I am reading Erik Erikson and Thomas Merton, too, all of which leads to a deeper reflection on "spiritual autobiography," or the gospels of wealth. I am struck by these thoughts:
- The younger will have a hard time understanding the developmental and financial needs of clients at an age and stage beyond that of the planner, unless the planner has moral imagination (the chances of which are slim given the state of the liberals arts).
- A planner age 35-55, say, may be himself (or herself) planning for needs and wants in a condition of felt scarcity. The range of effective sympathy are self and family, with a nod towards God and Country. The criterion of success is more.
- A client or donor age 55-70 may have that stage of life (generativity, having kids, building a career, getting more) successfully and conclusively wrapped up. He or she may have moved on to the stage at which we look back on life to make sense of what has been accomplished so that we may look forward in hope, for ourselves, family and mankind. Erickson calls this final life work, "Integrity vs Despair" and sees its finest fruit as Wisdom, or what a Catholic might call "the discernment of spirits." Reminiscence and story telling, or today building a Facebook page, or putting together a video of oneself, or hiring a ghostwriter, are ways to create this sense of closure, of what Frank Kermode, the great literary critic, called, "The Sense of an Ending."
- For the self-seeking planner, who considers himself or herself a fiduciary of the client's self (defined by the planner as the economic self-seeking self) a plan can only be successful if it has benefits for the client that outweigh the costs. That is what the planner would want for himself. And the planner has no intution that anything lies beyond self-seeking in his or her own development. That recognition will come later, in its own crisis of identify. So philanthropy, at this stage, when the planner is still building his or her own success, is seen as an indirect and generally unsuccessful attempt to come out ahead. The planner is stuck and bewildered because he cannot figure out a) how he comes out ahead and b) how the client does. Beyond that he sees only confusion and sentiment. Giving will result in less!
- For the older and more spiritually mature client or donor who is seeking an Hegelian synthesis of Despair and Integrity, who wants his or her life to turn out whole, to have a happy ending, to have been lived as if on purpose, who wants to return to the world of love and spirit what was drawn from love and spirit, as the flesh must return to dust, drawn from the dust; for such a client self seeking outcomes proposed by the planner cause only Despair. These false solutions, no matter how technically brilliant, retard the growth of the client and pull (dare I say this?) the client or donor down to the planner's own level, an earlier - one might say more rudimentary - age and stage of the life cycle. Less is more, but the planner does not see it.
- Philanthropy in the final phase is service: letting go the isolate ego, welcoming the loss of control, as control passes to those the giver has mentored, to whom he or she she has passed on the virtues of wealth, as genes are passed on, as literary and spiritual traditions are passed on, as communities live in us and through us. Identify like lanaguage is social. Identity is negotiated and must pass current or it is counterfeit. We live on by dying to our isolate selves. Unless we die to ourselves during our lives our ultimate death is final and is rightly approached in fear, despair, and denial. The fruit falls and rots. The seeds may live on. Though they too can shrivel, dying long before the fruit falls. He who would find himself must lose himself.
So there is the soul. So where is the sale? I can tell you - actually in great detail. But until you find the soul of it, the sale of it will never follow. The first sale is always to yourself. You cannot sell what you have not bought, and if your soul has not been formed, you can't make the soul/soul, the ultimate gift or sale, to another. In giving, it is always, "You go first." And, "Physician heal thyself," or "Salesman sell thyself." Erikson calls this integrity or congruence, or one might call it authenticity or alignment.
On another note, I am impressed that Erikson quotes George Bernard Shaw to the effect that "the clown is often the best part of the circus." Laughter, Fred, is the best medicine, which is why a good Christian always laughs uncontrollably in church. I am serious. I do it all the time. Or did until they barred the door.