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Is affluence wrong?
Posted by Kevin Salwen on 03.19.2010Share

I've been thinking about money again. I guess I do that a lot these days, given the way The Power of Half forces conversations about such things.

Take, for instance, our event in Seattle last week, in which Warren Etheredge, the terrific interviewer who hosted Hannah and me, prodded the audience at the end of our event: "I've never done this before but it feels right, given The Power of Half: This event is co-sponsored by the Children's Trust Foundation. So tonight please reach into your wallets, pull out half you money and donate it to the Foundation at the back of the room."

It was, of course, an audacious request. Some in the audience followed through; others took out less than half; still others walked past the Foundation's table altogether.

In general, I've found that I have never missed money I've given away. Never. Not once. And of course, our family's experience of connectedness as we gave away half the proceeds from our house is the main theme of the book.

But still we feel challenged. When journalists write about how we "gave away half of everything," we hasten to correct them -- we gave away half of one thing, our house, I email. Indeed, we live well, take vacations, eat out. And we sometimes find ourselves criticized for not giving away more, for not being generous enough. And it makes us think.

A century ago, Andrew Carnegie said, "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced." And we all know the New Testament verse: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)

So, we wrestle with how well to live versus how much to give. My guess is that it will be a life struggle, one with no correct answer but plenty of gray area.

I'd love to hear what you think. What do you think of Etheredge's challenge? Would you have taken out half your cash? Is affluence wrong? If we die with a bunch of money, have we been less creative about how we use our resources during our lifetimes?

Jodi, amazing story -- thanks for sharing it! And I love the phrase "will work for happy."
Posted by Kevin at 01:19am on 03.28.2010

Yes - I have given everything that I had on me. And you are 100% correct, I have never missed or worried about the money that I have given away. I was laid off last year - I went from making $150K a year to nothing. I am a single mom and decided this was a great opportunity to spend time with my 5 year old son. And it has been! We began our time together on the beach in Florida at my family's winter house. Weeks at Disney World while my house was being remodeled. After about a month, I was not happy. I had my kid 24/7, we were doing anything we wanted to, not an ounce of stress in my life - and I was not having any fun. In June a friend asked if I could watch her 4 kids for a week. She was opening a new store and her nanny had just quit. And I was suddenly happy. It's that I had been bored, I just hadn't felt needed. And that began the past year of my push to give. I have volunteered for everything. From raising money for my old high school, to working at a children's wish foundation, adopting soldiers as a pen pal, sending care packages, working with kidney donation and being a room parent at my sons school. I am now learning how to temper my feelings when something that seems to obvious to me - I am passionate for - is not met with the same enthusiasm by other's. How can they not give? It's been a wonderful experience. I balance my life now in a different way, and as I continue to job search, a new criteria for me is a business with a strong sense of service. Technically in the past 12 months I have had less than I have ever had - no job, house value crashed, investments and savings - in some cases - gone. And yet, I have never done MORE and been happier and felt so fulfilled. It's just hard to put that into a job search criteria, "will work for happy".
Posted by Jodi at 08:44am on 03.27.2010

Since I work in the real estate industry, and it's one of the major industries that is known for producing very wealthy individuals, this is a question I've thought quite a bit about. Over the past couple of years, my thoughts on this question have actually changed. When I was just out of college, I said that I would feel like a failure if I ended up a billionaire for this very reason. However, since then I've reconsidered my earlier position. Now, I believe it's all about what a person does with their money, no matter the quantity. While there are many affluent individuals that don't use their wealth to good ends, the history books are littered with stories of how wealthy individuals moved the course of humanity forward. You bring up Andrew Carnegie, and he is normally the first person that's thought of in the class I'm talking about. But I would also put the investors in the Virginia Company in this group since they did the early work to open the Americas to colonization. (And I realize all the bad that also came out of that colonization.) I also look at the efforts of Sir Richard Branson and Paul Allen to fund Scaled Composites to create the first commercial spacecraft. With a bit of luck, that too will open a new fronter for human progress and expansion. Affluence is not inherently wrong, it all depends on how that affluence is used.
Posted by Grant at 4:34pm on 03.19.2010