I have a friend, Curt Bassett, who is a thought leader in the area where business and philanthropy intersect. Recently, he and I have been trading riffs on "Greeks and Romans" in philanthropy. The analogy is one that we both have been using in our own heads for years. It seems to fit.
- Greeks: Learned, refined, idealistic, tasteful. Tend to have inherited wealth, or to be married to wealth. Disdain filthy lucre and mucky pelf. See those in business as crass, or as tradespeople. Think in terms of flesh and spirit. The flesh is worldly and mired in pursuit of gain. The spirit rises above all that, taking vows of poverty, or at least honoring such vows. Greeks emphasize that giving is a sign of distinction, a social duty, a way of self-overcoming, a libation, consecration, an act of joyous sacrifice for an ideal, a superior human being's obligation to humankind. Greeks go to Council on Foundations. They hold out for high ideals. They are concerned about social venture barbarians at the gates. They are skeptical of advisors and others who engage in "mixed motive" philanthropy.
- Romans: They are good at Catapults and Aqueducts. They replace ancient cow-paths with paved roads in straight lines. They like hierarchy and order. They are good with math, rhetoric, science, and law. They can do satire, but not the lyric. They have Greek slaves to teach their children. They are religious, and make sacrifice, but are happiest winning wars. In philanthropy, Romans are social venturers; they talk of social capital markets; they espouse a double bottom line. They want results; they want them measurable; and they want someone accountable for it. They like win/win situations that leave them ahead financially. They use Greeks to do PR, Marketing, and to head up the Corporate Foundation. Romans in Philanthropy hang out in SVPs, or at Xigi.net. Every dime they give they call an "investment," because the Greek way of saying things is repugnant to their Roman soul. Who would give and not get? What fool?
I was bred and raised as a Greek. Ivy Educated heirs who do philanthropy for noble and selfless reasons are my kindred spirits, not because I was raised as an inheritor, or am a big giver, but because I was the son of a Greek Slave (teaching Shakespeare at Middlebury to heirs galore). I learned Roman ways as a Greek Slave myself in entry level life insurance jobs in AL, GA, and TX. Over time, I became a good soldier. I trust Caesar and Pilate too, to make the decisions that are right for the Empire. Right or wrong, I know they are above me and that obedience is the soldier's virtue. We might crucify the wrong guy, from time to time, but that is not my call to make.
As deeply as I long for Greek Culture in a Roman World, I realize now that without Catapults and Aqueducts, we would all be living in the woods with the Barbarians. Greece rested economically on helots. The Aristocratic Heir, or rich man's wife, may be above grubbing for money, but she also must depend on someone else to get the harvest in. And, that person in today's world is most likely a businessperson.
How we balance Greek or aristocratic ideals with Roman productivity is the challenge of our age. Sadly, my Greek friends are often lousy at Aqueducts. Against a Roman Phalanx, they advance in a gaggle waving flowers. I applaud their virtue and sacrifice, but blame Greeks for losing to the better organized, better funded, Romans whenever they clash. Besides, I do like Roman indoor plumbing. And I am not an Aristocrat who can depend on a remittance. On the other hand, without the Greek heritage, Rome would have been an even more brutal empire. Romans may win, but wherever they go Spectacle follows. The highest Roman figure is the Emperor, and few had taste.
Bringing Greek and Roman together in common purpose was the hope of the Convening that Tracy Gary and I did in Chicago a week or so ago. In particular, the hope was to bring the traditions into conscious conversation with an eye to having Roman advisors serve Roman clients in philanthropy, but informed by all the Greeks have learned about selflessness, sacrifice, and high ideals. That is what triggered Curt's remark about Rome and Greece, as we stood in the hall comparing notes. Maybe in your own work around giving you will find Curt's analogy helpful. I do.