Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like if we reverted to a barter system. Just close your eyes and imagine with me for one moment. I’d go to the baker and ask for a loaf of bread in trade for my services to teach the baker’s kids music lessons. Perhaps the mailman would deliver packages to one’s house in trade for a bookkeeper’s services. It sounds lovely right? In some areas of business and culture, it seems we haven’t left this quid quo pro arrangement. Somehow it seems this arrangement allows for fair practices and negotiations to be assumed, as the division of resources, time, energy can be more readily seen, observed, and practiced. Of course, we are now living in 2017, not ages of the past…right? Isn’t it interesting how much our culture has grown accustomed to value people by what they do and produce as opposed to who they are? What is the function of this middleman we call ‘money’? Is it to give oneself or his/her family the bare necessities of life? Is it to give beyond the essentials with extravagant extras? Is money part of a big global pie and each person has a cut? If so, who determines that cut? Or rather, is it like a transplanted tree, ever producing with the right nourishment and care, sometimes producing more trees….or maybe not?
When Hurricane Harvey carved its destructive path, there was a storm of opinion surrounding the essence of “giving”; who should be giving, what organizations or churches should be opening their doors to help those in need, and who should we trust to give of our resources and money? People tweeted, posted, raged, and quoted theological verses or entertained philosophical teasers to voice one’s opinion. It seemed by observation that there was a consensus that those who have ‘more’ should give more, citing the ‘pie’ of course, and questioning why and how a person with half the pie should or should not give of his/her resources. Perhaps there exists an even deeper question to be asked; what does it mean to have ‘gifts’ and how do we personally and individually give authentically of our gifts? I would assert that these gifts have been endowed to each one of us through the talents we have been given. I did not wake up one day and exult, “Andrea, I gave myself the gift of singing.” Therefore, these gifts are not our own but on loan and require an obligation and responsibility to use those gifts in service of each other. It would be a sure injustice for any society to limit a person’s bestowed talents and abilities.
These talents of course, may have the ability to produce great financial prosperity. Yet, some people assume these gifts of wealth as children of wealth. Other obtain these financial fruits through incredible self-sacrifice and hard work. Some grow into poverty as children of poverty. Others suffer through poverty as a result of unjust systems or an unwillingness to work, or a slew of other factors. In my humble opinion, there is no difference between a wealthy man who raises a selfish child to an impoverished man who raises a child who later refuses to work or vice versa. Both scenarios pose a sense of entitlement that can lead to damaging effects on the individual and communities. Regardless of the spectrum, we all have been endowed with gifts that can and should be given.
I think one of the major problems with money is the idolization of it. There is a temptation to attach one’s identity with how much one acquires. Statements like “I am poor” or “I am rich” are commonly heard, as opposed to “I am a person who has less money” or “I am a person who has a full bank account.” If one attaches himself/herself to ‘personhood’ first, then one safeguard’s his/her identity against being undervalued by how much is produced, but rather being valued by who a person is. How many times have we seen the idolization of money create scenarios of undervalued personhood both in personal and business matters.
I have witnessed families divided amongst themselves as a result of disputed Will matters of aging parents. I have heard stories of family members asking for money for various reasons, before exhausting the option of selling items of their own. In business, I met a respected author about philanthropy in which he suggested that people must give of their ‘excess.’ I’d have to refute this philosophy by asking, if we give only of our ‘excess,’ would we ever know the ‘pain’ of sacrifice? Often, we hear, “no pain, no gain,” and I believe this idiom can be applied in philanthropy. I liken this ‘pain’ to a pinch on the arm. One feels a bit of pain as someone pinches your arm, but it hasn’t damaged the full body. In a similar sense, “no pain, no gain,” in this context comes to mean the pain we feel when we shed our financial ego in order to engage the world at large through social financial responsibility, and at the same time, bringing great fulfillment to the human spirit, one’s own and others. If you are one of those blessed by such material resources, I must ask, have you felt a bit of that sacrificial ‘pain’? Have you internally or outwardly acknowledged the person or people who have worked in helping invest in you or your family line’s prosperity? On the same note, I would ask those with less material wealth, have you internally or outwardly acknowledged the people who have provided you with a job and the gift of work?
As a performing artist, I have seen the world of philanthropy from the young age of sixteen when I gave my first ‘benefit’ concert. These benefit concerts would continue for many years in my career, either for personal artistic projects or having joined with other nonprofits to help raise money for their respective missions. I recall one such occasion in which I gave a benefit concert at a country club. About 100 guests attended, ranging from diverse areas work and wealth. At the end of the night when donations were counted, I went through the list of attendees and found that the person who gave the most financially was the one who had the least…a priest.
Topics of money and philanthropy certainly extend beyond the world of benefit concerts. In the realm of dating and marriage, we’ve seen common tales about the differences in philosophy about money. Some suggest that “money and sex” issues are at the heart of divorce or separation. I once conversed with a man who suggested he desired to have a large family and to marry a woman in a financially sound career to lessen the possibilities of a woman leaving the marriage. I tried to understand this fear of his, but I became wrapped up trying to envision myself bringing a six-figure income home at the same time taking care of six children! When it comes to the discussion of money, it seems there can exist a huge fear and anxiety from letting go of our resources! The fearless person gives, knowing that his/her resources are gone, that they may never be returned. So, it is with love. When it comes to the financial fruits we have, we need to be fearless in the face of disaster, fearless in the face of giving, and fearless in loving.