I am reading Understanding Philanthropy, Its Meaning and Mission by Robert Payton and Michael Moody. For my own use here is a series of insights, that are largely theirs and partly my own attempt to assimilate their thinking.
- Philanthropy is moral action, requiring moral imagination. "What is going on?," per Richard Niebuhr, is the first ethical question.
- Seeing or not seeing what is going is a moral achievement or moral failing. Being blind, or self blinded, or blinded by conformity and propaganda, or to be rendered myopic by specialized training (as sometimes in law, business, or finance), is a culpable failure of moral imagination.
- To see, to discern, what is really going on is to be a visionary. (Also, sometimes a pariah.)
- Philanthropy begins from a moral vision of the world we want and a moral vision of the world we have.
- Philanthropy may begin in wonder and inspiration or in moral outrage.
- Philanthropy takes as its mission closing the gap between the world as it is and the world as it might better be.
- In giving, both ends and means, are disputed, as are most ethical issues. What is going on? is a question that admits of many answers. In a plural society we meet in the public square via philanthropy to contest and achieve our opposing visions of a better world. In the process we create out of our strife a world better than we could achieve if we marched together under a single party banner.
- Our Constitution was premised on "concordia discors," the well accorded strife of opposing visions, ideals, and branches of government. So too civil society.
- If we each of us were a musical instrument in an orchestra we might spend our lives siding with the trumpets, if we were trumpets and with tubas if we were tubas, and disdaining those instruments on the far side of the orchestra pit. ("We might get somewhere, if we strings could secede and become a quartet.") Yet, in civil society, as in the arts too, or in our political tradition, the symphony depends on the concord and discord of the many instruments each playing a part.
- The Conductor if there is one, bringing music from discord is (variously called) the holy spirit, our traditions, the muses, moral luck, fortuna, or the great god pan.
- Rosa Parks is a more significant philanthropist than Bill Gates.
Payton and Moody's book may not be widely read, though I hope it will be, but it represents another wave rising and falling on the beach, as the tides of moral energy come and go. Their work is a high water mark, at least recently, given how far the tides have gone out. Their well chosen quotations are like bits of old ships and ancient treasures, left by the ebbing tide, and strewn upon the shore for those who might pass by and recognize them for what they are. But we are mostly too busy getting results to go beachcoming for wisdom. Maybe when we retire.
On another note, to say that philanthropy is moral action is like saying that religion is the love of God. "Don't we wish," is one response. Moral action for the good of others and for the public good may be the "final cause," or guiding ideal of philanthropy, or giving, down through the ages, but it is an ideal much honored in the breach. "The catepillar," as Blake noted of priestcraft, "lays its eggs on the fairest flower."