What are we waiting for?

I’ve admired John Stossel for most of my adult life. His calm demeanor and logical presentation are at once disarming and persuasive. I often look to Stossel for language to help me frame ideas that I’ve struggled to put to words. However, when I saw this title Charity Begins With Wealth Creation, I took to my reading with much more reserve.

community chest pictureHis points about private charities being better and more efficient than government were easy for me to accept and agree with. But the premise he defends isn’t about public (governmental or coerced) efforts versus private (charitable or voluntary) efforts. His key point is that we can’t give unless someone creates something first. He supports his argument by citing the good that Bill Gates does with his billions. I agree that there’s much good done by the Bill Gates’ of the world on their way to becoming mega-wealthy. However, in this context, Stossel, citing Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute, is talking about the societal good of being a job and value creator not about benevolence.

I believe that charity begins with a heart to improve conditions in the world for its inhabitants. Far too much wealth is locked up in people waiting to have enough to share. Perhaps my divergence from Stossel is one of degree, but I don’t want to lose the point. While you must have to give, you don’t need to have much or give much to start improving the world.

Take the case of college students. Few would argue that in the main they lack [personal] financial means. After all, how could the age-old joke of “send money” calls make any sense without it. We know that most college students have little spare cash, whether because they are careless with what they have or because they are fully engaged in the expensive enterprise we call higher education. Heck, many of them are there precisely because they can’t find anything more productive to do with their time in our current economic situation.

But college students are in a position to make a difference and to establish patterns of charity that don’t entail making the first million of their own.

Three years ago, Kurtis Griess [full disclosure-he’s my son], a graduate student at Colorado School of Mines, had the revelation that thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of text books rot on shelves of students year after year. They loose value quickly at first then more slowly just becoming a drain on the environment as they are moved about the country from place to place as careers grow. What if the value of these books could be unlocked to meet an immediate need? What if the imagination of the students could be untapped and they could embrace a life time of doing good with what they have?

The answer to the question is it is possible. After the birth of Compassion by the Book (http://compassionbythebook.com/), hundreds of students have given their time to discuss worthy causes, to collect, catalog, sell and deliver books to new users. They have made fungible resources that would otherwise be squandered and made books more affordable to upcoming students. Through the efforts of college students working with Compassion by the Book, disasters in Haiti and Japan have been met with funds. Benefits have also been realized at organizations fighting human trafficking, feeding the needy and funding scholarships.

The most important thing is to see the world through a different lens–to look beyond our own needs and to foster a more compassionate world view. Knowing the excesses we enjoy in the United States and seeing how many others may be served but unlocking value may set a person on the path to a more balanced life of giving, or at least give pause to consider needs outside oneself.

While I agree with John Stossel that you must have something to give something. I strongly encourage each of us to look at what’s at hand and do something good with it.