I was at a loss for words. I had just been asked why I give away my money. I could tell this person was somewhat suspicious of my motives. My first reaction was "why do you think it's that strange that someone chooses to give away their money?". After all, I am not the first person in history to do so, many people practice philanthropy every day. But as I reflected on his query, I started to think about how others view and question, the idea of giving.
We all see the world differently, depending on culture, how we were raised, our socioeconomic status, etc. No single view is right or wrong, just a matter of perspective. I have friends and acquaintances from all walks of life, including rich and poor, liberals, conservatives and even libertarians. Their views on giving vary widely and I have observed some fascinating behavior amongst this diverse group. For instance, I have a friend that lives on a very modest fixed salary, who always writes generous checks to the Food Bank and Salvation Army. And incredibly, I know someone who would buy a $100 million yacht but has never donated to any cause. My libertarian friend, a perfectly nice man, simply thinks giving is wrong, that it corrupts society. That one just doesn't resonate with me, somehow. It might come easy for someone living in comfort, largely because they were fortunate enough to be born in the right country at the right time in history, to proclaim those views, and with conviction. To me, it's a cop out. We live in a world of extreme inequality. In any event, I have come to the conclusion that giving is a personal decision and have learned not to try and impose my personal beliefs on anyone. Well, I try.
As to why I give, I think it comes largely from having grown up with very little. There were no allowances in my family. At age 12, I had to mow many lawns to afford the $5 for my first record album, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Cosmo's Factory album. Later, as a young businessman, I had the opportunity to travel to many developing nations where I observed a lot of extreme poverty. Add a tad of guilt for having the dumb luck to become wealthy at a young age, and you can see why I would develop an inner sense that some things were simply unjust. I chose to give in small ways at an early age. From sending a few dollars monthly to Foster Parent's Plan as a teenager, to delivering free turkeys at Christmas time to food shelters in my college years, I always felt the need to share some of my good fortune. As my fortune grew, my desire to give grew with it. What I do know, is that the more I give the more I want to dedicate my life to it, and the more I want to inspire others to do the same. It has given me a purpose in life that I have never felt with any other achievement.
I have found the one way to determine whether you have it in you to give, is to first get up close and personal with someone in need. Meet them, talk to them, and hear their stories. Whether it's a homeless person, a troubled teen with no caring adult in their life or someone living in poverty, concerned for the future of their children. You will find their stories are not only about their struggles, but about their hopes and aspirations. I promise, it will not only touch you deep inside, but it will also do a pretty good job of triggering your hand-to-wallet reflex.
Once you choose to give, your reasons may vary. And that's ok. People give based on their religious beliefs, guilt, public relations, corporate social responsibility, to have their name on hospital wings, ego, you name it. I would think very few of us are altruists of the Mother Teresa kind.
But who cares why? Does it, and should it, matter to the recipient why someone chooses to give?
Dear Rich People, give this some serious thought. Think about the reasons you would choose to give. Meet the potential beneficiaries. Ask yourself, what motivates you to give. Pick your flavour and just do it. Someone, somewhere, will have a better life because of it and who really cares what people think your reasons may be.