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How should we respond?
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 02.10.2010Share

Power of Half friends,

Because we are in the spotlight, we get some heartbreaking notes from people who have fallen on hard times. We know we can't fix the world's problems, and often feel at a loss for how to reply.

The email below is a case in point. Any thoughts?

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Thank you for reading this!

I just got done watching The View and your talk with them. While I admire you for what you did, especially for a rich 14 yr. old (at the time) young lady (major kudos to you...you remind me of my 16 year old daughter), I was so FRUSTRATED at your parting words "Anybody can do 1/2".

My story:

Age 45

Siblings: NONE

Parents: Deceased

Relatives: My children

Single Mother of 2 teens (16 &17)

Disabled (since 2001)

Life Expectancy: Who really knows???

Separated (husband left me do to my disabilities)

Income: Monthly $1200.00 (disability and child support)

Rent: $700.00

Rx Co-pays per/mo: $180.00

Variables: Utilities

Food: Not enough

Holidays: May need to convert to Jehovah Witnesses (trying to keep a sense of humor)

Recent events: Jan 15 th 2008 Mom died (also her birthday)

Feb 2008 Separation of Marriage

Apr. 2008 Pre-op

May 2008 Operation

Jul 2008 Had to move out of our house due to separation

Apr. 2009 Another diagnosis (this time genetic and yes, the kids have it too)

Jan. 15th 2010 the X stopped financial support b/c his girlfriend told him to.

Feb. 2010 My two children and I are about to become homeless

Feb. 2008 My husband and I separated & he agreed to "Voluntarily" pay spousal support of 1800.00/mo as long as I paid for the car out of that money ($300.60.) We didn't go to a lawyer b/c he said since he was paying the support he couldn't afford a lawyer. I was in no position to argue. I was grieving over the loss of my mom, 3 weeks prior, looking for a place for the kids and I to live, preparing for major surgery, and trying to "BE STRONG". And I thought THIS time was going to be the worst time in my life. Boy was I ever WRONG.

On Jan. 15th of 2010 my "ex-husband" stopped paying ANY support because his new girlfriend told him that he didn't owe me anything and she KNOWS this b/c her husband wasn't ordered to pay alimony to her. BTW, I had just gotten home from a hospital stay. Worried, stressed, and depressed already and on top of that the 2nd year anniversary of Mom's death. In addition since he knew I couldn't afford the car anymore he took it back. He did leave me with a 10 year old car, with the engine light constantly on, the brakes squealing, a burning smell, and SO dirty that when I took it to a car wash 1/2 do it yourself 1/2 automated, a worker there told me I was taking too long and to hurry up since people were waiting to use the SAME services I was paying for.

Since Jan. 15th of this year I have applied for Food Stamps, reduced utilities, help with rent, got the kids medical coverage through the state, cried, stressed, cried, tried to tell the kids that all will be okay, "No, don't worry..you won't have to change schools" "I'm trying to do all I can so we don't have to move" etc. Truth of the matter is if we did have to move it would be to a shelter. The waiting list for housing help is 6-months to 2 years. I have a great landlord, but even that is asking too much.

Once upon a time I was a full time college student, full time worker, full time single mother...all at the SAME time. I did it. I was happy, the kids were happy. If I COULD DO IT I would!!! I worked my tail off because I didn't want my children to ever go hungry or homeless. Now, I have NO options!! NONE. I can't get first job let alone a second job...I can't work period.

I've never been the "Keep up with the Jones" type. Shoot, I don't even know the Jones! Thankfully I've raised my children to be grateful, and not materialistic. I just don't know how I'm going to be able to teach them "It's okay to live in a shelter" "No, really it is". I now can't afford my RX prescription co-pays, nor doctor visits. I have a new cancer on my finger that I have GOT to get taken care of. But tell me this: How does one choose between paying the bills (and the kid's co-pays for RX) so the children don't stress and getting another surgery for something (that right now) does not affect me day to day?

"Pay It Forward" is one of my all time favorite movies. I've always lived my life like that. I believe in Karma. I KNOW what will happen WILL. I believe in GOD. I HAVE to BELIEVE that all will be okay. I HAVE TO.

Please don't say "Everyone can give 1/2" and "It's easy to give half" because to someone like me (who would give my shirt off of my back) who can't even give 1/2 of what is needed to my own children just sent me into another spiral of angst.

I would do anything to be able to GIVE again. I used to have the store deliver groceries to one of my friends w/children every month, I used to give to many charities (not much like you did not even, but I did what I could do), we have a tradition in this family that on our birthday's we chose a charity and gave money to them for OUR birthday present.

Most of all, I just want to be able to survive at this point. I want to be able to stay in our "Home", take care of myself b/c I'm all my children have (we literally have NO other family, no nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, siblings, nothing), be able to get my car fixed. Most of all I want to BE ALIVE and HERE for my children. We've already lost all of our loved ones, and one's that didn't love us so much (the X). My kids have been through enough. I KNOW what it's like to no longer be a "Daughter" anymore, since my mom died. I KNOW how scary it is to wonder how I'm going to survive. I also KNOW that I don't want my children to be as "KNOWING" as me.

Consider referring people requesting assistance and those wishing to help to www.modestneeds.org/
Posted by Linda at 5:58pm on 10.31.2011

Yesterday after reading some of the negative comments i felt the need to comment on them but the thoughts continued turning in my mind ..It is sad that some people have tough circumstances, and I am sure if we could make those circumstances go away we would, but the first step in doing that is changing the way you face and react to the circumstances. One family can't change everything, but everyone can change something, and it is many grains of sand that create the beach...If this kind of thinking spreads it will eventually help everyone because for every action there are reactions and if the action is good it is good that will spread and eventually all will benefit, if we all have the mentality of not caring about others, then that's what will come about and nobody will care about you..its not what you have to give that matters...its that your mindset is on thinking outside yourself, and with that kind of thinking, you become aware of so much that is around you that all improves and if all other do the same then it will come back to you as well...don't take away what good someone else even if you feel its not enough, its not going to you, or whatever, someone is doing something ,try to raise everyone to that tall order, and if you want to be helped as the people in those villages want to be helped I am sure you will be helped as well. But there is a differnece between wants and needs, and as they say you can feed the hungry but you will never have enough to feed the greedy. I can start by saying all these people who are commenting have much to be thankful I am sure if they redirect their focus they would see it...even in adversity, i know at least they have access to a computer and electricity, they had access to an education because they can read and write, they had a television so they were able to watch the programs that baffled them...they had the time to watch them on tv and then write on the blog (and time is a precious commodity that once you use you can't get back) this would be a dream in some of those villages., or even in our own country as you say.. There is a story of a boy who was complaining because he only had a bag of banans to eat and he was angrily throwing the peels on the ground, he heard someone singing behind him and when he turned around it was another boy eating the peels he was throwing away. The most amazing thing I feel in this is project is that a 14 year old "entitled" girl would think about anything else except her hair, that she would come out of her room , that she woudl talk to her dad while she was in the car and wasn't facebooking on her blackberry, that she even went on a family trip let alone on a trip to help others that were not part of her circle... That she is giving up her friend time to lecture with her father about something that is out of the box, OMG i have teenagers and i could go on and on about the miracle of this girl's thinking in these times and in that stage of her life!!. Is it nature or nurture that she was able to do this?? probably a bit of both but its AMAZING!!The fact that the parents listen to their children and help them in an idea and are democratic about it is another mind boggling thing in our micro mangaging control life stage parent era where our job is to push those kids to the top without letting them learn the essentials on the way up or letting them think or talk about their own moral compasses versus college scholarships or MVP spot!! The selling of the house is a great sacrifice, not because it had an elevator, not only because they had to reduce their space and furniture because I am sure thankfully they are still comfortable, but the house where you live is a very important place, the memories and history of your family, the children grew up there, I have a small house that I would have a very time selling even if I made a profit and was moving to a bigger and nicer one, let alone the other way around!! So its not just that they dipped into their bank accounts and shared, they gave up a family shelter...no matter what the size. Is everythign ok because of that? no, could we do better? always, but don't take away from those who are at least trying!! Look beyond the material issues, or your own pain, as painful as it may be to go through hard times financially, emotionally, physically, how does bringing other people down fix that??
Posted by norma at 08:56am on 04.16.2010

Everyone can share half of what they have, when they have bitterness unfortunately that is the half they will probably share, as is in the case of some of these comments.The true gifts in life are those you can't buy with money, and the true problems of life are those that can't be solved with money...happiness is a choice, even in unfortunate circumstances there is a positive way of facing the obstacles or a negative one... a paralizing event to one person can be a life-changing lesson to another...To a married mom with siblings and parents whose teenage son died this summer the fact that a person has two teens is a blessing beyond words...to a battered abused wife being single would be a blessing...and so on. What is so frustrating about her comment?? she is right, anybody can do half...you just have to choose what your half is...half of your love...your experience...half of your sandwich or half your bitterness...
Posted by norma at 11:47pm on 04.15.2010

I have a friend who is on disability (she was born with cerebral palsy and has gradually declined with age) and took in one of her daughter's friends in high school who had been molested by her father. The girl got pregnant in high school and went on to go to college and law school. The ex-boyfriend sued her for custody of their daughter and my friend, who is on disability, was so desparate to help this girl that she used her credit cards to help this girl get a good lawyer. Now the girl is out of law school for a couple of years and still has no job as a lawyer and my friend who is on disability is paying this astronomical amount each month to these credit card companies. My friend needs some in-home care but does not qualify for it financially because she gets a disability check, but because of what she's paying to this CC company, she cannot afford to pay for the in-home care herself. She did this out of the kindness of her heart, but unlike you, she did not have the money to do this and now she is stuck paying this bill. I know she should not have done this when she couldn't afford to do it, but that is just the kind of person she is. She was so worried about this girl losing custody of her daughter, that she dug a hole for herself financially in order to help this poor girl. Anyway, I just ask for prayers for her situation.
Posted by Connie at 11:53pm on 02.15.2010

The story of the single mother can be repeated tens of thousands of times because our culture rewards narcissists and condones this type of spousal abuse. Much of the existing poverty can be traced to this. Just count the number of politicians who have been rewarded in recent years for bad behavior. They are the rich narcissists and for each of them there are thousands of poor ones who wreak havoc on their families. If we really want to help poor children this is an opportunity to make law makers accountable rather than giving spouses (women included) a free pass for behaving badly. In the meantime, is there someone out there living in the US willing to co-ordinate immediate help for this woman? Kevin's charity focused in Ghana. Oddly enough, much of child poverty there is also the result of irresponsible fathers who also got free passes.
Posted by Jennifer at 12:43pm on 02.15.2010

I think this is common when people take a story as an advice column, or when they try to take things literally. My suggestion is why not start up a sort of "reverse auction" site for people helping people? For example, we don't have extra money or time, but I'm a tax accountant and consultant and would be happy to give a few hours to help someone come up with a reasonable budget to make ends meet, or with a basic marketing plan for finding a job or starting a business. I don't really have the time to spare, but would anyway to help. I know there are others out there - attorneys, advisors, authors, social workers, teachers, etc. who can "lend a hand" in a brief, protected, online forum. You want to start a movement? This would be a GREAT one to start.
Posted by J at 08:59am on 02.12.2010

Despite her illiterate rant, I agree 100% with Shaun [SHAUN AT 8:08PM ON 02.10.2010] Let’s face it. Your entire premise is *cute*, but of an incredibly paradoxical perspective. It reiterates the invisibility of the poor by suggesting that “everyone” can give half, and yet, who are you giving it to, if not the poor? Yes, I realize you’re giving in Ghana or someplace not here, but that iconic homeless man who Hannah saw cannot be the only homeless person she’s seen now that her eyes have been opened, can he? No, everyone cannot give half of what they have. You were filthy rich (yes, I know there are those who are still *more* filthy rich) and you finally decided to “stop taking and start giving.” Good for you. Really. And good for the other rich people who are inspired to do something similar. To suggest that anyone can do the same is a slap in the face to most of the rest of the country. Have you ever heard of Barbara Ehrenreich? Maybe you and Hannah can read some of her books together. Or…here’s a thought: Why don’t you halve everything you NOW have? Does the family have more than one vehicle? Why don’t you try living with just one? Do you now live in a 2500 sq.ft. home? (Or more? Those pillars behind you look pretty impressive.) Why don’t all of you move to a 1000 sq.ft. home? Give half of everything you now have away—guitar AND trombone? Mmmm, sorry, just pick one. Volleyball AND swimming— no “we can’t afford the expense of both: the cost of time, travel, equipment, fees, etc.” Just pick one. That avocado at the grocery is how much?? No, not today. This is how a huge segment of America lives. The one’s you can’t see.
Posted by Nopot at 1:20pm on 02.11.2010

Kevin and Hannah - You have done and are still doing a wonderful thing. There will always be people that find fault, that misunderstand your point, that feel angry and jealous, etc. You are still doing a wonderful thing! I have been poor, but live comfortably now thanks to my husband and what he has taught me. Other inspiration came after reading The Overspent American and The Millionaire Next Door. I just ordered your book and can't wait to read it. I have family that make half of what my husband makes and spend way more on vacations, gifts for friends and family, gadgets and technology, and clothing. They are unprepared for a sudden crisis. DISCLAIMER: I DON'T APPLY THIS THOUGHT TO EVERYONE...Some people do not prepare and make terrible choices and all you can do is watch and gently nudge them to make better decisions and preparations for their future. Inevitably, these maybe the same people that write to you when they suddenly find themselves with no place to live, no medical insurance, and no job prospects. And you say to yourself, "I tried to warn you."
Posted by Dharma at 12:33pm on 02.11.2010

I agree financially not everyone can do half. However, I think that misses the point. The book is about "one family's decision to stop taking and start giving back." Maybe you can't give at all financially. The Salwens did not give up their home or money to feed and clothe their kids. I don't think they want you to do that either. BUT, anybody can GIVE. In other words, you don't have to be a rock star or rich CEO to make a difference. Just having the ATTITUDE of giving vs. always trying to get or be materialistic is the bigger point. So how can you give?? Do you welcome the kid with the drunk mom warmly in your home and give him a place to stay on the floor? Do you teach your kids to give? Do you consider volunteering one night for the soup kitchen, Habitat, whatever?? Gratitude and giving vs. greed, entitlement, materialism, jealousy, etc.
Posted by Andrea at 09:56am on 02.11.2010

Hmmmm Kevin, that is a tough question you posit - especially in these economic times. Perhaps there needs to be a philosophical determination of giving half of what is whole. If one can't give money then can one give time. If one can't give time then can one give prayer? I read a book several years ago titled "Out of Apples" by Lee Schnebly. The premise is that you are born with a certain amount of esteem (bushel of apples) and that every time you impart kindness on others you give them an apple from your basket. In return, each time someone or some activity enriches you, you receive an apple. If life and circumstance are causing you to lose apples more rapidly than they are replenished then you will inevitably be in a place of low esteem and even despair. Perhaps one must begin to "give half" by first becoming whole enough to do so.
Posted by Kathy at 09:19am on 02.11.2010

$$$ Is what it's all about! Lawyers won't represent the needy spouse without money, upfront!!And they don't have it.They won't work without garauntee that they will be compensated, and the judges are refusing to do thier jobs!and order the "breadwinner", (usually the man) to pay for representation for the supported spouse. (In Ca. the law says they must) It's a catch 22, You have to prove that there is money, & that requuires expensive discovery, so the spouse who really is in need, can't aford to enforce thier rights.It's a sad comentary on our system, but totally relates to why there is so much poverty and need. The power of half, is only necessary, because the "greed" and dishonesty of so many, goes unchecked. Because nobody cares about the poor, homeless, and needy!! The answers go so much deeper than charity. It's a callouse mentality, of "what's mine is mine" and it must be your fault when you fall on hard times. You must have made a bad decision somewhere in your "life" to create the situation you are in, so live with it!!Therefore, I have no obligatiion to help you.It's dispicable,riduculous and selfish.The theory of the power of half, is awesome, but does not apply to those who cannot support "themselves" ( for the previous woman). It's geered towards those who have more than what they "need", you know who you are. I've lived on both sides of the fence, and have learned alot regarding the difference between "need" and "want". Some tough lessons, but valuable. The reason for the anialatiion of the middle class in this country is simply, GREED! The rich, for the most part,(NOT ALL), have become rich, on the backs of the poor.(I can just hear the response to that!) The same callouse mentallity that got them where they are at, is what keeps them from any mercy or campassion for the less fortunate. Certainly NOT all wealthy people fit this category. There are many wealthy, generous and compassionate people, too many to list, but there are more that are not. It's interesting to note that, corporate profits are "up", while unemployment continues to soar! Hmmmmm.. We all know those who are fortunate enough to still have jobs,that are doing the work of two, and in many cases, for less pay! While the wealthy continue to give thier 16 yr. olds BMW's and send them to the best Universities. New toys, travel, homes, while so many are hungry and homeless.It's time to wake up! The people are the engine of this country. If you don't feed the engine, the contry will not survive. We will never go back to slavery, there will be rellion and crime will rise. Everyone will be affected!! The trickle down economy DOES NOT WORK!(aka GREED) We need to invest in the foundation, (the masses). That's who feed the nation and keep the businesses solvent, thereby creating JOBS!And jobs create tax revenue, yes? There is an answer, but the wealthy (aka: powerful) will never accept it. Business will not create new jobs, without an increased demand for thier services and products. No tax incentive will make that happen. There has to be money circulating, to create jobs! Period
Posted by Shaun at 8:08pm on 02.10.2010

Kevin, So, this idea might be a bit audacious, but what about a website like Kiva, but for direct giving instead of micro loans? It could be a place where people like this mother could put their stories so others with the ability to give can give directly to those in need. One reason that is often cited for people not giving is that people are worried that too much of their money goes to administration of the non-profit and not to the people they would like to help. This way, people would know exactly where their money is going. Of course, this doesn't really help you with how you can respond to the people sending you stories now. But it's an idea that might be more rewarding than offering hollow words of encouragement and more manageable than trying to help everyone directly. -Grant
Posted by Grant at 7:47pm on 02.10.2010

This woman represent thousands of women in this country. My heart goes out to her!! There are laws to protect her on the family code books! However, the judges continually fail to enforce them! This woman is entitled to "representation" at the expense of her X!!
Posted by Shaun at 7:07pm on 02.10.2010

Sorry about the misspelled words above. I was typing fast.
Posted by Dharma at 5:32pm on 02.10.2010

I understand this woman's frustration. I have felt that frustration to listening to Oprah speak sometimes. In my humble opinion, one of the greatest gifts you can give to the world is taking care of yourself and teaching your children how to take care of themselves / not be a burden on anyone else. This requires being very conscious of all your choices. This requires planning and saving and leaving below your means so that you can save for your retirement, your medical expenses, and an economic downturn. If you live your life in a way that doesn't burden anyone else, then you are contributing a great deal to making this world a better place. I don't think you need to feel guilty about giving what you don't have to others. There may come a time in your life where you are thriving and not just surviving. You will know! At that point, reach out to others.
Posted by Dharma at 5:29pm on 02.10.2010