Lighting A Few Bright Candles by Peter Samuelson
Monday, August 8, 2011
Posted by: Taylor Stockdell
What is the meaning of wealth? This is a question I have wrestled with intermittently for the last twenty-five years. At a certain point, if one is lucky, hard work creates what one needs to live comfortably. Continuous observation suggests that leaving vast sums of money to one's kids is to place a curse on their heads that will more likely challenge than nurture them. So what does one do with the rest?
Chaos Theory teaches us that all systems in the Universe if left unmanaged eventually decay into random nothingness. If that is true, then the quest for civilization is a never ending one: If we wish to bequeath something honorable, helpful and loving to our children's children's children we had better pay attention to the systems within our society which keep it afloat. Passive inactivity is a recipe for decay and atrophy. It really is not an option to sit on one's hands.
It seems to me that there are gigantic opportunities for people who thrive in business to apply the self-same skills to righting some of the wrongs around us. I have tried to focus through a self-invented "entrepreneurial philanthropy" on the grievous challenges of seriously ill children, of those kids who are abused and neglected, and of our urban homeless. It makes no sense to me that in this greatest civilization the world has ever put forth, we so often systematically marginalize our children and other people's children, even though they are our only future. The dark side of the "can do" of the American Dream is to try to fix things after they have broken rather than preventing them from breaking in the first place. For example, two-thirds of the adult males in our prisons were abused or neglected as children. Would it not make some sense to diminish this threat in the future? If self-esteem is so closely tied to living a productive life, should we not be trying to build it wherever we can in our society?
And if half of all foster children are homeless within two years of aging out of the system, wouldn't it be a lot less expensive to use college to get them into productive careers, rather than society paying for the rest of their lives? So why do only 2% of foster kids get a college education? Whose fault is that, and how do we fix it?
There is so much we can productively do by using our resources of intellect, entrepreneurship and a sense that anything is possible if one breaks it down into bite-sized chunks. And, yes, it sometimes takes money as well. Why, as another example, are we not building bridges to develop a strong, prosperous Islamic middle class, probably the only long-term solution to present upheaval in the world, awfulness that will otherwise confront our children for decades to come? And can we really not do better for homeless people sleeping rough amongst us than to give them the cardboard box our Sub-Zero came in?
Some of the most exciting things I have ever done have been through collaborations with like-minded people in philanthropy. An entrepreneur can helpfully exert his or her lateral thinking to serve the planet, not just to take from it. It's really no use to curse the gathering darkness -- much better to light a few bright candles I think.
There is a poem by Shelley called "Ozymandias" about a gigantic crumbled statue in the desert. Erected by a long-forgotten emperor, only the legs still stand. "Look upon my works, ye Mighty and despair!" reads the inscription. That's all that's left! As Theilard de Chardin wrote, "Now is the time to build the Earth." If we want our lives to amount to anything worth remembering, should we not pay attention to the true and lasting value of our legacy -- and have some wonderful excitement while doing so?