Saturday 4 October 2014

On Being Fabulously Wealthy

I’ve always wanted to write novels but I knew that making it in the arts was risky. I’ve never been much of a risk-taker so I went to university and got a degree in the more stable arena of Physics. My life-plan was to become a rich scientist then retire early, write novels and use some of my millions to help others. Where I got the idea that becoming a Physicist would likely make me rich, I don’t know. I blame Tony Stark.

Life happened. I became a sandwich-man instead of a scientist and every month, if things went well, my bank balance rose to zero.

But one day, when I was about 40, I realized that I had unwittingly reached my goal! I looked above my “station” in life and saw that there were probably a few million people with millions of dollars at their disposal. Then I looked below and realized that there were billions of people at risk of dying of hunger or disease.

I was probably in the top 5% of wealthy people on the planet! My “struggle,” I realized, was not for wealth but for ranking among the wealthy.

In fact, I was better than wealthy. I lived in Canada, a free, democratic society with few restrictions, free health care, no war and very few natural disasters. There could be very little more to wish for.

I had never stopped writing and my job as sandwich man paid the bills and gave me a lot of time to dedicate to the craft. I was pretty much living my dream! And I had somehow become aware enough to appreciate it.

There was only one thing left to do… help those less fortunate.

I am not an especially charitable person but mostly it’s because I see a lot of causes where money is asked for, but is not the answer. For instance, I wouldn’t give to an organization helping street people. To me, it seems that they are using money to preserve an unhealthy lifestyle rather than abolish it. Similarly, I wouldn’t give to a cause raising funds to arm a military force. Whoever made up the phrase “fight fire with fire” was either being facetious or maybe raising funds for firearms.

I have a core belief that in Canada, at least, most problems originate from the person in trouble and are not curable by donations of money. This has been demonstrated to me endless times by family members, friends, acquaintances, street people… and even my own self. I understand that for some, the ability to make choices is impaired. I also realize that if I had been born with their brain, body and in their circumstance, I would turn out no differently. We are all equal. I know this but that does not mean that money will help. And, now that I know this, a donation won't even assuage my guilt.

In Canada, health care is provided for free, so we don’t have the life and death issues that face others. The gulf dividing life from death is far larger than the difference between hungry and well-fed. I wanted my donated money to get the largest bang for the buck, so I prefered organizations that focus on saving lives. However, I basically don’t trust humans and had heard stories about large charitable organizations and how much money was wasted on it’s way to the intended recipients.

A couple of more years went by. I could find no cause or organization where I felt my money would be well spent. But, eventually, I realized that I had hoarded my good fortune for more than 40 years without making a contribution. As flawed as many charitable organizations might be, they were doing more than me to help the people of our planet and I could think of no better alternative.

It was my turn to chip in.

The first thing I did was give blood. It cost me nothing except one hour of time, every three months and 100% of my donation is used to help save lives. Talk about bang for your buck! To date I have contributed about 55 times. I feel good about that.

Because I like to feel a personal connection to those I help, my next donation was to World Vision. They connect you with an individual in the village where your money is targeted. It’s largely a marketing gimmick—a matter of perspective, really. It is not as if, that exact dollar that you contributed gets put in the hands of the individual you are assigned, but you do get to communicate with someone benefiting from the organization that you are supporting. I currently support two individuals, helping them get food and an education. I also like that World Vision sets the goal of making the villages self-sufficient so that eventually, they do not need financial assistance. World Vision is a religion-based organization. I’m not a fan of organized religions, but I do like some of the things they accomplish. 

At about the same time, an acquaintance of mine, Jordan Clark, was traveling through Southern Asia documenting conditions there. I attended a screening of one of his movies and it affected me deeply. After the screening, I told him I wanted to write a cheque to help out. He was surprised—had never viewed his film as a charity engine. Somehow, he got inspired enough to actually “adopt” the 18 families on the island of Dumolog, in the Phillipines.

Jordan’s original idea was to get dental care for the many kids who were in pain, on a daily basis. He found a dentist willing to donate his time and Jordan organized enough people that he managed to finance the venture. He did not stop there. At his own expense, he oversaw the project and took video and pics to share with all of us donors. When I saw all those happy, smiling, young faces, I was hooked. The families had other issues and I could no longer ignore their plight. They had become real people to me. Jordan moved on to offer medical care, then clothing and eventually schooling. It’s been several years now, and our oldest high school graduate is off to college! This is a first for the island-village and the beginning of a self-sustainable rise in the village’s economy.  (Here is the link To Jordan's charity blog)

Jordan’s is my favourite charity for two reasons: 1) it’s very personal. I get lots of visual feedback on the individuals that I am helping. In pictures and video I can see exactly how my money has been spent. 2) 100% of my money goes to the people. Jordan overseas the projects, on his own dime.

If I had any time, I’d really like to get more involved with this charity. That day will come when my children are a little older, I’m sure.

Anyway, I’m still fabulously wealthy and now I feel a little better about myself. Win-win!

If you now realize that you are fabulously wealthy and want to feel better about yourself by donating directly, please click on the links above.

If you’d rather donate indirectly, then buy my book.   :^D

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