It’s only since I have lived in Mallorca that I am privy to the stories of the super wealthy (through those who work for them – stories of course within the bounds of the non-disclosure agreement they have signed).
Most of the stories are about the demands of the rich and the fulfilment of those demands. One example – ordering 2 private jets. One for the person concerned. One for his luggage.
And sometimes the stories are of philanthropy. And questions of, where can I invest my money to help save the world?
If someone extremely wealthy said to you, I want to establish a philanthropic foundation and give back, what would you say?
Philanthropy and its opposite
Philanthropy from its etymological roots, is love of humanity. Arguably, its opposite created the wealth in the first place. How does such wealth disparity happen otherwise?
For French playwright Honoré de Balzac provocatively observed “at the foundation of every great fortune lies a great crime”. Mario Puzo’s drew on this to introduce his book, The Godfather.
As philosopher Alain de Botton in articulating ‘The Perfect Country’ said “its deeply taboo to be a philanthropist in perfect land, because having an enormous surplus wealth is generally a sign you’ve been extracting too much cash from your business and have not been courageous enough to risk money investing in properly meaningful goals”.
Given the system we are in, given there are people with a lot of wealth, given that some of them want to be philanthropists – what role does philanthropy play in our current climate?
For I think, we will increasingly see wealthy people want to ‘help’, ‘redeem’ ‘heal’ [insert whatever word you feel is appropriate] given the urgency of climate action and a rise in consciousness.
Given this, now what?
We are between stories as Charles Eisenstein and others say. A transition between old structures and systems and the new.
Can philanthropy be a transitionary tool?
A family whose wealth comes from mining, has got me and our community thinking. I will present a few of those perspectives. Am curious where you are with it all.
- In the powerful and poetic words of Audrey Lourde “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”. Wealth that has been created from an exploitative system, cannot be used to heal the system. We require a decoupling and decentralization of systems, not doubling on broken systems.
- “Give back”. Rather give it back. Return that wealth to where the ‘crime started’. We don’t own all of our wealth. Most comes from the common-wealth, the gifts of the earth. The sacred elements that create and sustain our life on this planet.
- Proceed with caution. People have done a lot of serious damage in the world in their attempts to save the world and create their own legacy. Perhaps “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” comes to mind? It is not easy to use large amounts of money well when we are uninitiated adults.
- Money is not the only way. But it is the current dominant systemic way we ‘connect human gifts with human needs’. And it can be infused with consciousness. So wealthy altruistic motivated people can have an important role to play. If they are willing to enter as ‘co-creators’ rather than from a venture capitalist control mindset. Willing to truly operate from an attitude of gift rather than seeking to control how and where the money is used and measured. So, this does not include creating a philanthropic foundation as a tax dodge or a way to get tax credits.
- “If you still have money to invest, invest it in enterprises that explicitly build community, protect nature and preserve the cultural commonwealth” (Eisenstein, 2011:140) Tangibly, probably the best thing is to provide land access to those who care for the land. Including giving land access to people who seek to create eco villages within commons (communing).
- Ted Lechterman (2011) wrote about the leading theories regarding ethical giving. As he said, even if there are different approaches, the “scholars all agree on one key point: donors should reflect more on their giving decisions”. So not rushing into strategy and systems, but first digging deep into your own core.
- If the courage and discipline to reflect exists, heart guided reflections on the likes of the following may positively change the energy and focus of the philanthropic act. Questions like, what is the most beautiful thing you can do? what is your heart telling you to do? which people or communities are you drawn to? what wounds are coming up that are asking to be healed? deep down, what are you ready to set down? who can you truly walk beside?
- Insert your perspectives…
My advice for this family? Start with self-reflection.
Read Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics.
“What can we each contribute to a more beautiful world? That is our only responsibly and our only security” (Eisenstein, 2011:139)
Take it from there.
I am grateful to Charles Eisenstein, the NAAS (A New and Ancient Story) community, Mallorca, friends and others for engaging in this conversation with me. I haven’t quoted the names – but am grateful for the perspectives given.
Updated this on 13 September 2022 to include the brilliant statement by Alain de Botton.
Thank you to Jonathan Borba on Unsplash for the photo