Philanthropy of the Mind



Most of us will never make the kind of money made by people such as Bill Gates, or any of the other North American billionaires.  Many of them have become noted philanthropists, but we should be careful that simply because we are not in their financial circumstances we excuse ourselves from philanthropy.  What prompted this column was reading, in LI, an article about Charles Feeney who started Atlantic Philanthropies, and quietly gave away more than 8 billion dollars to support scientific research, public health, and public education.  But he did so without fanfare, without demanding public recognition.  He refused to have his name put on buildings that he financed, leaving the naming rights to others who could be induced to contribute in exchange for this recognition.


The great American philanthropists of the past – the Carnegies, the Fricks, the Rockefellers, and others, made significant financial contributions to the public in terms of university endowments, museums, libraries, and money for education and health.


I don’t want to discount the contributions that these immensely wealthy people have made to our society, but there is a sense that philanthropy is something that only rich people can be involved in.  What we ARE all capable of demonstrating, though,  is what I term “philanthropy of the mind”.  Philanthropy is defined as: “The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.” So, while it has come to mean donating money to a benevolent cause, we need to focus more on the first part of the definition – the what rather than the how.


“Philanthropy of the mind” is a phrase I use to describe the times when we try to make others look good by acknowledging their contributions to a successful project; when we work to raise the spirits of a colleague when they are facing a failure; when we give of our time, our talents, our knowledge; when we make a conscious effort to mentor a new colleague.


More than 50 years ago, when I was in first year university, there was a prof, Dr, Garfinkle, who taught a course in social anthropology.  He was short, round, and severely myopic.  We progressed from considering Australopithecus to discussing more modern versions of mankind. One day, a tall, athletic, well-built student, Al Booth, stood up (that’s what we did in class 50 years ago) and asked: “Dr. Garfinkle, don’t you think that if we mated all the men over six feet two inches tall, and an I.Q. of over 140 to women over 6 feet tall with an I.Q. of 140, we could produce a superior race?


Dr. Garfinkle looked at him with a rather bemused look on his face, and finally replied, “Superior in what way, Mr. Booth?  Kindness?”


Which one among us is not capable of giving kindness to others?


Today, it is safe to say that in North America, with few exceptions, we don’t lack things.  But we do lack kindness, thoughtfulness, and tolerance.  Social media is filled with hatred toward everyone who has the temerity to disagree with a political position, or a political figure, or with an ideology, and expressed sometimes in very violent terms but almost always with a total lack of respect.  There is something we can all do about that – and it doesn’t take dollars.


We can become mental philanthropists – people who promote the welfare of others.  And the really neat thing about this is that it doesn’t diminish your capital one little bit.


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