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Creating a Nation of Philanthropists, One Pledge at a Time

Posted: 01/17/09 04:02 PM ET

When I graduated from high school, I had three opportunities -- go to college, get a job, or join the service. Although I considered putting my eight years of Boy Scout experience and love for our nation to the test by joining the military, I did not want to put myself in a position where I might be commanded to take the life of another, and quickly ended my flirtation with military service. Today, serving our country no longer simply means drop and give me 20, this is your rifle, defend this land we call home. National service is becoming a term used to define a much broader and equally passionate category of patriotism. This brand of patriotism is inclusive of a pure humanitarian effort guided by the simple virtue of the giving of oneself for the benefit of another in the name of the United States of America. Americans are on the brink of the Newer Deal where we will join hands in an effort to resurrect the pride in a government that supports us in supporting ourselves. Our new leader understands the value of our collective voices, he believes in our ability to create a greater good, and knows that as a nation we are willing to sacrifice selfishness for a more robust happiness.

Four years ago I sat in a hotel room with Israel's Head of State, then former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, where he proceeded to tell me what he felt made America a great country. He said that throughout history America, more than any other nation, has supported itself and consistently extended itself to other countries in need without looking for anything in return. I bit my lip as I thought about our national pursuit of Middle Eastern oil and how much more we could be doing as a country for so many resource depleted nations. I kept my retort to this gracious offering to myself and accepted it as a political offering of good will. Later I dissected his semantics, justifying the statement as truth based on the use of the word "history," as opposed to "recent history." I considered the support we have shown for so many countries in crisis throughout history, including outreach during the tsunami, and China's earthquake, and thought that most certainly from Israel's perspective we have been extraordinarily supportive. However, I couldn't help but feel we are falling short of this measure of greatness, both domestically and abroad. Following my meeting with Prime Minister Peres, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of desire -- desire to live in a country of philanthropists and to have the world recognize Americans as citizens dedicated to selfless goodwill. With that as my lofty goal, I observed the state of our greatness and became determined to make this goal a reality.

Two years after this meeting, I stood in my agent's living room (who happens to be the brother of our nine and a half fingered future chief of staff) where I met a man who was contemplating throwing his hat in the ring for the hardest job in the world. I had met a few presidential candidates before in my life and heard many speak but I had never seen one with more audacity, not of hope, just audacity. Barack Obama stood in front of a room of Los Angeles liberals and told us that everyone could have the American dream... but we were going to have to work for it. He said that every kid will get assistance for college but they were going to have to work for it. He explained that our nation could become independent of foreign oil but that we were going to have to give up a bit of our current comfortable existence. Now, from the mouth of an average straight-shooting American that may not sound audacious at all, but for a politician seeking endorsements to tell people that they are going to have to make sacrifices for the greater good, that he is not going to wave his magic legislative wand and fix it, that's audacity. That audacity is what gave me hope.

Maybe following Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday we will be inspired to do more for our country, or to fear less, but today we have been asked to serve not just for a day but to make it part of our lifestyle. A wise friend once told me that every time you serve someone else you take on all of their good traits. Maybe this explains the outstanding character of Barack Obama. He is a servant to this country and he has inspired me to adopt his spirit and to serve him with that dream of a great America in tow.

A year ago my wife and I looked one another in the eye and promised to dedicate ourselves to finding a cause to champion. After sifting through the wreckage of issues that our world faces, we were continually confronted with one issue that pulled at our heartstrings and haunted our thoughts: the abolition of 21st century slavery. We've spent the last four months studying human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and are shocked and offended by every story we hear. In our pursuit we have been confronted with finding a tangible, quantifiable solution to the crisis that has become the second most profitable illicit trade in the world, only bested by the drug trade. When faced with such a huge issue with very ambiguous tactical solutions, one can become paralyzed by the data and horrific stories. We found ourselves in such a place and realized that the only way to create effective change is to first state your intention. Thus the Presidential Pledge was born. Making a pledge forces you to be accountable not only to others but also to yourself. Establishing a pledge also offers an opportunity to create community and unity around the cause, thus accelerating one's pursuit. Once you are on record, your community and your peers can and will hold you accountable for results. Therefore, we as individuals will be forced to deliver. This may be one of the only positive attributes of our egos. So let us put our egos to work.

We call it a Presidential Pledge. We have gathered a group of individuals who share the courage to pledge to our president, and the world at large, what it is that they are willing to do, give, or sacrifice, in an effort to help their fellow man. Our hope is that this effort will inspire others to do the same, with individuals posting their initiatives within their communities. This is not a selfless utopian action. In fact it is a very selfish one. By improving the lives of those who surround us we will in effect improve our own. At the very least. if these pledges allow someone a moment of contemplation as to what they could do, say, or pledge to do for someone else's benefit, we will strengthen the state of our union. If we can build a collective consciousness of service for one another, the echo of these actions will reach beyond our borders. We will stand truer in the resolve that this country is in fact a great one, and we will be one step closer to achieving the goal of creating a nation of philanthropists. I encourage everyone to take a few moments to reflect on how they can serve our great nation and to create their own Presidential Pledge at http://www.myspace.com/presidentialpledge.