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There are two kinds of fools in the world. One is the Biblical fool who is best described as a person with no self-control. He is "a larger child" governed by the impulse of the passing moment and with no ability to rule his tongue, emotions, pleasures or thoughts. He is stupid and self-conceited, and with no ability to see himself as he is, he rushes to his own destruction hardly thinking at all about what awaits him.
On the other hand, there is the role of the fool in Shakespeare which is more of a wise man in a fool's clothing. Fools are those who "tell truth to power" in the plays. Often, they are the only characters who can see clearly the dark side of fame and find the words and the lightness to describe it. They are funny but not often clowns. They are jesters but mostly about serious things. They are shrewd observers of human nature but not cynics. They are not hecklers or mindless critics. They, typically, are not angry but articulate and astute, having a perspective that is uncorrupted by falseness or self-seeking. They skewer, prick and cut down to size with humor and slights. Theirs is not a safe spot as they could easily (and sometimes do) step over the line at the expense of their career - if not their lives. Only the wise could value a true fool. For without the fool those in power become self-destructive fools themselves.
Grady Wilson was a childhood friend of Billy Graham, and for 30 years he was perhaps his closest associate and confidant. He was also the one person who could let the air out of his balloon whenever Dr. Graham's head was turned by the distractions of international fame and applause. He always said, "If God will keep Billy anointed, we'll keep him humble." He meant it, and as a young man I saw Grady do that with charm and wit. He could only get away with it because Billy Graham trusted him without reservation...and knew how important it was for him to listen to Grady. Others might have thought Grady was just having fun at Billy's expense, but it was far deeper than that. It was a sign of utmost loyalty between the two men.
In this work of philanthropy, we need our own trusted fools. We need to be fools to each other. To avoid the traps of hubris, pride and arrogance we need someone around us who can deflate the balloon a bit without being hostile or destructive. Like the fool in "King Lear"we need those who love us in spite of our flaws and our own worst foolishness.
One of the most emotionally wrenching scenes in the play is the fool and Lear on the heath in the storm. Everyone has abandoned Lear except for his fool. These lines express that unique relationship best for me:
"That sir which serves and seeks for gain,
And follows but for form,
Will pack when it begins to rain,
And leave thee in the storm.
But I will tarry; the fool will stay..."
We have our critics and cynics who take every opportunity to devalue our work. We have those who pander to us and whose vested interests are not served by telling us the truth. We have our own biased perspectives that keep us from seeing clearly.
What will serve us (if we allow it) would be a true fool who with humor, skill and daring could bring us closer to our own best selves...even in the storms. Without such a fool we will never be wise.Comments
Steve Martin is known most widely for his early work in absurd comedy, but he has also evolved into a serious art collector, playwright and fine writer. In his memoir "Born Standing Up," he recounts the death of his father. Growing up in Waco, Texas, Steve remembers his feelings toward his father as "mostly ones of hatred" as his father was cold and stern. He was critical of Steve's career. and their relationship was awkward at best:
"In his early 80s, my father’s health declined further and he became bedridden. There must be an instinct about when the end is near, as we all found ourselves gathered at my parents’home in Orange County, California. I walked into the house they had lived in for 35 years, and my weeping sister said, “He’s saying goodbye to everyone.”
A hospice nurse said to me, “This is when it all happens.”I didn’t know what she meant, but soon I did.
I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing. He said, almost buoyantly, “I’m ready now.”I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed and we looked into each other’s eyes for a long, unbroken time. At last he said, “You did everything I wanted to do.”
I said the truth: “I did it for you.”
Looking back, I’m sure that we both had different interpretations of what I meant.
I sat on the edge of the bed and another silence fell over us. Then he said, “I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry.”
At first, I took this as a comment on his condition but am forever thankful that I pushed on. “What do you want to cry about?”I finally said.
“For all the love I received and couldn’t return.”
He had kept this secret, his desire to love his family, from me and from my mother his whole life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now, two days from his death, our pace was aligning and we were able to speak."
I taught this week on the Genesis account of Abram's leaving Haran and his family to strike out "on his own.” In reading the description of his father's life, I noticed his father had begun the journey to Canaan but had never completed it. He had settled in Haran instead. It was ironic to me that Abram was being called, in a sense, to finish his father's journey.
There was a time in my life when I would have thought each generation has their own dream and no right to foist it on the next. To live vicariously through your children or to allow yourself to carry the burden of a father's dream for his own life was completely unacceptable. My job as a son was to find my own mission independent of my family. My task as a parent was to help my children discover their own path independent of mine. Whatever my unfinished journey to "Canaan" was should not determine what they do with their lives.
God's desire is for each of us to live out our own mission, regardless of previous generations and not with any thought about those who follow. And then I read Genesis and realized it may take hundreds of years and a stream of generations to accomplish the work of God. Our life is connected to those who came before and those who follow. We are not a collection of independent short stories. Our lives are chapters in a novel whose author has woven us together to accomplish His purpose - one life at a time.
"You did everything I wanted to do."
"I did it for you."Comments
Studies and predictions about the transfer of wealth from parents to their children started popping up around the turn of the century. In their 1999 study "The Millionaires and the Millennium: New Estimates of the Forthcoming Wealth Transfer and the Prospects for a Golden Age of Philanthropy,” Paul Schervish and John Havens at the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College had financial planners scurrying to prepare investment plans to accommodate an estimated $41 trillion that would be passed over 50 years.
For the next several years, investment firms rolled out products that would absorb the wave of assets. I heard about "pre-mortem" consultants hired by children to negotiate with parents ahead of time to make sure everything went smoothly. As in no generation before, the assumption was children would receive, invest and spend. When they became older, they would then be philanthropic.
After the Boomers take their share, the 50-year transfer will have $30 trillion remaining, and, until now, planners and consultants have assumed the pattern will be the same: receive, invest and spend. However, new patterns are emerging, and once again, the financial experts are having to adjust their strategy.
In the just-released "Private Banking and Wealth Management Survey" from Helen Avery at Euromoney, the findings indicate two important changes. First, the survey states that "This club of inheritors ranging from 20 to 45 years of age is the first to feel little duty to remain with their families' private banks. Pressure is therefore mounting for banks to adapt to the preferences of the younger generation. Those preferences might end up reshaping the private banking industry as a whole."
Second, this next generation is not waiting to be philanthropic. They are more aware of social issues and have greater access to information and options for giving. They are not interested in the traditional process of investing first and being philanthropic later. They are looking for firms that have an interest and helpful expertise in their giving. This is quite a reversal from their parents’ way of thinking.
Again, while in the past, private banks and brokers would have opened the discussion with their array of investment and management services, they are now starting with their new products and services designed to help with their young clients’ philanthropy.
Private banks have been very good at advising clients how to structure estates and how to set up foundations, but beyond that their offerings in the area of philanthropy have been sparse. As one private bank executive put it, "If you want to have access to family investments as a whole you now have to engage them with their philanthropy. We are developing a whole new set of skills we have not had in the past. It’s terrifying sometime because we really have had nothing to offer in terms of advice or how to connect them with people and ideas that match their giving profile, and you don’t want to embarrass your bank."
"Hearing it from other people who have experience is really the only way you learn in philanthropy," says Paul Knox, head of wealth advisory EMEA at JPMorgan Private Bank. “It means banks have to offer their clients experience rather than just advice.”
It will be interesting to see what happens as this generation drives their own changes in the world of inheritance, investing and philanthropy. So far, I like what I see.Comments
The earliest foundations in America were established by men who had made fortunes by recognizing and capitalizing on social, demographic, industrial and financial changes in our country. Most were self-made and still young when accomplishing their discoveries or leveraging the new technology into enormous wealth and economic power. They were convinced they could use the same disciplines and mind-sets to dispense what they had accumulated. Calling it "scientific philanthropy" they focused their energies on solutions, systems and large scale issues.
In "Charity, Philanthropy, and Civility in American History" Judith Sealander writes, "They studied society closely, understood the dangers posed by the...revolution that had created their fortunes, and worried publicly about the dangers. They and their advisers fretted that the age promised opportunity and prophesied..without big solutions to its many problems, a society in transition could be exploding." They and their staff were convinced they could tackle complex global issues and apply business and scientific principles to fix the world. Andrew Carnegie even thought he could eradicate the causes of war.
The Charter of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace specified that once permanent peace prevailed worldwide, the foundation could use remaining funds to attack other significant problems." In fact, they did advance progress in health, literacy, poverty and education. Still, the damage from the "scientific philanthropy" is all too real. In one of the worst examples of supporting scientific and rational solutions, Carnegie, Rockefeller and others funded the spread of eugenics - a pseudoscience that resulted in 60,000 Americans being forcibly sterilized to preserve racial purity by eliminating the propagation of those who were unfit. It was rational and forward looking. It solved big problems. It promoted the larger good.
The world is broken and we can fix it. The same mind-set that created these fortunes can be applied to make a better world. A world designed to be free of imperfections, mistakes, bad choices, poverty, disease and, ideally, overseen by those who have the knowledge, wealth, and superior insights to guide and nudge us along the right path.Comments