I really respect people who can give selflessly. When it comes to wealth, whether it was self-made or endowed through that ovarian lottery, the fact that you can just part with that for a greater cause is worthy of praise. I suppose there will always be those few who do it with hidden purpose–media recognition?–but I like to think that most people are better than that.
I heard about The Giving Pledge a little while back, but didn’t think to check out the list until today. It’s quite a list, too–as diverse as it is expansive. As I read, what impressed me more than the big names or the ridiculous amounts of money being donated was the little stories and philosophies that these donors shared through their letters. A few excerpts that I thought were especially meaningful:
“Making a difference in people’s lives – and seeing it with your own eyes – is perhaps the most satisfying thing you’ll ever do. If you want to fully enjoy life – give. And if you want to do something for your children and show how much you love them, the single best thing – by far – is to support organizations that will create a better world for them and their children.”
– Michael Bloomberg
“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.) …… The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs. My pledge starts us down that course.”
– Warren Buffet
“When I was in high school, I felt like I was in a vacuum, biding time. I was curious, but bored. It was not an atmosphere conducive to learning. I was fortunate that I found my path and my language.
It’s scary to think of our education system as little better than an assembly line with producing diplomas as its only goal. Once I had the means to effect change in this arena, it became my passion to do so – to promote active, life-long learning.”
– George Lucas
“I suppose I arrived at my charitable commitment largely through guilt. I recognized early on, that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck. I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents. So, I had the advantage of both genetics (winning the “ovarian lottery”) and upbringing. As I looked around at those who did not have these advantages, it became clear to me that I had a moral obligation to direct my resources to help right that balance.”
– George Kaiser
The humility and empathy that these quotes echo was what really impressed me. Everyone knows about the philanthropy of, say, Bill & Melinda Gates or Mr. Buffet; but everyone who chose to gave here had something heartfelt to say, and there really wasn’t anyone that struck even my cynicism-rehabbing self as disingenuous.
I think Mr. Buffet hit on a solid idea here: if this can influence as many people as it did, I think it can influence much, much more. It’s like every new person whose name is added to the list is a little more hope that I have for humanity. If a few do it for the publicity stunt, let them–the money will still be put to good use, and there are plenty of genuinely concerned people willing to fill their spot.
This thing just reaffirmed my faith in the willingness of the wealthy to make a positive difference for everyone else. I hope that this list reaches hundreds, and eventually thousands of donors–both big-name and less known. It’s an inspiration, one that I hope will be around for a long time. And perhaps, one day I’ll be ready to make a pledge like that on my own.