The Power of Half

Note: If you like free stuff, you’ll want to make sure to read all the way to the bottom of this post! If, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Last Thursday, I attended the kick-off campaign event for the United Way of Wyandotte County (you can take the girl out of the ‘Dotte’, but, you know…). The keynote speaker was the author of The Power of Half.

It is really quite an inspiring book; the core message of the authors (Kevin, the father, who I heard speak last week, and his teenage daughter, who was really the impetus for the family’s decision to sell their extravagant house and give half the proceeds to fight poverty and hunger, which is obviously the theme of the book) is that we all can and should be doing more to create a just society for others, and I found quite a bit that relates to my own life.

There are two pieces I found lacking, and I’ll get to those at the end, but, first, what I really like:

  • Commitment to involve children as equal partners in these family decisions: I’m always looking for more ways to empower my kids to see themselves, even at such young ages, as people who have a great deal to offer the world, but also a tremendous responsibility to serve it, and these parents’ journey to include their children in such critical family choices is truly admirable.
  • Emphasis on not just treasure, but also time and talents: Sometimes writing a check is the easiest thing we can do, when it may be our skills, or just our presence, that can have a greater impact. This family wanted to really transform their lives, and that meant changing how they lived, not just how they spent.
  • Recognition that giving sacrifically comes with a social price: The family related the chasms that opened, even among extended family, when they announced their plans. This reiterates the pull of our consumer culture but also speaks to how people can feel threatened when confronted with another’s decisions to relate very differently to injustice experienced all around us.
  • Careful research and discernment in the giving process: The family didn’t just check Guidestar to see which organization spends the highest percentage on direct services (although this criterion did figure more prominently into their decision than I would have liked–it’s outcomes that really matter). They interviewed organizations and, most importantly, tapped into their own passions and anger in order to best focus their efforts.
  • Celebration of the joys of connecting to the world: The book chronicles the family’s “sacrifices” and relates with real authenticity their surprise at not feeling them as such. We all know that we could be happier with less, and they really seem to have lived this.
  • Focus on process: They journal extensively, celebrate each step of their progress, and relate honestly how they’ve changed as individuals and as a family as a result of these decisions. For someone who tends to rush to the conclusion, this was an important reminder that how we get there does matter.
  • Realization that our moral witness matters most: The family is somewhat shocked to find that, when they get to Africa, they’re mostly wanted as supports to the local work going on, and as testimony to the power of the model being applied. They had hoped to build schools or…something. But this is empowerment, and it’s another example of how we gain so much by giving in the right ways.

    So, really, there’s so much about which to rejoice here. But, of course, I have those two critiques:

  • First, I’m always disappointed to find that I’ve already “given up” most of what people consider to be the essentials that they’re sacrificing in order to give more. We already chose to have a smaller house, and we don’t have nice cars or even cable television. I know that we need to give more, but I’m a little lost about where to start, when accounts like these can’t totally be my guides.
  • And, finally, despite the experiences in Africa and the power of their accompaniment, despite writing about how local leaders are learning to insist that government be accountable for providing necessary services, there is no discussion about how the family could have used their considerable power within their own community to advocate for policy changes that could have had a much larger impact than even their substantial dollars. This is a missing piece, and part of what giving of our time and talents has to mean–using our relative positions of power in the world to advocate for changes in our government policy that will impact the problems that plague the globe.

    I want to know what you think, about your own efforts to do with less so that others can have more, about how families can be forces for social change, about the role that wealth accumulation plays in shaping how Americans see their place in the world…and I’m willing to give away something to make it happen, in the true Power of Half spirit.

    Here’s the deal: I got a free copy of the book for attending, but I already had it, so that I could read it in advance, which means that I now have a copy to give away.

    Leave a comment, either in response to this post, in response to my earlier post about The Life You Can Save, or about how you could change your life in order to create a more just society for others, and I’ll randomly choose someone to receive the book. I’ll even send it to you. How’s that for karma banking?

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