this issue, we have been exploring how people who want
to improve the world can embrace their power without taking
power over others. This inquiry is motivated in part by
our frustration with two existing models of social engagement
for people with wealth:
Power Over Others.
Here we find the classic model
of "noblesse oblige," which underlies many rich people's
well intentioned attempts to make a difference. The strength
of this model is that over centuries it has motivated
and engaged many people with wealth in acts that have
been genuinely helpful. (We far prefer it to "blame the
poor" which also has its adherents!)
this model promotes a paternalistic view that people with
wealth accurately know what others need. In addition,
it proposes only "helping the poor" rather than working
to change the system that creates so much wealth for so
Some wealthy people feel strongly
that they (and other rich people) should return control
of their wealth to working people. Believing in democracy
and repulsed by the way power is abused in the hands of
relatively few, they are committed
to a shift of power that goes far beyond benevolence.
this model inspires and invigorates some individuals (for
example, many in our book
We Gave Away a Fortune
all too often the idea seems to induce guilt, and to immobilize
people rather than energize them into action. Many wealthy
people do not feel powerful to begin with. When they hear
an implicit demand to give up power, they sometimes react
defensively and stay away from social justice groups altogether.
Third Choice: Respectful Partnership.
We seek to promote
another model, one that embodies the political clarity
and commitment of "giving up power," while still welcoming
the leadership and engagement of people with wealth. In
naming this model, we hope to make explicit what hundreds
of people with wealth are already doing.
you are drawn to the "respectful partnership" model but
unsure how to put it into practice, we invite you to consider
taking some of the actions below. We have distilled these
elements from the experience of many people. If the steps
sound daunting or uncomfortable from where you are now,
remember that this is not a quick fix, but rather an ongoing
process that evolves over a lifetime. Often taking one
small step towards living your deepest values makes the
appropriate next step easier to imagine.
in your self-awareness.
Do personal healing--therapy,
spiritual practice, personal growth work, or whatever
it takes--so you are neither seeking power nor refusing
your power out of reaction to family, peer and societal
if this soul searching leads you to decide that your life's
work is not about being a powerful steward of wealth?
Then figure out the amount of money you need for personal
security and give the rest to others you respect who will
take action with it.
you don't want the job of harnessing wealth's power to
begin with, taking this action is not "giving up" your
power. Rather, passing on the wealth is a potent way to
act on your convictions and self-acceptance. Unlike sitting
on wealth that is not doing much good for anyone, this
path is a form of respectful partnership.
the other hand, if you become clear that using your money
and power for societal good is a part of your life's mission,
make a commitment to it. Notice what enables you to act
on this vision.
most people, the overwhelming nature of daily life--everything
from dealing with the mail to the pressures of parenting--creates
enormous inertia that acts against even the best of intentions.
(Wealth, which tends to multiply even when left alone,
is rarely the most "squeaky wheel" in life. Although the
social costs of ignoring your money are great, the personal
costs are usually minor.)
substantial, long-term support systems.
need vigorous and consistent support to counteract inertia.
This support can come from a spouse who shares the same
commitment,a group of friends
in a similar situation, a network of people with a common
purpose, an advisory group, an evolving combination of
the above, or some other structure. In whatever form,
you need peers, mentors, and role models whose lives reflect
your values, and relationships with people who will give
you honest feedback, holding you to your ideals as you
pursue your goals.
your ability to treat others as equals.
classism, and the ways oppression becomes internalized.
Take part in organizations where you build cross-class
relationships, and work to change the unconscious patterns
of arrogance, control, and isolation that are deeply ingrained
in all of us from socially dominant groups (e.g., men,
white people, upper classes...).
into your niche.
Accept that even with wealth, you
cannot right every wrong. Let some areas go, even though
they express values you hold deeply. Out
of a clear and accepting sense of self, find (or further
invest in) a focused area of work that resonates with
your core passions and identity. Stay with it for
several years, decades, or a lifetime.
a part in changing the bigger system.
Don't let your
responsibility end at "doing good" with your wealth. Put
your voice behind institutions that take a stand against
inordinate power and privilege and that work towards increasing
the power of all people. Even if you are using your money
for something "nonpolitical"--to be a better parent, a
poet, an entrepreneur--there are innumerable opportunities
to support those with little power to develop more, and
to be an advocate for your ideals on a systemic level.
your wealth is not your power. Money is like gas in the
car: a useful fuel, but worthless by itself. You also
depend on the spark plug: your commitment to a mission
that ignites your soul, and an engine: your work with
a team of kindred spirits. None of us creates significant
change in the world alone. .
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