After I sent the email, I felt a wave of relief to have spoken what has been festering inside for years. And then I started receiving your emails – one after another, all day long for days saying “me too, thanks for speaking the truth, that I can’t say so openly in my position. I too share the despair and the frustration.”
And then someone said they felt guilty for feeling anger and despair and it struck me how brutal that is. Anger, sadness, and despair are perfectly normal and healthy responses for anyone with a conscience to have in the face of global extinction, hunger, and warfare. And then piling on to that a sense of guilt for our feelings seems brutal. It was only when one you, clearly a person dedicated to the welfare of others, wrote it to me that I could see it so clearly for myself. So, please do me a favor and don’t add insult to injury by feeling guilty for ‘negative’ feelings. Maybe it’s high time that more ‘good’ people owned and expressed our healthy anger rather than turning it in on ourselves in ways that depletes us and maintains the status quo.
Hours after I published the blog, I went to my bookshelf and picked up my copy of The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune by Conor O’Clery. The book was published in 2007 and on the back cover it includes a quote, “Chuck Feeney is what Donald Trump would be, if he lived his entire existence backward.” It has been on my shelf for almost a decade and I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it. I’m now half way through.
Chuck Feeney made a fortune after World War II developing the concept of duty free in Asia by selling booze and luxury goods to Japanese tourists at the dawn of jet travel. The money was accumulated tax free. At the age of 53, he chose to give the vast majority of his wealth away through a foundation and proceeded to covertly donate $8 billion before the foundation was closed down in 2016. There is a short documentary about his life at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMcjxe8slYI. Reading the book has been a salve and it has also been provoking my thinking about the accumulation and redistribution of wealth.
Last week, I shared that I didn’t have any ideas about other options or solutions to the current system. I realize that’s not true. I do, and they require questioning some basic tenants of our economic structure. These thoughts are percolating and I will share them as they emerge.
Another reader pointed me in the direction of Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World and his Talk at Google
And finally, a friend shared this article from the New York Times: “Surviving Despair in the Great Extinction. One million species of plants and animals are heading toward annihilation, and it’s our fault. How can we possibly live with that truth?”
And this reminded me of this wonderful interview by Krista Tippett with Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai https://onbeing.org/programs/wangari-maathai-marching-with-trees/. Wangari’s small local act of planting trees in her hometown blossomed into the planting of 52 million trees and the restoration of local ecology and economy. In the interview, Krista asks her
“I know you’ve been scorned and you’ve been pursued and you’ve been beaten. You’ve stood up to powerful forces. And you didn’t know, when all this started, that it would become so large, that you would found this great movement, that you would win the Nobel Peace Prize. What kept you going? What were the resources you drew on in the hardest times?”
And she replied
“being molded by people of faith made a lot of difference — that although I was not professing my faith, I’m quite sure that I was grounded in that moral fiber of wanting to do the right thing. I was so sure that this was the right thing because I could see. It was quite obvious. And even those who were persecuting me knew, and I knew they knew.
…they knew I was doing the right thing, but they didn’t want me to do it because it was inconveniencing them. And I knew that, the fact that people have a right to clean drinking water. So anybody who is there polluting that water knows he is doing the wrong thing, knows he should not do it. Anybody who is interfering with the catchment areas where these levees come from so that some levees start drying up, he knows he’s doing the wrong thing. And because he’s doing it to enrich himself, and he is enriching himself with resources that have been entrusted to him by the public, and he knows the public don’t know, and if they know they are too afraid to challenge him. So me, when I challenge, he can afford to intimidate, he can afford to ridicule, because I’m alone. But I somehow — I had that conviction that I’m right, and he knows it.”
May we all be blessed with such conviction during the hardest times and find the comfort of kindred spirits.