Musings from George

Charity and giving back
October 23, 2010, 5:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I started to write this post at the end of 2008, and didn’t finish it. For much of my life I have participated with charities, and have tried to do some good along the path of my life. I have been in Big Brothers (Todd, you were an awesome kid!), tutored third graders with Yes Reading (now named Reading Matters), tutored high school kids through BUILD, and have been on the board of a parent-involved pre-school in under-privileged schools in our neighborhood through Family Connections. I have built houses with Habitat for Humanity, and have built trails with the Youth Conservation Corps (yes, I was paid for the last one… first time I had taxes withheld from a paycheck, and I was 16 years old). I have been a volunteer coach for a  college team, a high school team, and now for T-ball and youth soccer.

The common wisdom at non-profits and charities is that 5% of the people do 90% of the work, and 10% of the people give 90% of the money. It is not about ability or capacity, because the people doing the volunteer work are often the busiest people and the ones giving money are often not the wealthiest. There is something innate about giving back, about caring for others, that is not “human” in a real sense but is more personal. Why do some give so much (time and money), and many give nothing at all? Books have been written about the topic, and I am certain that I don’t have the short answer to the bigger question, but it is worth pondering.

As a country, the US gives more aid to other countries than any other nation. But as a percentage, we are not the leaders. And as for what we give, we often use our international charity as a foreign policy extension rather than as a thoughtful gift aimed at achieving the greatest impact. Giving our surplus wheat to people in Africa is a classic example of giving someone a fish, while teaching them that it is not worth fishing. We should be building fertilizer plants in Africa, and giving away seeds, rather than delivering food that can be stolen or highjacked by the most powerful warlord in any given region. We should be exporting dam-building technology to Pakistan, rather than airlifting plastic tents to the flooded plains. We should be eradicating malaria worldwide (rathole diverison here: when I heard Bill Gates speak back in business school, I never thought I would be typing “You go, Bill!” twenty years later. What a great way to make your life meaningful — build a fortune, and do something truly noble and impactful with that fortune. Good on ya, Bill!), and making AIDS something that everyone knows about, takes prevention against, and can get treatment for.

Some religions have the concept of tithing, whereby a fixed percentage of your income goes to the church. We have a diluted form of that, whereby the governments collect money from all of us and re-distribute it to some of us (and to others, outside of our country). But what do we owe others? How much should we give? Should we give time and money, or should the wealthy give money and the unemployed give time? How should we value it? Should it be tax-deductible?

We all know some people who do much for others. Take the time to say “Thanks” when you can.


It’s been a long time
October 23, 2010, 5:07 pm
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So much has happened since I last sat down to write something for myself, under the guise that it is for others. Most people who know me don’t read this, and many who read this don’t know me, so it really is just for me. Perhaps some day my kids will read parts of my blog and laugh (“gee, remember when people had to type and they sometimes typed it wrong!”)
What prompts me to figure out my login all over again, and to spend some cycles typing? A telemarketing call with an “Unknown” caller ID — a hot button for me. I have started handing all 877- or 800- numbers to my four-year-old daughter, as she enjoys those conversations more than I do and she is oddly more thoughtful about participating in political surveys (“Why yes, yes we do…”)
The number to avoid is 415-835-5534, which is a telemarketing research firm somewhere in the Bay Area (San Francisco or Marin). Unfortunately I do answer calls from that area, since some of my family lives there. I would like to propose a national amendment that some low threshold of complaints about calls from a particular firm would result in an injunction against that firm from making phone calls. I would also like to pass an amendment that political robo-calls be banned. Just because they have the right to free speech does not entitle a political campaign to put it on my answering machine. So when you get that phone call from James Research, just put the phone down and let them blather for $0.08 or so… it’s their dime, so to speak. If you have a four-year-old handy, that’s even better because it confuses the caller and amuses the child.
Okay, real topics. Poor Obama has been beaten like a pinata for doing the best he could with the hand he was dealt when Bush departed like an eight-year-old dead fish. Yes, he did get huge majorities in both houses of Congress and a large popular mandate so he should have been able to make big change. But he also inherited a cratered economy with several of the country’s biggest companies in bankruptcy and a financial system teetering worldwide. He inherited a unified Republican obstructionism that I hope some day is punished for doing stupid things like voting against bills that help everyone, and voting as a bloc because they are afraid to stand up to “leadership”. Leadership by obstruction is not leadership, it is the absence of leadership — cowardice.
I’m helping to coach a bunch of six-year-old boys, and it has been instructive for me. Just as it took me four weeks to figure out that I could not get five-year-olds to focus on T-ball, it took me four weeks to accept the fact that some kids have more fun when they are NOT focused on the ball, and that many kids are there to play with their friends rather than to improve their game. Signing up for a league where equal time for all kids, and anyone can sign up, is different from coaching a high school team where everyone wants to win and the score matters. We do not record the score when six-year-olds play, and the snack after the game or practice is just as important as the actual skills that are built. For this brief period in life, it doesn’t matter who wins and there is no reward for being better so having fun is a fine metric to focus on.
My son enjoyed the game last week more than any other he has played in. Yes he scored, but he also passed the ball to his friends. He knew players on the other team, and was just as happy to see them as he was to see his own team-mates. He’s good, but it was more important last weekend that he was happy. So I need to learn that lesson myself, and enjoy the game rather than caring about the score. It’s a start.
I’d say more soon, but I have 18 months of silence to belie that. I hope everyone is doing well, and also would love to hear from anyone who actually reads this.
Remember, tele-research is for four-year-olds. Voting is a right and a privilege, and I hope everyone votes. I like if you are in California.
Be good!