The announcement on HuffPost Living of Tony Robbins's new TV special, "Breakthrough," and a blog devoted to it, elicited a wide range of comments. Some of them were not very complimentary. The gist of them was, "How nice that multimillionaire Tony has another way to sell some books. Why doesn't he sell a mansion and use the money to really help people in crisis?"
The discussion on "Breakthrough" raises an important question: in an open, secular society, what is the responsibility of the wealthy, or anyone else, to use their personal wealth to help those in need?
A historic tension in American society is between the every-man-for-himself mentality versus the we-are-in-this-together mindset. This tension was recently played out in the Senate regarding whether or not to extend unemployment benefits. There are good people who honestly believe helping those in dire straits is the wrong thing to do; they see it as enabling them to be lazy and complacent.
In certain religious traditions (including Christianity and Judaism), tithing, giving 10 percent of what you earn to those in need, is spiritual law. In these systems, that money is not yours; it belongs to God and is to be used to help the community.
In a society based on spiritual laws that include tithing, there is an automatic mechanism to share wealth with the needy. In a country like the United States based on religious freedom and secular law, how do you decide how much to give, if anything?
I have nothing against individuals accumulating wealth and enjoying it. In particular in the U.S., part of the promise of this country is that anyone who has the determination and guts to go for it can become fabulously wealthy.
The reality of life is no one makes it on their own. Any success is built on countless experiences of people helping in obvious and subtle ways to raise someone up. For those in positions of power who have wealth, do they have a special obligation to give back, in particular when times are tough?
Tony Robbins is an example of someone who has helped millions of people through his work and humanitarian efforts. He is not alone. Philanthropy is part of the American fabric. Yet stories of remarkable greed and insensitivity to the social good by the "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street overwhelm tales of good work by the rich. Are the wealthy already doing enough?
Tony is stepping up to the plate to do more. As some people question, would he have more of an impact by selling a multimillion dollar property he owns and creating a TV special on using that money to raise people up? Would a movement of wealthy people publicly using their money to assist those in need create a wave of generosity that lifts this country up in miraculous ways?
I welcome your thoughts!