After doing my usual pre-travel research (expected weather, electrical plug usage and currency exchange rates) I tried to amply prepare for a continuous trip between India and Switzerland on one ticket: not too many clothes in my suitcase, but enough for the climate disparity. At the time I checked in, that disparity was something like 90 to 60 degrees (F) respectively. I opted for cotton clothes with layers and sandals with or without socks. As it turned out, India got hotter (nearly 100F) and Switzerland got colder (45F) with biting rain and winds. So I spent a LOT of my down time in my hotel room.
I had stuff to read, casual and work related and managed to keep myself busy. On occasion, I would turn on the TV. All the stations in Fribourg were in French or German with one exception: the financial news channel. I could only take that news for so long. My last day in Fribourg, there was a break in the news and instead they played back-to-back episodes of some program about the “super rich”. It turned out to be more distressing than the news. You’d expect people with so much money to have one thing you might wistfully dream about. But nope, I really have no interest in private planes or huge yachts with custom fitted gold faucets, or Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Yes, I would like to live near the beach, but a small bungalow would do me just as well—no need for the 25,000 square feet vacation home they were showcasing.
In Islam, there is no inherent value linking poverty to spiritual liberation, but still, I have a very low estimation of “wealth”. Two of my daughters are consciously meditating on how to change their attitudes about money: to THINK positively about abundance. I guess they inherited my low interest in material things. Here’s the thing though, even if I had money, I have already constructed that I would be forming institutes, facilitating environmental friendly projects, supporting starving thinkers, and of course, that bungalow on the beach.
What would you do if you had more money than you could ever spend, even living luxuriously?
I cannot seem to dwell on acquisitions just for the sake of having more things. I don’t think that’s going to change for me because I cannot stop thinking about how much poverty there is in the world. Plus, I spend a lot of time with grassroots organizations and non-profits, which have to train themselves in the gentle art of finding funds, writing proposals for funds, and then following up by justifying their usage of the funds when they’re done.
At the high end, the business of philanthropy is a business (which is probably why it is apt to have a word other than “charity” to refer to it.)
I was invited to a meeting once, by one philanthropy foundation when it was revamping its 5 year plan. I admit, I mostly went out of curiosity. I mean, just how does this sort of thing work? They paid a nice honorarium for two days of meetings, plus travel, accommodations and incidentals. In other words, I lost nothing in the experience. It was informative.
If one has lots of money to give away, they form a company, which pays excellent salaries and gives quality benefits. From there, the company has the responsibility to generate just the right kind of giving opportunities. Occasionally, the company knows it needs help and so they invite persons like myself—experts in related fields—to advise them or to help them gain knowledge so their giving projects are effective. It was interesting to learn about that end of it.
It’s confirmed: some people have more money than they could EVER use in their lifetime (and that of their progeny). So why not make a concerted effort to give some of it to those who do not? But to keep giving above mere hand outs also becomes a project.
Recently, it was announced that Sheryl Sandberg joined the ranks of those who have pledged to give away much of their vast wealth to philanthropy. The Giving Pledge was formally launched in 2009 by two of its major donors: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren Buffet. So far, there are over 120 billionaires committed to “dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy”, according to their website.
When I first heard about this, I found it really redeeming. I mean, it wasn’t only about acquiring things anymore. It doesn’t mean the specific project someone is working will necessarily be the beneficiary of the funds ear marked for philanthropy, because, as I said, it is a business. They have the proper stop gaps and gate keepers (just check out the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation web site for the caveats and conditions.) But, if you had more money than you could spend, even on golden faucets, how you would spend it? How would you imagine working to change the world? How would you help make the world a better place?
There are caveats to giving. Imagine people only wanting to meet you because they want a hand out.
Maybe we cannot imagine it, but we do live in a world of abundance. What is not missing are sufficient funds to support the planet. What is missing is the generosity of thinking and acting that teaches each of us, whether in large or small measure, to provide for ourselves, our families, our needs and even wants, and THEN turn it over to others. I don’t know, perhaps that which is needed to make so much money kills off that which some of us can never let go of: how to share the money.
It’s important not to give up hope though. Maybe one day there will be no value in money at all and we can then go about the task of mutually supporting the ways we can and must share the earth’s valuable resources.
That’s the kind of plenty with which I could really live.
amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.