Unreasonable People

 In Books, Business, Community, Entrepreneurship, Fred's Blog, Giving, Justice, Money, People, Philanthropy, Poverty, Service, Social Entrepreneurs, Uncategorized, Vocation

Listen to “Unreasonable People” by Fred Smith

Almost every time I read about a major foundation tackling another global problem I have two responses. The first is, “Go get ‘em tiger” and the second is, “Good luck. More than a few do-gooders have broken their picks on that one.” So, when I read that people with no endowment, connections in high places or detailed strategic plans have jumped into the ring I think of Don Quixote jousting with windmills because he imagines them as giants with whom he will do battle, slay them and rid the world of evil.

“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”

“Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”

And so it is with adventurous and unreasonable people.  

Oceans of Trash

Two young surfers from Florida, Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, had saved up their money for a surfing trip to Bali. Finding a beach completely covered in plastic with the waves bringing in more they asked why the beach had not been cleaned up. They were told the beach shoreline had been cleaned only hours earlier. On the spot, Andrew and Alex vowed to reverse the tide of plastic being dumped into the ocean every year – almost 14 billion pounds. Starting with nothing they have created 4ocean, a for-profit company with 200 employees across 27 countries working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that has so far removed 5 million pounds of ocean trash.  

Oceans of Debt

In 2011 two loan collectors, Craig Antico and Jerry Ashton had something of an epiphany. Nearly 80 million Americans carry medical debt, which accounts for 50% of all personal bankruptcies. Almost half of the ten million people diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2012 depleted their assets within two years. In fact, there is $75 billion of medical debt on the books of collection agencies and much of that will not be recovered. Typically, debt is sold to collection agencies by hospitals, insurance companies, and doctors and the collectors work on a contingency basis with guarantees of a percentage if they are able to recoup it. It’s expensive and relatively unproductive for everyone. So, like distressed bonds with little value, agencies start packaging the debt and selling it steeply discounted to whoever will buy it. At least they will get something for it. Craig and Jerry put a twist on it. They decided they would buy the debt for pennies on the dollar and instead of collecting it they would forgive it. They don’t negotiate the debt to get a lower bill.  The forgiven debt is not considered taxable income for the recipient. They completely eliminate it and make certain it is wiped from credit reports as well. Through the non-profit they created (RIP Medical Debt) they buy the debt and abolish it. Calling themselves “predatory givers” they have made it possible for donors, churches, faith-based organizations, and corporations to purchase overwhelming medical debt held by families and forgive it. Not everyone qualifies. They focus on those making less than two times the poverty level, spending more than 5% of their income on medical debt or families of veterans. For example, a group of Chicago churches worked with RIP to purchase for $18,000 the $5.3 million debt of almost 6,000 families. When the debt is paid each family receives a letter telling them their debt has been forgiven. I read one mother’s response this week.

“I am a single parent who is raising my son with special needs. Life has hit us with some hard blows Mentally, Spiritually, and Financially but through it all, in obedience to God, He has always made a way. Opening up this letter to find that the medical debt that I had has been paid in full was a drop to my knees, thanking God for hearing my prayers snapshot that I will never forget. You have truly blessed our lives with your Generosity, Compassion, and Love. On behalf of both my son and myself, I say Thank You.”

So far, RIP has abolished hundreds of millions of dollars of medical debt and they hope to reach $1 billion in 2020.

None of these will “fix” the larger problem, will they? That would be unreasonable. But, these are unreasonable people.

Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” I am grateful for those with large resources addressing global issues and especially these four individuals who have decided to joust with windmills.

Art by Henri Eisenberg

Purchase my book “Where The Light Divides” here

 

 

More Posts
Showing 22 comments
  • Avatar
    Anntoinette “Toni” Moore
    Reply

    YES! I love your column, Fred. This one is an inspiration, a goad, to do something, not to just accept that certain problems are unsolvable. Life is about taking action to make things better for someone else. Each of us can do that.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Toni. I count you and Phil as two of my unreasonable friends!

  • Avatar
    Jack Modesett
    Reply

    Fred, it is unreasonable of you to get me stirred up at 5 AM over $11 billion in med. debt in Texas alone. So I am getting even by stirring up a few dozen others with this story.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Call me when you have taken care of $20 million or so.

  • Avatar
    Karen Jones
    Reply

    Excellent post and an energy boost for one who also pokes at a problem bigger than can be conquered. Small steps do make a difference, how ever. And by the way, your book was an excellent read – I’m recommending it to all by booky friends.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Karen. I consider you one of
      my truly unreasonable friends!

  • Avatar
    Walt & Michelle Gallaway
    Reply

    Our unreasonable friends at RIP Medical Debt have transformed the blunt-tipped lance of Don Quixotes’ day into a laser-guided missle with a 100x power warhead. It is now possible for even insignificant unreasonable warriors to wipe the faces of entire counties clean of medical debt and still be home in time for dinner. No effort is too small to be used by God in astounding ways!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Walt and Michelle! You are so
      right. Do small things with love as Mother Teresa said.

  • Avatar
    Joe McIlhaney
    Reply

    “This is my quest to follow that star
    No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
    To fight for the right without question or pause
    To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause

    And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
    That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest’

    And the world will be better for this
    That one man, scorned and covered with scars
    Still strove withy his last ounce of courage
    To reach the unreachable star”

    Not to be too dramatic, but this IS my theme song!!! Joe

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Not too dramatic at all, Joe. Just the truth!

  • Avatar
    Susan Peterson
    Reply

    May we all joust with windmills!!!!!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I am surprised Young Life has not already made that a Club activity.

  • Avatar
    Howard F Freeman
    Reply

    Our church here in Kerrville banded together with four others and tackled millions together in medical debt locally, with the help of RIP Medical Debt.

  • Avatar
    Keith Sparzak
    Reply

    Another Quote From La Mancha seems all too appropriate:

    “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”

    ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

    Raise a glass to mad unreasonable people!

  • Avatar
    Juan Gallo
    Reply

    Thank you

  • Avatar
    John Sims
    Reply

    Fred:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I was pleased and humbled to help get the word out on KTBB about the RIP/Green Acres medical debt forgiveness project. And thanks to Walt Gallaway for going the extra mile to bring this to our attention — and the attention of those affected.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John, for your role in promoting RIP. I think it is an extraordinary opportunity for people to do something practical and tangible.

  • Avatar
    Sam Griffith
    Reply

    We can each do something.
    We were created for “good works.” Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 29:11-14.
    But until we discern GOD’s exact Call for our own lives (I tell folks I feel like the Helen Keller of spiritual warfare – I don’t seem to hear GOD’s Call very well, nor do I clearly discern/see His leading Hand, but nonetheless I’m out there in the spiritual battle) , until we find our exact Calling, we can become involved in the “good works” in which others are involved.
    And the Medical RIP endeavor is awesome. Great that Walt and Michelle found this endeavor.
    Tilting at windmills? Trying to accomplish the impossible? Hmmm.
    Maybe the world is misperceiving — like the 10 unbelieving spies who saw giants in the Promised Land — maybe the world is like Don Quixote’s sidekick, the world sees “windmills.” But GOD calls things that are not (yet) as being existant. And so maybe we see … and join the battle to defeat the “dragons”. Pretty neat CallIng for each of us.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Sam! Yes, you are one of the unreasonable people for sure!

Leave a Comment