Anand Giridharadas. Once you figure out how to pronounce it, remember this name.
Recently I’ve been thinking a little about money. What!? You’re leaving already! Wait! Please, wait.
After listening to Anand, I’m thinking about it more. How we use it. How its use (and mis-use) forms the character of our society and affects our society at EVERY level and in every aspect. How that character is assumed, presumed, and un-questioned. How we like to go shopping, go to the movies, work in our garden, eat, watch TV, well, do anything rather than look deeply at this. No, wait, please, don’t leave.
Ok, a short detour here. Because, you know, the personal, political and economic? They’re connected.
Along the way my parents gave each of their three grown kids some money. I’m not talking big dollars here. I’m talking slightly upper middle class. My money was being overseen by their financial advisor. I didn’t think much or anything, really, about it. I’ve never had financial ambitions, probably to the point of recklessness. It was only my random good luck that got me a job at SF General (and therefore a city-based pension) rather than one of the many and well-respected private hospitals in the city (where there’d be NO pension).
In my early adulthood I knew (with my ex-husband) what it was to be poor, to have one’s entire monthly income already accounted for by the basics — rent and food, etc. So that if the car broke down or some other significant expense arose, there was a crisis. There was pretty much always a crisis.
In my late 30s we separated and at the same time I started working at SF General Hospital. Alone, I felt more financially ok. (Truth be told, my parents helped out). I had a cheap apartment in the Inner Sunset. My life (with my daughter) was comfortable, not fancy. Later on, she told me she thought we were poor (compared to the girls she was in the SF Girls Chorus with who lived in places like Pacific Heights). We weren’t poor, but we definitely weren’t rich either.
Still with me? Sorry, I know this is a little meander-y. Early 1990s. I took a year-long class in Rosen body work. At one point I was on the table getting worked on by a fellow student when I had a sudden stark realization. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before. I was flooded with an awareness of and questions about the money that had been invested in my name. Was it blood money? Was there slave labor or exploitation involved? I freaked out. Seriously, I freaked out.
As soon as I got home from class, I called the financial advisor, and asked where the money was coming from.
He said, diversified investments.
I said, but where?
He said, Gayle, (in his kind, yet patronizing manner), if you want to do good with your money, you want to earn as much as you can, and then you’ll have it to do whatever you want with.
Why would I want to get money from endeavors which commit the very exploitation and cruelty I want to end?
Because you’ll get more money that way and you can use it to fix the world the way you want to.
Ok, he said, then we can invest your money in Calvert funds, which is socially responsible investing. Ok?
Good, I said. Let’s do that.
A few years later I had to sell all my stocks for a downpayment on the house I bought in 1998 (after I got evicted from my lovely and cheap SF apartment).
Fast forward 20 years. I’ve managed to accumulate a little bit. Not wealthy by a long shot, but more than I want to have sitting in a savings account doing essentially nothing.
Can we talk money? I know it’s a taboo subject, and up til now, it really wasn’t that interesting to me. Which I guess shows my “privilege”. That I don’t absolutely need to worry and think about it. That I don’t like to. But I do think about it. I think about people like Maggie Doyne who used all her $5,000 savings earned from baby-sitting when she was a teenager to buy land in Nepal, to build an orphanage, a school, and an entire community devoted to improving the lives of the children and then women in that community, which of course has bettered the lives of everyone. I think about that kind of investment. (Although now some accuse her of having a “white savior complex”). Gahhhhhhh.
Anyway. After years of wondering what to do with my little bit of “retirement” or “emergency” funds, the other day I went to the SF Credit Union to talk to their financial consultant.
I told him I want a socially responsible place to put my money where it can earn something rather than nothing, but not blood money. Until I can figure out how to do a grown-up older woman version of what Maggie Doyne did. (It’s not that I don’t make donations, I do; it’s just not entirely satisfying, and also I worry about having enough of my own money to fix my roof or car or teeth if they break — to grow old).
The consultant gave me homework to do, to check out Calvert (it’s so much more complicated than I could have imagined), and gave me an appointment for a few weeks from now. When I got home from the credit union, I noticed somewhere it was written that I was interested in shifting my money from a savings account to wealth accumulation. Wealth-a-fucking-accumulation? or was it wealth appreciation? Shit. I don’t want to accumulate wealth. Or be a wealth appreciator. At the same time, I don’t want to be an idiot about it.
All that is my own personal back drop to tuning into On Being’s latest podcast interview this week. Krista interviewing Anand Giridharadas. Anand has a very developed perspective that spoke to my dilemma, not just as a person with money, but as a whole person, an American, with a moral code, a few ethics, some empathy, a sense of interdependence. His words aim at helping us understand the nature of large corporate philanthropy, where the money is coming from, and what system it keeps in place. Emphasis on what system this philanthropy keeps in place. He said we ask corporations to “do good” in the world, but we don’t ask them to do “less harm”. And then, he expounded.
After I listened to his interview with Krista (here), I went on to find his brilliant talk at the Aspen Institute, titled The Thriving World, The Wilting World, and You, another brilliant talk at Google, and other talks and interviews.
It is such a treasure when someone is able to make a complex and obfuscated topic — a problem that is so central to our society in all its local, national and international manifestations — intelligible and comprehensible, not to mention interesting.
As I try to handle my own financial responsibilities with as much integrity as I can, what Anand Giridharadas says resonates all over the canyon walls of my mind-heart and speaks directly to issues at the heart of our society. I can’t really adequately summarize what he’s talking about; you’ll have to listen for yourself.
So, here you go, if you’re ready! I hope you are. And btw, do you think this is a good topic for Americans to talk about at Thanksgiving dinners this year? I’m asking for a friend.