In these days of the 99%, it is fashionable to hate on the rich. I’ve done my share of wealth-bashing, even though by most people’s standards I’m way richer than I am poor. But today I want to give some kudos to a kind of wealth-sharing that I’ve been recently exposed to, the heartening kind that reminds one that “philanthropy” doesn’t only work at the grand, Gates Foundation level.
This week I was privileged to attend not one but TWO retreats at the homes of wealthy fellow islanders. Neither of these families was home; both offered their gorgeous, spacious, well-appointed homes freely to our groups (Quakers in the first instance, my writing group in the second). All they asked in return was that we be judicious in our use of water, and clean up after ourselves.
I noticed other similarities:
Neither home is gated. Of course, we live on a practically crime-free island. But plenty of folks here do have gates protecting their homes. Not these folks.
Both homes are full of local art…one of them, eye-poppingly so. Every wall, every piece of furniture is an example of some local person’s craft. Now I’m sure this family appreciates the beauty they’ve filled their home with, but I strongly suspect that their art purchases actually reflect a deliberate embracing of their role as art patrons. “We want to live in a world where artists can make a living,” their home seems to say, “so we’re doing our part to make sure this happens.” Hey, somebody has to support artists, right? And since artists make up about a third of our island’s community, this patronage becomes one more aspect of community membership– on a scale most of us can’t afford, true, but that makes it no less valuable.
I feel safe in this assumption because I’ve watched this family exemplify a way to live with wealth that I’ve never observed before. These folks are more fully integrated into the community than I am: their kids have attended the local school, they’re members of just about every board and organization on our island, and their involvement extends to the kind of physical, hands-on service that puts life and limb at risk. We’re talking way more than writing checks or hosting galas, although they do their share of that too.
This family also happens to be wonderful friends of the environment, setting aside large chunks of their land for preservation, and working tirelessly on legislation to protect our sensitive island habitats (time that I myself could be spending instead of, say, blogging).
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in progressive taxation. I happen to think that Good King Wenceslas could have been Great King Wenceslas if he’d set up dignified employment for the poor in his kingdom instead of just feeding that one guy. But I find it heartening to step away from the Us vs. Them thinking that tends to permeate our media (whoever Us and Them may be).
Not asking for political diatribes here–in fact, please don’t!–but just wondering: what examples have you seen in your life of generosity? Have you observed it more in “haves” or “have-nots”? What’s your definition of philanthropy?