
posted by alms at 8:24 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Think Globally but Act Locally. As far as "tipping" It is what it is. You get what you pay for. If you are a good tipper you get good service. if you get not so good service & tip accordingly then next time they might try harder. & ya don't worry be Happy:-)
posted by patnok at 8:32 PM on March 13, 2009

Write to your elected officials. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.

Find an organization you care about, call them up, and see what kind of volunteer opportunities they have.
posted by All.star at 8:34 PM on March 13, 2009

Wait, I'm confused. What is it you want to change?

If you don't know, start there. Pick one cause.

If it's tipping? If this is the actual issue on which you want to work?

Well, first I wonder who you'd be benefitting. Generally, the idea of creating social change is to do someone somewhere some good. I'm not sure who stands to benefit from the abolishment of tipping.

But if you can figure that out, and write something about, there are a number of things you can do. Start a website or blog and do what you can to spread it virally. Print up little cards that give the web address and say "Here's a Tip: visit www.EndTips.com" or whatever you want to call it, and then leave it with your tip (not instead of, as you note). Create some charts showing how the world would be different if your campaign succeeded. Prepare some downloadable PDFs of your cards so others can use them, too.

You are asking a bigger question, though, about how to create change at a grassroots level. You don't have to become a super activist, you simply have to be willing to talk to people (or write to people) about what you believe. It helps to do your research so that you have a solid understanding of the issue and what the different stakeholders want. Study up on the history of the issue and how things got this way. Call up people in professional associations and academic programs and ask them about it - how things got this way and what should be done to fix it. Muster a set of "Did you know?" style facts that are easily introduced as talking points or can be listed on a short handout. Anticipate the arguments of your opponents and craft good responses. Use whatever forums you know about and are comfortable with to spread the word - a letter to the editor of the local paper is an excellent means of reaching people. Create some PR - you can write an informational press release about your issue, especially if you can tie it to an upcoming holiday or event, and send it to radio and TV stations, newspapers and bloggers. Maybe they'll run it, or invite you on their shows. Stunts or events are good awareness raisers - get media coverage in advance, or create your own, and stage an event. Call a public meeting or forum of people who have some interest in the issue in your community, and brainstorm ideas with them. Surf the net to find out whether other existing programs elsewhere can be successful.

Basically it's grassroots campaign organizing 101. There are a lot of resources on the internet to find and use, once you know what it is you want to do.

As far as a get-rid-of-tipping campaign, the immediate things that come to my mind are that you are going to have to convince everyone that no one will mind restaurant meal bills going up by 20-30%, and that the business owners won't mind having to add payroll benefits to their accounting programs. Those seem like the biggest obstacles to me, and I wouldn't support your campaign unless you answered them first with convincing arguments that it would not change my restaurant experience, worker's rights, or business owners' profits or tax liabilities for the worse.
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

I guess I'm not quite sure of your question. Are you specifically interested in the issue of establishing living wages and benefits for all employees who presently rely on tips in the U.S.? Or are you just interested in more general options for contributing time/money to a variety of causes?
posted by scody at 8:40 PM on March 13, 2009

Put your zip code in here. Pick one thing and do it. Its not hard.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:42 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

With any social change issue, somebody needs to be a super-activist and spearhead the change. If you're not going to do it, then your options are basically to give your money/time to the people who are.

In the case of tipping, there doesn't seem to be any real movement to reform it*, so there's not really anywhere to send your time or money. (and it's not going to be a really popular cause -- I'm guessing most Americans think their tipping system is just fine)

So you need to choose your battles. Find causes you support that are organized and competent, and give them your time and money.

* based on my ten-second Google search, maybe I'm wrong
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:43 PM on March 13, 2009

I think the best way for you to assist social change is to volunteer. That and something along the lines of what alms wrote. It's kinda Ghandi-esque: be the change you want to see in the world. First and foremost, we're responsible for ourselves so try to reflect on the things that you can improve about yourself.

As for the volunteering, I find it better to also devote your time to one or perhaps two organizations. Think about its angle, how does the organization go about effecting change, what type of activities would they have you do? If you find that you can't seem to find an organization that aligns with your intentions then consider creating your own! Sounds daunting, but there is a young woman who did just that in my home town of Philadelphia. Read more about her story here: http://backonmyfeet.org/main/index.html and get inspired!
posted by arizona80 at 8:44 PM on March 13, 2009

* (unless you mean the living wage cause, as scody points out, which certainly has a movement behind it... from your post it's not clear why you oppose tips)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:45 PM on March 13, 2009

This is not what you are going to want to hear.
Unless you're willing to organise with other people to achieve mutual goals, there is no way you can reasonably expect to achieve the kind of social change you're thinking about. None.
There is nothing ordinary individuals can do that will affect tipping, which is the point of Mr. Pink's monologue in the first scene of Reservoir Dogs. As a boss, you could conceivably pay your workers enough that they did not need to depend on tips for their livelihood, but this would do nothing to change the social fact of tipping. Tipping is a small part of a larger economic system which has its own massive support network of very organised people.
If you want to do anything about the underlying economic conditions upon which the custom of tipping depends, take your advice from Joe Hill: organise.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:51 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the answers so far!

To clarify: yes, my issue with tipping is the living wage idea. I'm from Australia - we pay waiters normal amounts, and they can get tips as extra. Being foreign, and intimidated by people, and only planning on being here temporarily, is another reason that I am not interested in getting into politics/starting my own organisation/etc.

I think I asked my question badly. I do volunteer. I do donate money. I do recycle/smile at people/etc. Perhaps the reason I can't think of any way to affect society without going into politics is that there is none. That would be a reasonable answer, and sort of what I've always assumed, but I didn't want to just give up and say 'I guess there's nothing more I can do' without asking.
posted by jacalata at 8:59 PM on March 13, 2009

Perhaps the reason I can't think of any way to affect society without going into politics is that there is none.

No, that's not true at all. Your problem is that "affect society" is far too vague. First, define the effect you want to have on society. Then maybe we could come up with some more specific strategies.
posted by Miko at 9:20 PM on March 13, 2009

Ride a bike.
posted by aniola at 9:41 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, there is plenty more to creating social change than politics. Your favorite non-profit would probably pay you to do non-political work for them.
posted by aniola at 9:48 PM on March 13, 2009

Sorry, but no. Wanting things to change but refusing to do anything real about them—but expecting things to change anyway—is silly, and insane.

Obama did not get elected by the virtue of being Obama; people did shit to get him in office.

I think there's a way out, however, and that's philanthropy. Although you would have to be very wealthy to participate in any kind of world-changing scheme.
posted by trotter at 9:54 PM on March 13, 2009

You are already doing things that change the world in series of small steps - volunteering, donating, recycling. If you want to have more impact without organizing, find others who are working on the problem and see how you can help. "Society" is massive. Significant change only results from the actions of many, many people, usually led by a few people who are deeply committed. You don't want to be one of the few, then find an opportunity to be one of the many. Even then, major changes take time (look at the history of movements such as getting women the right to vote) so be realistic (but don't give up).

So, if you hate the practice of tipping, find out who in your area is working on issues of a living wage. (unions, maybe?) Contact them and find out how you can help in a way that works for you. Maybe they need someone to fold and stamp newsletters for a few hours? Someone to coordinate logistics for an event? Do some filing? Depending on the amount of money that you have to donate, see if you can find a specific project that they wish they could do that you think is worth funding. I've certainly seen organizations were a gift of $500 or a $1000 can make something that was unfunded happen. If you aren't in that range of giving, then do what you can knowing that your money is one very small step towards a living wage.

And thank you for each little thing that you are doing while you are here to make the US a better place for all of us.
posted by metahawk at 9:58 PM on March 13, 2009

Well, a societal change involves a lot of people, by definition. Thus, it is necessary to organize a group in order to make it happen. Even famous people with access to lots of ears like Bono have to organize the people sympathetic to their cause in order to effect change.

This doesn't have to be a colossal organization with a mountain of overhead and by-laws. It can be a loose group of people that discusses what they want to do online, then gets together to do it.

In the case of tipping vs. living wages, I'd recommend you simply get a group together to target one or two restaurants that would be the most sympathetic to the cause, e.g. some vegan restaurant with left-leaning owners. Use flyers and online postings to get in touch with patrons of the restaurant, find out how they feel about tipping, and then use their support (if it's there) in meetings with the restaurant owners.

Or something like that. The details will flesh themselves out the further you delve into the issue.

Just keep in mind that your organizing doesn't need to be all-consuming and that you can go at your own pace. Nor do you personally have to do all of it. Once you find others for your group, they can do whatever heavy lifting they're capable of doing.

The groundwork for Obama's victory in many traditionally Republican states was laid by volunteers with no full-time staffers to help them until the election went into full swing. Sure, they were dedicated, but they still had jobs and lives while they established support for Obama.
posted by ignignokt at 2:47 AM on March 14, 2009


It offers small constructive actions you can take to change things on a local level, you can choose the causes that are meaninful to you and the actions are discrete, so you don't have to worry about getting involved then leaving people in the lurch when you move.

The downside is that it's only as good as the userbase and depending on where you're from, there may not be many users in your area.
posted by the latin mouse at 2:55 AM on March 14, 2009

I completely disagree with your analysis that the only way to change things is by getting into politics. Politicians are followers, not leaders. The social trends that they pick up and support are ones that have already been started by others, and by the time they are picked up, have developed real momentum. Those who make real change are the thousands and millions supporting and developing these new trends. Usually against significant established interests.

Also, usually the best place to change society is by changing ourselves. This is where you have the most power to effect change. It's also the hardest thing to do. But brings the greatest results.

posted by Sitegeist at 4:15 AM on March 14, 2009

Perhaps you could answer the question by reversing and asking not what can I do, but what have I got to give? Not just time and money (everybody has those to a certain extent) but what specific skills do I have, or might be willing to learn?

There are some back office skills that will always be in demand by groups working for social change and many of these involve tasks that can be time limited. Graphic design, writing, office admin, tech support/development, press work are the obvious ones that come straight to mind.

Once you have identified these, work out how much time you are willing to give and in what manner. Then identify groups in your area that are working in fields related to the sort of changes you want to see and approach them.
posted by tallus at 5:36 AM on March 14, 2009

You could contact me. I don't have anything to offer you now, but I hope to find or create an organization or plan sometime in the future. The details are beyond vague; I'm still gathering information, and not spending enough time to do a good job of even that.

I still have most of my Bush stimulus money set aside to donate to an organization that promotes just the kind of clear thinking that I believe you're advocating, but my time searching for such an organization on the web hasn't yielded fruit.

This kind of systemic issue has bothered me for years. I'm not sure about the best way to address it, but I believe it will have something to do with the way people make their hundreds of small decisions every day. As some have pointed out, treating this politically -- top-down, trying to pass laws -- isn't necessarily the solution.

I'm currently following a class on behavioral decision theory which may yield some fruit, but I'm a bit overwhelmed at the moment and, like you, am not thrilled with the idea of organizing anything. But maybe in a year or so.

Since you seem to be a programmer (my degree is in CS too, how interesting), and seem to be interested in this sort of thing, maybe you'll find Wikipedia's entry on and list of cognitive biases a worthwhile 5-minute skim. Figuring out how these biases interact with social psychology and politics could be a worthwhile pursuit, as well as figuring out simple ways to encourage people to think about things such that these biases are either avoided or leveraged somehow might be really worthwhile.
posted by amtho at 6:22 AM on March 14, 2009

I think I get your subtext...but correct me if I'm wrong. Sometimes it does seem that our problems are so great and so unsolveable that anyone trying to make a change is just swimming against a big, angry current.

It sounds like you are living a socially responsible life, but have the calling to do something grander, and are not yet willing to accept that calling.

That's fine. Continue on as you are, doing what you can in the way that you are comfortable with. Then maybe one day you will wake up and think, "I just can't stand this one more minute", and then we will all be reading about the new coalition spearheaded by jacalata.

Until then, remind yourself that you either contribute to the probelm or the solution, and at least you have a firm idea of which camp you're in.
posted by agentwills at 6:23 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've also noticed that you're a programmer.

You might like to consider the Free Software Foundation as a group to get involved with. But even if you don't want to do that I think most people in the computing world would agree that they are a very good example of a small organisation who have produced enormous change. The entire software stack that is allowing me to read this thread and enter this comment has been created under their aegis.
posted by Sitegeist at 6:49 AM on March 14, 2009

Politicians are definitely followers, but they also make the rules. "Getting involved in politics" doesn't have to be anything more than writing letters to our representatives and supporting individuals for office who you think would do the most good.
posted by gjc at 6:57 AM on March 14, 2009

I don't think I can change the world, but I try and make sure that as far as possible I live in an ethical manner. I like Kant's categorical imperative and use it as a rule of thumb (although I suspect my understanding of it isn't thorough, and I'm sure there are problems with it too). But basically, I try think about the consequences of how I live my life, and act in such a way that if everybody did the same the world would be a better place rather than a worse place. I can't change the world, but I can change the way I contribute to it, and interact with it.

In practice this means I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, I buy fair trade when I can, I walk where I can rather than drive, etc etc. The regular stuff I guess, but it is considered.

I find that since I'm not really willing to get out there and involve myself in good works or whatever, this is a good way of at least improving my little corner.
posted by Emilyisnow at 7:55 AM on March 14, 2009

I am not in the slightest willing to get into politics/advocacy/anything really involving publicity and people.

Perhaps the reason I can't think of any way to affect society without going into politics is that there is none.

I think it's going to be difficult for you to bring about any kind of positive change without accepting that politics, advocacy, publicity, and organizing are the tools that do-gooders of the world use. Saying you're "not in the slightest willing" sounds to me like "I want to bake a cake, but I'm not in the slightest willing to use eggs, milk, flour, butter, or sugar." People in this thread are talking about organizing, but organizing is just giving people a voice in the political process. These are all interconnected, and having deep-rooted cynicism in the political system isn't going to help. You're lucky enough to live in a democracy, why don't you take advantage of it?

Learn to talk to strangers about things that matter to both of you, or teach them why it matters to them. Nothing is more awesome than educating someone else about an issue, and then empowering them with the tools and motivation to do something about it.

The only things I can think that would actually fit your criteria would be writing a book, starting a blog about local issues, or thinking of a really good, useful idea and putting it on the internet. Do something like Ask Metafilter - think of all the positive social change that must have come out from that. I always wonder what our neighborhoods would look like if there was an Ask Malibu, Ask Toledo, Ask Cambridge. (Has this ever happened? <>)
posted by Muffpub at 7:57 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

(er that last word was supposed to be 'end derail tag' but it didn't show up. oops)
posted by Muffpub at 8:01 AM on March 14, 2009

Thanks everyone! I'm not sure if the best answers I've marked simply reflect the opinions I came in with, but I will definitely be rereading this and using peoples responses in trying to figure things out for myself. (So feel free to add any insights you have over the next year :)

Muffpub: it's not so much deep-rooted cynicism about politics, as deep-rooted nervousness about people and my ability to positively interact with them. Politics/social stuff is important but it is not something I'm cut out for.
posted by jacalata at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2009

« Older How does one get accustomed to spicy food?   |   What is like The West Wing? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.