I have been introduced via email to Dick Wagner (though I had known his work) through friends at the Open Space Giving Conference. He is a distinguished person in my area of interest, as can be seen from my brief write-up in an earlier post. As these conversational threads spin from friend to friends of friends, I hope others will make contacts that can help them advance their work in giving. People talk about markets for giving, and reputation systems, and trust (as it were a trademarked concept) but in the end, isn't it these personal introductions that are the most useful and (to use and old term) "civilized" way to build a network for giving?
Reflecting on my introduction to Dick and how characteristic that is of working in the elite markets with the best people, I am driven to ask how networks are kept open, or closed. So often these civilized "letters of introduction," or personal referrals within an elite (whether a profession, like planning, or whether among wealthy people, or among those with celebrity, or political power, or artistic renown, or recognized expertise) can serve to confirm and isolate an ingroup, or network, or hierarchy of networks. (I remember carrying to Oxford a letter of introduction to W.H. Auden from an American poet, William Meredith. How nice, but also how self-enclosed a bubble. I also remember how I could not attend Council on Foundations as a philanthropic advisor, until I was invited to speak. I am also reminded of the phrase, "safe places" so important to people of wealth, meaning places sequestered from the importunate.) Maybe excellence, and time control, maybe sanity itself, requires these closed loops, and doors with rites of passage, but giving, if it is to offset the market and provide us a respite from the ideology of winners and losers, has to unite us from top to bottom and side to side, as citizens, human beings, and children of God. "Many are called," I guess, "and few are chosen." There is no pleasure sweater on Heaven or on earth than shutting the door in an inferiors face. Yet, I still feel, that from friend to friend of friend the network of caritas has to grow (per no less an authority than Christ) until all are included, at least provisionally until they screw up, and damn themselves, somewhere in the net of reciprocity, else the gift confirms the very thing it denies. At the very least let's make these networks through which wealth, knowledge, power and influence flow more open and more transparent than they currently are. Let us err on the side of democracy.