Those who have much are often greedy, those who have little always share. Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
I recently was called naïve by a friend who opinion I genuinely value, the worst part is I suspect he is actually correct. I prefer to use the term idealist but this is just splitting hairs. What prompted the exchange and what has got me thinking, is if the world would be a better place if we truly practiced the ideals we were taught as children. Is this even really possible in today’s world? For the purposes of this discussion I will focus on one of the simplest of values.
I will attempt to make a larger point on the ideal of sharing.
The simplest of virtues are sometimes both the hardest to learn and teach. Raising my children has given me some perspective on this. I find myself shuttering when I hear myself say, or do things that I remember my parents doing to me when I was a child. As a parent I sometimes find myself embroiled in moral dilemmas when teaching my children new things, and having to balance between what I consider to be “right” and principled, versus preparing them with dealing with how the world really works. I suspect every parent who has ever had to explain the difference between “little white lies” and “real lies” likely understands my point. Parenting can be fraught with these ideological landmines and a smart or insightful child can be tougher than any trial lawyer.
Sometimes we have to make adjustments in right versus wrong to explain how the world really works.
What worries me is what if these minor moral concessions are what put us all on the road to ruin?
One of the biggest challenges and primary missions for parents and teachers alike is teaching the virtue of sharing. As a consequence of human nature, sharing conflicts with what may rank as one of the more powerful forces in the universe, which just happens to be greed. Children and adults alike are confronted with two opposite influences in trying to teach and to learn the socially preferred ideal of sharing, while confronting the evil of the demon of greed. Based on what I see in my world, and in the media, I have no choice but to accept that many of us may have not succeeded in confronting this demon. Greed is the stronger force that is basic to human nature and survival, and sharing sometimes seems only for the weak, or only applied when parents and teachers are trying to balance the needs of two wanting children.
Greed vs. Sharing: Licking the apple.
As a parent it is almost impossible to get my kids to share, sometimes I believe that sharing defies basic human nature in the same manner that “up” defies the force of gravity. Let me share a personal story that illustrates my point. My wife recently carved up an apple in to equal sections to be shared by each child. Seems simple enough right? It was going well with each child taking one piece at a time, until there were just two pieces left. Then my oldest realizing that they were at the end of the apple grabbed the last to pieces of apple and she licked them both thus ensuring that her brother would not get an equal share. This caused quite a ruckus in our family that day and resulted in my daughter being disciplined by her parents for failing to share. As she lamented the loss of computer and Wii time, maybe she learned the lesson that other excessively greedy people learn. Excessive greed may have consequences, but then again maybe not?
I am left to question whether the lesson is at all significant; after all she did get both pieces of the apple, which is what she wanted in the first place.
I am wondering if the true lesson that society teaches us, is that if you want the extra piece of the apple you had better grab it. Worry about whom you offend and the consequences later. Given the nature of society, maybe I should have lauded her creative way of ensuring that she got the larger share. I am worried both as a parent and as a person that we try to teach sharing but we don’t actually practice it. I am worried that as a force of human nature greed is just too powerful to oppose.
Let’s Share a Movie Quote.
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
– Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street 1987
The above quote is somewhere between a caricature and an archetype of the behavior of some folks on Wall Street and in Washington. Take your pick of Bernie Madoff, Bernie Ebbers, Kenneth Lay or even Allan Stanford there are dozens of icons that emblemize this belief system. Others can discuss who that can best be referenced as poster-children of the greed dominated part of our culture. There are several and it is not really my point. While there have been stark consequences for many people like those I have just mentioned. It would have to be suggested that many others, even those who knowingly violate the public trust do not get caught or do not suffer any repercussions. It is clear at least part of the population ascribes to and benefits from the philosophy of greed. Despite the threat of whatever penalties are actually enforced, it is clear many people choose to behave this way and they do indeed benefit from greed. For many of us greed is good.
Our Culture of Giving.
What is equally astonishing to me, whatever we can point out about our nation’s culture of greed, our nation has also established a tradition of a culture of giving. In 2008 Americans gave 307.65 Billion dollars to various charities despite a falling economy. Even though that number was down in 2008, historically our country tops the world in charitable giving as a percentage of GDP. This is great news and something we should be proud of as a nation, and perhaps it just even might offset some of the culture of greed I referenced above. Yet, there still is something we need to consider before we pat ourselves on the collective back.
There is at least anecdotal evidence to suggest that contrary to what we might suspect that when it comes to sharing, this effort is not shared equally among those in our society. Those who can do more are not necessarily doing so. A report on Empty Tomb quoting data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey 2005: Cash Contributions for Charitable Giving by Income Level suggests:
“Although the people in the $150,000 and more income bracket gave the largest number of dollars to “church, religious organizations,” and to “educational institutions,” those dollars represented a smaller portion of income for that bracket that those in the lowest five brackets.”
It points out that lower income people actually give a higher percentage of their income to charities. While statistics often can be interpreted to fit any example, on some level it may make some sense. Sure there are glaring exceptions but most people who amass large wealth don’t usually accomplish this by simply by giving it away. While we may rank first in giving as a culture, I suspect we also could rank first in greed. It truly does not seem like our culture of giving balances out the much higher profile culture of greed. This is not about class warfare or socialism, nor is it to blame the wealthy. It is not about money or resources, because people have the ability to share more than just cash. Our time, expertise, and knowledge can make a difference to another person or group and is often more valuable to share. The question really is whether each of us can do more in how we share with others as individuals and as a culture. Can we do better in how we teach and set the example of sharing? The challenge is can we do a better job elevating sharing as a virtue?
The Challenge of Sharing.
How can we become a more sharing person when it is clear to me that sharing is not always easy for us? Of these two opposing forces of sharing versus greed; it is much harder to want to share, and it seems to defy basic human nature. How can I impact things and how can I give direction to my children so they aspire to the higher value of sharing. I believe the world becomes a better place one person at a time. I have accepted that in my life there is more I can do to be better person, and try to shift the balance from greed to sharing by starting first in my own world. If I can set an example and create some kind of a blueprint, it can become something that can be followed by my children and maybe even other people. If enough people do this maybe it just might help offset the culture of greed. These ideas are a work in progress they are open to amending feel free to share these:
1. Conspire to commit at least one extra random act of kindness per day, above any you might have normally performed in the events of a normal day. This is what I would consider drive by kindness and sharing. This is the small acts like holding a door open or letting someone into traffic. Unto themselves they are not a big deal but when practiced in large numbers they make the world a better place.
2. Perpetrate one extra premeditated and truly selfless act per week; it must impact the life of someone else in a positive manner. This is for me a more advanced thought out and well constructed effort. Consider this advanced sharing and kindness it usually requires thought. This can and hopefully will impact someone’s life in a positive way. Even if it is just for a day.
3. Start taking the time to really listen to another person to fully understand how they feel. Empathy is the sharing of emotion, all too often we hear what someone is saying but don’t understand how or why they feel the way they do. This can be a vital part of conflict resolution or avoidance. This is also a key in relationships and an essential part in sharing yourself with others.
4. Increase charitable efforts ether in the amount of time, effort, or money that I commit to these efforts. I should be able to do more if I put forth more focus on this. Often at times of great crisis or around the holidays we have seen our country can rise up to do this. The hope is that can I begin to do this better on any other average day.
5. Attack and defeat at least one thought of greed or selfishness per month. Either in my thinking or in others. This is the offensive part of the revolution. To start reducing the large numbers and benefits of greed, we have to be willing to say “Hey I think your being a selfish greedy prick” whether we have to say it to ourselves or others around us. To do what is necessary to stop the greedy bastard in each of us or those people around us. If enough of us do it loudly enough, it could even lead to prosecution of some of our worst violators of the public trust.
6. Be available to help facilitate the above ideas in others. This is the key to spreading the movement; defined as sharing the sharing movement. Help people to find ways to help people. Sometimes someone has to coordinate the cause and direct the efforts. This indeed can be a noble effort.
7. Most importantly be prepared to accept that none of this may actually make a difference, because greed is strong. Remember doing the right thing may not benefit you, and if that is why you are doing it you are missing the whole point of this exercise. In this case start over with point number one.
This is all really simple, but all shifts in thought usually start with a simple premise. You will come up with your own additional ideas on this. Please implement these as well, and share them with others. Could an increased focus on the value of sharing actually make a difference in our culture? Probably not, because ultimately none of these shared thoughts will matter to anyone. Even if the ideal of sharing was common in its practice, it isn’t like sharing can actually solve the world’s larger issues like wars, global hunger, or homelessness. Aspiring to be a more sharing person won’t fix the banking crisis, solve the healthcare debate or help educate children.
Or could it really help on these larger issues?
Smarter people than me will have to figure this out I am just an idealist at heart.
Then again maybe I am just naïve after all...
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.
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