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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Philanthropy: Groupthink of the privileged?


Today I attended @SeattleCityClub’s #PhilanthropyForward event. It was a discussion full of hashtag jargon like #engagement #collective #collaboration #connect #advocacy #influence #progressive #community #capital #accountability.

I was astonished that an entire conversation surrounding the topic of collective giving did not mention the United Way. In fact, people seemed to think it was a new idea -- just like the power of the $25 donation.

Not so long ago, the United Way spearheaded the concept of collective giving.

Not so long ago at the Pride Foundation we talked about the $25 gift being equal in significance to the $25,000 donation. It’s in no small part this view contributed to the passage of Marriage Equality.

Yet we are continuing to talk about how to impact same problems of 20, no 100, years ago as if we live ignorant of history. It appears to me we’ve simply found a new language to describe our efforts.

Meanwhile, the problems of global inequality and poverty only seem to grow worse.

Not so long ago, non-profits would hold out their open hands with the statistic “lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans” so therefore give.

This statistic is very comforting to charity’s majority stakeholders –staff, leadership volunteers, donors. It gives them an out to not have to look at their own privilege, the paradox of comfort vs. calling.

Have you noticed? All of the progressive, hard working, virtuous people of change have high levels of intellectual, emotional, or monetary capital. They have the time, energy and resources, not to mention responsibility, to invest in making the world a better place for all living beings.

The outsiders of this change process are the tired, the weak, the overwhelmed, not to mention the poor. When your intellectual, emotional and financial capital is depleted, you are too busy trying to make it through the day. You don’t have the resources to think about philanthropy.

This divide is at the heart of the philanthropist’s angst.

Back to collaboration and engagement. Change must happen at the level of the people to move all of America forward. We need all people involved to make significant, lasting change. A large segment of society has not found a way to join the forward movement.

We need to widen our circle. Seattleites are notoriously private, some say unfriendly. I know I feel it anytime I walk into a new group, like today at the City Club.

Aren’t the best parties hosted by the people who welcome you at the door and introduce you to someone new? Why don’t we practice this more frequently in our community gatherings?

We must do more than talk to each other at events and donate to Aunt Suzy when she is fighting cancer.

We must practice intentional, authentic living. (More jargon, it’s true.)

We must strive as individuals to connect to others by our heart strings and

Groups must embrace each individual through common values and human experience.

And, yes, we must organize.

Do we need fresh organizations? New jargon? New methods?

Perhaps the most significant and insightful answers to the questions at hand can be gained by thinking about the United Way omission in today’s Philanthropy Forward discussion. Let your subconscious work on it. The answer is found at the nexus of collaboration.

Were you there? I’d love to hear what you think.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Life on the Split: confessions of a rebellious woman

I have been revolting against being a full-time mother -- and all of its accompanying responsibilities -- by laying my disorganization at the feet of my ex and my children instead of taking ownership of it myself.

Yet I see myself capable of going more deeply into motherhood than I am now. But I fear if I give my all to the most important thing in my life, my children, I will lose myself; I, the professional woman will become irrelevant.

Ladies, sound familiar?

Let me digress a moment. Of late I’ve been reclaiming the ground in my home (no longer “our home” after 5+ years of divorce.) The chaos of the time seems to be waning, but a new one – the rebellion of my children – is looming.

This is my feminist *existential struggle. This is the struggle of all women: finding the balance of career and personal expression with the nurturing of family and maintaining a loving home. It’s living on the split between yourself and yourself. Exhausting ground. And housework is the first thing I want to cut and neglect. That and household finances.

And yet.

Recognizing I am exhausted, I have allowed time for myself to lapse, to drift, to a fallow time that is both frightening and needed. Finding my new footing in this dance called life mustn’t be rush. So I find time to do things like reorganizing the kitchen and cleaning my children’s rooms for them. Time that feels indulgently spent while at the same time feeling oppressive and never-ending.

Reorganizing my kitchen was inspired by opening my new gift from my mother – over and over again. The new bottom-storage fridge made me think twice about remodeling the room’s organization, so I installed a pot rack and spoon hooks, made the nook into a craft room/homework table. Utensils and pots are gradually finding their new homes and bread is starting to live in the shiny new breadbox.
So tonight I started by cleaning out the icebox, then I turned my attention to the Tupperware cupboard.

(Yes Son, this is the mysterious activity I do when you are away. Clean and write.)

I’m down on my knees organizing the Tupperware cupboard finding homes for each lid, each container. I I take care to be sure all are matching. Culling the homeless lids and casting them into the hall cupboard to rest until I clean that out soon. I’m paying attention to how it feels to do the job. I’m practicing mindful housecleaning which allows me to have an epiphany. I need to teach these kinesthetic kids by example. (Duh.)

Teach by example

I set the standard for order, calm and organization. If I don't work hard at it myself, how can I expect them to? Instead of blaming others, I can pull up my bootstraps in this New Year and strive for a different kind of perfection. One where balance and harmony reign. Dramatic cuts will be made in some areas while restorative activities will need to be increased in others. Intentional living.

I can do it without complaining because I am showing by doing and they are learning by living it. This feels right for living it needs to happen for a kinesthetic child to learn it. They need to see how it’s done now that they have been taught how it’s done and lived with doing it for five years.

So a radical idea hit me. Instead of having them do chores, I will free them from doing them. I will not criticize their contributions  should they volunteer, but I will quietly rearrange and pick up while they are in school. I will do it the way that feels right. Do I have the energy to do it? Will they learn anything or will I benefit mainly from household peace and order?

So ride with me down the path a bit here. Will this plan work?  I'm taking bets it will.  I hope you’ll vote.

QUESTION 1: How long until they ask what's up?
QUESTION 2: How long will I hold out until they have to do chores again?
QUESTION 3: What should I tell them?
This plan could be a lot more complicated. Every little detail could be all thought out. But I think it's better to wing it a bit. Lord knows I’m the mistress of complexity and tend to overdo that. Besides, I’m always reserving the right to hold on. Wouldn't you? And if I lean into mindful living and acceptance, I'll bet they learn from that too. And that, my friends, is a lesson not to be discounted.

*Existentialism, n.  is the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the experiences of the individual, and that moral and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, so a further set of categories, governed by "authenticity", is necessary to understand human existence. ("Authenticity", in the context of existentialism, is being true to one's own personality, spirit, or character.) Wikipedia. I’ll be making a contribution to Wikipedia in appreciation of the definition of existentialism. Will you join me?