Sunday, September 20, 2015

Beggars Make the World Go Round: The Invisible Pan-Hand(ler)

The fundamental premise of this blog is that begging has had a role in every society across time and space. Perhaps it is an organic by-product of human social order, whether democratic or totalitarian, capitalist or socialist.

Adam Smith, the wunderkind studied in microeconomics, knew very well about the significant role that the Beggar plays in society by his signature study of the "Invisible Hand".

Beggars are by nature invisible until they need to come into the public square to search for sustenance. All of a sudden, in a churning milieu alive with friction born of the heat of economic productivity, an empty "hand" intrudes into the usual rhythmic flow. Like a stone dropping into a body of water, the Beggar's presence may or may not send ripples or divert the flow, whether s/he is standing on a traffic island facing the stopped flow or on a subway platform singing operatic ditties well in tune with a boom box.

In a benign form, the Beggar has an air of lifelessness. We may not see her/him, or we do and then carry the burden of ignorance of something before our eyes. We know what s/he is doing: helping us to reconsider whether we have enough, just enough for one's lifestyle and what to do with the excess. If it's a perfect world, we find something of the latter and pass it on.

But this is not a perfect world, as we learn in macroeconomics. Once regulation sets in, there are distortions to what is otherwise a perfectly natural hunter-gatherer environment. To wit, the Houston Chronicle  provides a public service on how to obtain a Panhandler License.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Clinging With an Open Hand

Reading a report about the progress to health of the beloved Thich Nhat Hanh by Justin Whitaker (July 14, 2015), Thich Nhat Hanh comes to the USA for further treatment, funds sought to cover costs, there is an interesting discussion about clinging ... to life, to teacher ... something Buddhism disavows.  To wit: 

"When I have responded to such misgivings, it has usually been to note that all involved are still human, or to question the use of the term ‘clinging’ here. In Buddhist thought, motivation is key, and yet guessing about or supposing to know the motivations of others is a fool’s game. Perhaps those close to Thay are indeed clinging to him as much as devoted followers of any religious leader. Or perhaps they instead see his message that has reached so many people around the world and wish only to see that message continue in the strongest way possible, through his continuing to teach and write.

"My sense is that too many people have seized on the message of non-clinging (which is a good and central message within Buddhism) and tried to apply it here too forcefully. Like all teachings, it should be taken with some nuance. When driving on a windy mountain road, a good Buddhist clings firmly to the steering wheel.

"Perhaps Thay and his students see his journey as not quite finished and so hold on and work to see it through."

I am reminded of a conversation I once had with a Japanese Zen monk. I advanced my understanding of working / not working toward emptiness and was basically told that by working or not, my concept of emptiness was severe.

Back to the pillow. Opening the hand. 

And the other hand ...

Image: Geoff Livingston. CC Thanks


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Alwaleed Foundation's Leadership

Finally, someone get's it. 

On July 1, 2015, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaudof Saudi Arabia announced he's giving away his entire $32 billion fortune to charity. Here's the announcement.

His gargantuan gift will go to his own nonprofit, Alwaleed Philanthropies, throughout the next several years. There, the dollars will bolster a handful of causes worldwide, like empowering women, eradicating diseases, assisting in disaster relief, ending poverty, increasing intercultural understanding, developing underserved communities. He says he has been inspired by Bill Gates' generosity.
 The foundation's grantmaking is in several areas: Developing Communities, Empowering Women and Youth, Providing Vital Disaster Relief ... and Bringing Cultures Together. As for the latter, it will

  • Involve a university with proven credentials as a center of learning.
  • Focus on research and outreach to promote interfaith and intercultural relations.
  • Promote understanding of Islam in the West and the understanding of the West in the Islamic world.
  • Demonstrate commitment to foster dialogue and discussions.
That kind of understanding will lay off even the most optimistic holy beggar.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Caught in the Act

I owe you all a new year's greeting. 

Happy Green Wood Goat/Sheep/Ox!

It's been a bit busy trying to eke out a "living" ... but perhaps it's more "eeek!" 
Webster explains that to "eke" as having existed before 1000; Middle English eken, Old English ēac (ian (intransitive),derivative of ēaca (noun) increase; Middle English echen, Old English ēcan,variant of īecan (transitive) < West Germanic *aukjan; both akin to OldNorse auka, Gothic aukan, Latin augēre, Greek auxánein to increase,amplify. 


Friday, December 26, 2014

The Not-So-Non-Profit "Fourth Sector"

Your Holy Beggar may be a candidate to run ... no! to be one of these "hybrid" enterprises.

Remember, the whole premise of this blog is why not cut out the middleman, the nonprofit organization that would pay me a salary to beg for them ... when I can just beg for myself.

Perhaps I can be considered for the Nobel Prize in Economics!

But remember ...
No matter what ...
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Classy ... Classic Holy Beggar

Bravo to this gentleman and HONY's Brandon for capturing the true essence of Holy Beggarhood.

From the Humans of New York FaceBook page October 8, 2914

"I take my meds but I still have bad days. I know the moment I wake up if it's going to be a bad day. I'm really fidgety and distracted and resentful. I can't even sit out here on bad days. I get too resentful when people walk by and don't help. I know it doesn't make sense, and that I don't have a right to be resentful, but I still get angry. I can't keep a job because of the bad days. I just get too verbal when I'm agitated. I don't even realize I'm doing it. I realize it later. But when it's happening, I don't know it's happening. It's like when I'm in the picture, I can't see the picture."

But remember,
No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.


Has The Holy Beggar come full circle?

Perhaps. You be the judge.

I recently did a pre-year-end accounting of my contributions and my gross income. I have had the urge to make more donations to outcomes-based (e.g. nonprofit) organizations, yet the significant reduction in my own income will really not allow it if I am to remain solvent.

So I thought that perhaps I should stand on a street corner and beg for donations to these nonprofits -- a generic receptacle promoted by a sign that says,

"Your extra change is NOT FOR ME ...
It's for public broadcasting ... the arts ... the enviornment ...
all 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations."

I will do just that and increase my tax-deductable donations.

But remember,
No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dan Pallotta's TED Talk -- The way we think about nonprofit organizations is dead wrong.

I couldn't say it better ...

 Here's the reading list :

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Guest Post: Rabbi David Lapin's "Charity vs. Investment"

Tzeddakah and Chessed are different. They produce different results.
Parshat Eikev 5774                                                                                                    © Rabbi David Lapin, 2014 Permission Granted
Tzeddakah Box
You know the story of The Giving Tree? It’s a charming children’s book [written by Shel Silverstein] about a lifetime’s relationship between a boy and an apple tree. The boy plays in the shade of an apple tree and climbs its branches. When he grows up and no longer wants to play, the tree gives him its apples so that he can sell them and earn money. Later, when the boy wants a house the tree offers him its branches with which to build a home and then its trunk with which to build a boat. Finally, the tree, having given the boy all of its resources, has nothing more to offer him other than the stub of its trunk on which to sit in his old age.
The idea of generosity that the book illustrates it is not the Jewish idea of generosity. The book teaches unconditional generosity, a Christian idea, not a Jewish one. 
The Torah differentiates between two distinct expressions of generosity: Generous donations to a cause or a person, and generous investment in the growth and development of others. Charity is tzedakkah; investment is chessed. Unconditional (and at times even anonymous) charity is generous. Unconditional investment is not.
The boy – and the world – would have benefitted more from the tree had the tree required that the boy replant some of its apple seeds and grows more trees. The tree could have insisted that the boy show gratitude and that he pays the tree’s kindness forward by showing similar kindness to others. This would have been a truly generous investment in another. As it is, the tree simply gave the boy charity and eventually depleted itself. Unconditional giving is not sustainable, which is why the Torah limits it to twenty percent of assets or income.
Investment in others, on the other hand, is not only sustainable it is regenerative and the Torah does not cap it. Olam chessed yibaneh: the world continues to be built and rebuilt through chessed – investment in others. Investors have expectations of those who benefit from their generosity; they expect growth and returns. Not only are these expectations legitimate, they also inspire the very growth and development that was the purpose of the investment to begin with.
In my last essay, “So What Now?”  I wrote about the attractiveness of matnat chinam. You will have noticed that I deliberately chose not to translate this idea as unconditional giving but rather as unearned giving. The reason is because matnat chinam is a gift given to someone not because they had previously done something to earn it but given to someone who has thus far done nothing at all to earn it. However, matnat chinam does not imply a gift with no expectation of gratitude or reciprocation in the future. That would be charity. Charity, a noble midah and necessary social responsibility, does not build society; it simply preserves society. Investment in others, and expecting reciprocal returns on that investment, actually builds a society.
The purpose of the Creation was not so that Hashem could provide us with unconditional charity. Unconditional charity is nahama de’kissufa, as Rabeinu Sa’adia Gaon terms it. Were we to be the recipients of free handouts we could not built our dignity and our stature; our journey on earth would be pointless.  Hashem created the world, the Gaon says, so that Hashem could invest in us expecting us to reciprocate with our Avodah (service) – serving Him and providing a service to one another. In this way we could earn His ultimate generosity in olam habbah and we would not experience it as undignified nahama de’kissufa.
This theme is emphasized over and over again in the Torah and specifically in the parsha. The parsha’s very name, Eikev, implies the conditionality of investment: You serve me properly and deal justly and kindly with others, I will continue to shower you and your land with abundant blessing.
Our nation is emerging out of a relatively peaceful era of some seventy years during the non-Jewish world, shamed by the holocaust tolerated us and the excellence of our accomplishments. Now we are starting to irritate the world again, and their irritation is erupting into flashes of vile anti-semitism not seen since the war. We cannot take God’s protection for granted; it is not an unconditional handout of charity. We have just experienced miracle after miracle in Israel, Hashem expects us to reciprocate with higher standards of avodah, limud Torah and service to others. Some of us can inspire this reciprocation on large scales, others can do it within themselves and their immediate spheres of influence. 

Whatever your capability, what are you doing to reciprocate to Hashem? What are you and I doing to earn God’s continuing protection and blessing as our nation moves into a new era of independence, accomplishment, influence and global resentment? How are we showing ever greater Hakkarat hatov (gratitude) to Hashem for our being given the opportunity to live in one of the most stunning eras of modern Jewish history?
The Giving Tree took more than it gave. It gave the boy shade, and apples and wood. But it took away his dignity and his potential to grow in the most important midah of all: Hakkarat hatov – gratitude, the very stuff of relationship (with God and with fellow men), kindness and society itself.

For more insights from Rabbi Lapin, see his iAwaken website. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


The tradition of joining the world-wide Jewish community commitment to study a page of the Babylonian Talmud (2,711 pages in total) a day in a 7.5 year-long in a specific cycle -- is called Daf YomiSince the custom, minhag, began in 1923, then the entire cycle has been completed 12 times; the last one ending August 2, 2012. The current one is due to be completed in January 2020. 

I've not done it even for a day, but I have been following Jacqueline Nicholls' "Draw Yomi" Project in which she not only participates in the reading, but also she draws images from the passages and offers a short commentary or note about its contents for a decidedly personal,  21st Century feminist eye. It is a bit haiku-ish in that it is not work that is over thought, but definitely impressionistic. We are who we are when we enter the current of the big river.

A prolific artist who lives in London, Nicholls' other works are mostly in the fiber arts that address women's role in Jewish rituals, exploring the forms and intentions of minhagim, traditions, and projecting them on to personal experiences of life cycles of the body and the peoplehood. 

Today, after catching up on her daily impressions, I explored once again her website and entered "rooms" of her many thematic projects. I was struck particularly by her "Kittel" project today. A kittel is a very simple garment that an observant man (usually) will wear at his wedding, funeral and on the annual days of yom kippur in between. It is white, full length and has sleeves. A perfect canvas for such an inspired, skillful artist.

Here is her thought about the “Dignity Kittel” ...

“I used to spend Christmas volunteering at a temporary homeless shelter in London that provided basic services and support. In amongst the medical and dental care, food, hairdressing, there was a large clothing section. The guests could choose an outfit, and my job was to make sure that these garments fitted them properly, so when they stepped out in their new suit, they looked smart and dignified. We were instructed to make sure that they didn’t look like they were wearing hand-me-downs. The shelter also supplied practical warm coats, but by ensuring that there were people there to make adjustments, they recognized that clothing doesn’t just provide protection against the elements."

We have an obligation to help recognize the inherent dignity of all Beggars, Holy or not. Thus, I’m posting this in two blogs: “Trads in Contempo Life” and “Holy Beggar”.

But remember,
No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Want to Buy a Hole?

Copyright The New Yorker
I am not kidding that I view panhandlers as colleagues. Haven't you ever wanted to correct spelling or darkened the letters on a begging board  ... not to mention turn it right side up ... ?

Be truthful. There are so many ways to help our colleagues achieve their desired result: spare change.

This cartoon from The New Yorker is another example of what is at the heart of this blog's mission: to explore the fundamental, foundational essence of redistributing resources to effect a more  dynamic flow of a society's economic resources.

What is the difference between begging and crowd-funding?

Perhaps in the former, the hat is perceived as being empty; in the latter, the perception is that there is something "inside" to bloom out of that emptiness.

To fit the Kickstarter mold, the HB (Holy Beggar) might consider putting something to exchange to show appreciation ... perhaps a slip of paper or piece of string ... to show thanks. A few low denomination coins might be nice to enable contributors to make change if all they have is a $20 but would like to give $0.20.

On another note, an empty hat may be full enough. I have friends who had a huge  hole in their newly purchased rural land. It was not really empty, as it had  a foundation laid by the original owner who abandoned a project to build a structure. My friends thought that they could fill the hole with all sorts of refuse -- rotting wood, metal parts, etc. -- that was left from the original owner, but they soon realized that the hole was much more than the sum of available stuff, so they paid a lot of money for a contractor to fill the hole with dirt.

Now, I'm thinking that perhaps there was someone out there who needed a hole or a part of it so s/he could begin to build a lake, a swimming pool, skate park or a house, and so I wondered whether my friends could advertise its availability online, Craig's List, for example.

And remember,
No Matter What,
Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stuck Between the Tao and a Hard Place: Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis of an Ailing Western Economy

Money itself has no intrinsic value and is called “currency” because it is most valuable when in circulation. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system, among the signs of health and life is the unimpeded and proper flow blood and “chi”. Pain is diagnosed in TCM as "blockage". Likewise, when money stops moving, as it has in the vast majority of Western nations, the economy is sick, and, in extreme cases near death. In TCM terms, the situations of excess (i.e. bloating), and deficiency need to be relieved and the patient returned to a more harmonious state to cease to be in pain.

We’re mostly familiar with the pain of deficiency. It brings to mind the title of the late Richard Farina’s 1966 now cult classic roadie novel, “Been down so long it looks like up to me”, which was taken from even older lyrics of “Turn My Money Green” by Memphis bluesman Furry Lewis. Kris Kristofferson, echoed by Janice Joplin, knew it well when he wrote, “Freedom is another word for nothin’ left to lose!” The dull pain is so familiar. You wake up day after day, with the same “nothin’”.
The pain from excess, on the other hand, is defined as sharp and bloating; take just one more and the whole system will burst! TCM countermands the oft-quoted statement (attributed to Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor per Vogue), “You can’t be too rich or too thin.” Well, if you’re reading this, you’ve outlived her! Obesity is having just “just one more” ... even one more obsessive less in the case of anorexia.

TCM practitioners use various modalities to rebalance the patient, including acupuncture and acupressure to stimulate meridians, energetic crossroads to release the impasses. This enables areas that are deficient to be slowly enriched, while that which is in excess, will be carefully drained away. Just as it is dangerous to point a starving man to a banquet, it is important for the exchange to be gradual and monitored.

Yahoo’s economic forecast, however, is pointing simultaneously in both extreme directions, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are gaining ranks and losing access to basic necessities. I believe that it is because the haves and have-nots are not always on the same sliding scale of life. Government can fix that, but charity cannot; the former is mandated by the people; the latter is too prone to the whims of altruism and government provoked incentives (i.e. tax deduction). Ultimately, the “patient” will not get well.

And remember,
No Matter What
Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Saving Face: A Tax Deduction Loophole

Purim the springtime Jewish holiday celebrating the power of masking, is focused on events that happened in Persia long ago and retold in the Megillah Esther, Book of Esther. For just one day (unlike other much longer celebrations of the lunar year) up go the masks, ultimately victory is ours (whew!), and down they must come.

For Jews, the most notable instance of un-masking is when Moses, standing atop Mt. Sinai, demands of the Great Donor, "Show me your face ..." (Exodus 33:18) While he has been initiated as a tzadik through many hard trials, still Moses is "only" granted a view of the august back. Further, from the vantage of the schlep-weary minions below, the much-anticipated encounter takes place in a cloud, veiled from ordinary view. 

The gift of Purim is our lot to mask-up and taste life as the "other". Yet behind the mundane charade, the spiels and noisemakers, Purim is a holiday of giving shalach monos, gifts of good cheer and food. It is no surprise, that masking and giving are brought together in one celebration.

The mask has its good points; it enables us to “save face”. We hold that the highest form of charity is when the donor and recipient are anonymous to each other.

Freud as Freud
Fraud as Freud?** 
Too often, however, we act / hope / pray that, even just this one time, the ubiquitous someone else will provide the support for those in need or organizations we deem necessary to keep the world in a more beautiful balance. After all, isn’t it their turn to go up the mountain? Through the masks, we still only see ourselves*. The heart knows no disguise.

This Purim, whomever you see reflected in the mirror – yourself, anonymous, a superhero from another galaxy or even Queen Esther, make a deduction in his / her / its name to your favorite nonprofit ... it’s still tax deductible.

Chag Sameach! Happy Festival!

*Channeling and projecting the Inner Siggy. Marias Bustamante


And remember,
No Matter What
Don't Forget to Ask for the Money!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tickling the Beggar's Funny Bone

Beggars, holy or otherwise, need a laugh and are even originators of the laughs of others. Kudos to the Chronicle of Philanthropy for having a cartoon section. :))

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Burn Out ... Part 2

 There is a teaching from Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch, on the biblical verse, Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand … and gaze after Moses until he went to the Tent. (Exodus 33.8). 

“Everyone sees himself in the righteous one (zaddik),” Dov Baer wrote. “Therefore, they suspected Moses was guilty of adultery (since he had separated from his wife). But in fact it was they who were guilty [of adultery] with the mixed multitude. [When they gazed at Moses] they saw themselves in the zaddik and thus suspected him.” Rabbi Dov Baer suggests this is the core, and tragedy, of a leader: His (or her) selfhood is lost in the aspirations, expectations, and limitations of those “who gaze upon him.”

Your Humble Holy Beggar sees something else ... they are giving Moses the respect due to one who secures the survival for others. (That "nonprofit leader" noted in the previous posting.) 

Read the source of this quote and see how humble a human Holy Beggar can be:

And remember,
No Matter What
Don't Forget to Ask for the Money

Burn Out ...

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy ... If we Holy Beggars only had such luxuries ...

A Recovery Plan for Fundraisers Facing Burnout

October 31, 2012  by Carol Weisman

Do any of these describe you?
  • You spend more the 50 percent of your therapy session talking about fundraising.
  • Your efforts to get board members to help raise money are so unpleasant, you find yourself daydreaming of the good old days when you were on the front lines in the Vietnam War.
  • You have gained more than 30 pounds, tripled your alcohol consumption, or taken up smoking over the age of 40.
  • You and a co-worker are thinking of leaving together. The only thing you haven’t decided is who will be Thelma and who will be Louise.
If any of these sound familiar, you may be suffering from burnout.
It surprises some people that burnout occurs in fundraisers. After all, they are not making the big bucks, and they are on the side of the angels. But burnout is real, and it affects the mental and physical health of people who raise money just like anybody else.
Even if you’re burned out, you can recover your edge. Here’s how:
Chill out and take a break. This is easier said than done when you feel that if you don’t get the work done, no one will. For some people, a weekend with no text messages, meetings, or e-mails will give you the perspective to approach your work with more energy. For others, you might have to walk away for a longer time. If the organization falls to pieces without you, perhaps it is time to walk away for good. During this down time, write the three things that are most important in your life other than this commitment. If these things are being seriously compromised, think about whether its time to move on.
Implement healthy habits. When you are holed up for hours with Cheetos and a flickering computer screen trying to respond to complex, nonsensical, or infuriating e-mails, your blood pressure, attitude, and effectiveness are compromised. Take a walk, eat healthier food, cut down on the caffeine, and go to bed earlier.  These are all simple concepts but not easy to do consistently. You might want to enlist a friend or relative to support you.
Set boundaries. Fundraising is a team sport. You don’t have to go it alone. If you are, it is time to recruit someone to work with you. Find a volunteer who has different strengths than you have. Ask for a new role in the organization that fits your time and skill constraints. Or ultimately, find another job that fits your abilities, life, and work style, and priorities.
I will never forget working with a nonprofit leader who was a major burn-out case. I told him, “Working at a nonprofit is the dream of many corporate folks. Ideally, you should feel like you are accomplishing something, enjoy the people you are working with, grow intellectually and emotionally and have fun.”
He said, “This is less fun than war time in Vietnam.”
Then he spent three months not working more than 55 hours a week, got a job at another organization that was better staffed, and called me. “Son of a gun,” he said. “This is fun. And I’m getting something done”
You don’t have to give up nonprofit work. If the strategies outlined above don’t work, you can divorce your current nonprofit and find joy with another!

To which Your Humble Holy Beggar replies, "Poppycock!" 
And remember, 
no matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trick or Treat? Conservatives Masquerading as Zen Buddhists

In his very thoughtful book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde discusses the tao of scarcity and abundance, noting: "The problem is that wealth ceases to move freely when all things are counted and priced." As we know, stagnation is death.

Hyde presents Marshall Sahlins, University of Chicago anthropologist, on modern scarcity, saying "that hunters and gatherers have  affluent economies, their absolute poverty notwithstanding,:" and continues, "Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world's wealthiest peoples."

The term "conservative" used to mean taking care of what you have. (As in, "A conservative livestyle will insure the sustainability of the planet.") Conservative now means grabbing what someone has, too.

We are supposed to know how much is "enough". Surely not enough (aka poverty) seems endless, but in fact it ends in death. But how come the sky's the limit on excess? (Yes, I know the rich die, too, but not so fast.) And what about the "middle class". I am so sick and tired of discussions about maintaining middle class lifestyle.

Through this means, captors can (and do) calculate the minimum amount amount of food and water necessary (as determined by official human rights judges) to sustain the life of a prisoner. This is the stuff upon which sanctions are developed. A gentlemen's agreement on how much is enough is not exactly torture, but it certainly is not generosity. As your Holy Beggar has discussed in this column, generosity makes the world go round.

If the rhetoric spewing forth from the Republican party's shill in the 2012 presidential election seems a bit twisted to you, as it does to your Holy Beggar, beware NOW! All those promised "jobs" that will being created (probably at chain stores) will offer standardized minimum wages that just happen to be "enough" to buy a Big Mac. Hey, If it sounds like jail, it must be jail.

Despite all the soothing wooing, the "middle class" is not going to be the winner because THERE IS NO MIDDLE CLASS. Will the government be issuing official middle class IDs in the future? It's another faceless fear tactic to keep us beholden to the hope of redemption by you-know-who. We must realign with the reason to thrive and save ourselves by remaining vital, being active.

Only the members of the "middle class" (presumably represented by the independent / undeclared voters of the "battleground" states) are being offered the opportunity to stay where you are, to cling to their right to be mediocre. The poor aren't even being told anything, and the rich are assured they will never fall below. Is this an incorrect reading of "Be Here Now?" Enjoy the moment?

Are the Republicans promoting Zen Buddhism?

Not likely. "Clinging" is the tip-off. No self or sangha respecting Buddhist would want to develop one's capacity to "cling" to anything.

Beware and Vote ... and press harder for Change.

And, remember,
No matter what,
Don't forget to ask for the money.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Is Empathy a Profession? Isn't This the Job of The Holy Beggar?

In advance of the Zócalo event (public lecture / discussion to be held in Los Angeles October 4) Is Altruism a Wonder Drug?” the planners approached several people who, in their words, "make a profession of empathy" to tackle a simple question: Can kindness be taught? You may read their comments by clicking the link.

What a strange job ... "profession of empathy". Isn't this what your Holy Beggar does in fact (vs in a think tank)? 

Anyway, this is my comment (below) and I'll post a link to the write-up about the live event.

Which comes first: the need or desire to give? According to my teacher Gilla Nissan, the first word of the first verse of Genesis is easily rendered as “creates an offering”. This promotes the notion that gratitude and the means to express it are inherent in the very creation of existence; that we are always in a position of negotiating an exchange, of giving and taking.

According to Jewish tradition, it’s not just as a matter of empathy -- " ... what it must be like to be in her situation." To stop here would be to yield to a dualistic understanding of who I (vs?) and you are / am. A full understanding of gemilut chassadim requires more than such sensitivity. In practical and spiritual terms, these acts of loving-kindness – together with a knowledge and appreciation of the standards of being human and determination to take responsibility for action -- bring about "tikkun olam", the repair of the broken vessel of existence that we all share.

The eminent Vietnamese Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Han describes this greater reality as “inter-being” … you and I “inter-are”. I am already part of “her situation.”

Judaism’s mitzvot, spiritually weighted deeds, are specific actions to this end. When a boy or girl at the age of 13 is declared a son/daughter of the mitzvot (bar/bat mitzvah), s/he is accepts personal responsibility for such behavior in the presence the community.

I also must impulsively respond and only “… lean on my imagination …“  as to what is needed in a situation. Consider what colonialist Europeans "knew" and thus projected on their “discovery” of native peoples (who wondered the same thing) when they landed on the shores of the "new world". Even if I could empathize with the “obvious” situation of who is in front of my nose seemingly hungry, in need of clean clothes and a safe place to sleep, my imagination is always limited, and, thus, my conclusion and response may be inaccurate, even harmful I quickly abandoned the notion of “quaint” after visiting economically impoverished neighborhoods in southern Africa and seek a deeper understanding of the dimensions of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness”.

These are some of the concerns that I have been addressing throughout my 40 years in the nonprofit “sector”. Perhaps this is why the "role" of beggar exists among us across time and space of human experience. I’m exploring these ideas in my blog

P.S. The larger discussion now has passed. One may audit it here. It was none too cleverly subtitled: "Take Two MItzvahs and See Me in the Morning", but it was more than that. Bravo, Zocalo.