I recall reading a quote of something Oprah Winfrey said in an interview. I’ve tried to find that quote to reference here, but with no luck. If anyone can find a link to it, I’ll update this entry.
At any rate, Oprah was quoted as saying something like she knows now why she is wealthy. It’s no accident that she has all this wealth. The purpose of this wealth is so that she can help others less fortunate.
And, indeed, she does use her wealth and influence to help others. Her investments in education in Africa have been well-publicized. She has embarked upon numerous other philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors, some of which are public, and certainly, many which have escaped notice by the public.
When I read this, something bothered me. I couldn’t quite nail it at the time, so I put it out of my mind.
However, it resurfaced a few times, and I was finally able to articulate what was wrong with this picture.
Oprah isn’t the first wealthy philanthropist to express the notion that wealth exists to help others. In fact, if you read or hear certain motivational or success material, you learn that you have an obligation to create wealth for the very reason that you’ll be able to help others. It’s been suggested that God has bestowed wealth for this very reason.
But here’s what’s amiss.
Why does God bestow wealth upon one group of people so that they may help another?
Wouldn’t it be more efficient just to bestow the wealth upon the group of people who need it? Why must we have middle men? Wouldn’t it be most efficient to just distribute resources around on the planet more evenly to begin with?
So I brought this up to a friend, who came up with a pretty good answer.
Philanthropy is an experience. The giving itself is a gift. It’s humbling and transformational.
But this brings up another troubling point.
If I’m in dire need, someone can get their philanthropic jollies by helping me. (Of course, if I’m in dire need, my attitude would be “Yeah, whatever” while I politely accepted help with thanks.) It’s rather like a dog humping a leg, but with positive outcomes.
Everyone wants to be in the position to give. Giving feels good.
Few people want to be in the position to accept. No matter how gracefully it’s done, there’s still a wound to the dignity.
Therefore, I pose that the true gift is in the acceptance. Those who are in positions to be helped are the true givers, and it’s the donors who are the receivers.
After all, the tolerant leg is doing the dog a favor.