The Tao of Philanthropy

The Tao and philanthropy have a lot in common. Each is about balance and part of living “the way”.

When we live outside the Tao of Philanthropy we are operating at an extreme. These extremes are like the swing of a giant pendulum moving in opposite directions adding to the problem instead of solving it. We are not in balance and instead exerting too much energy in the Yin or the Yang of generosity.

With Philanthropy when not enough resources are directed to solving a problem the situation of course gets considerably worse. Poverty and injustice spreads like an infection and now more energy is needed in the form of philanthropy to tackle it. This imbalance of ignoring the problem is easily recognized as a major cause of swinging the pendulum out of balance.

Likewise if too much money or to many relief programs are thrown at a challenge the unevenness still exists. The pendulum of aid has swung too far in the opposite direction and has gone past the point where the problem could have begun to take care of itself.

Ethiopia; the poster child of African aid, is a case and point but it by no means stands alone. So much money has poured into that country and so many aid agencies have been set up to disperse it that it can be argued that less than ideal positive change  is occurring. Even though the famine has ended money is still needed to support the agencies themselves and those donations are at risk of being appropriated and spent on keeping the aid organizations working instead of empowering the communities that are suffering. The pendulum is still completely off center.

In Syria where war has suddenly gripped the country not enough aid is arriving where it is needed most because of the challenges associated with getting the aid to the population that needs it and when it finally does arrive the risk that the pendulum will swing past the point of stability is great. It is just as likely than not that this swing of world philanthropy will result in a less than effective use of the energy created to swing it.

As philanthropists it is important that we possess a discerning eye when deciding how we participate in the resolution of world crisis. We can neither dedicate unlimited resources to struggles any more than we can close our eyes to the predicaments of the world. We are as responsible for what happens as a result of our philanthropy as the perpetrators who affected its necessity.

One solution is to have complete discretionary control over the energy we enforce on the pendulum and to do this we need to be deeply engaged in each challenge we take on and take the time to understand how our influence will be put to use. The other is to ask questions and get intimately involved not just with our capital but with our minds and hearts as well.

In spite of the billions of dollars that have been delivered to provide relief to people and causes around the world who need it most the complications continue and in some cases have grown worse. As philanthropists we need to use the mirror as part of the explanation for this quandary.

The Tao teaches us that a thread of balance runs through everything. When the wind and the sail and the water are all in perfect harmony a swift and perfect line occurs between boat and target. When we as philanthropists apply our wisdom and resources in equilibrium then the opportunity best exists for a balanced application of aid and we become poised to effect the change we so desire and the pendulum rests in perfect harmony with the energy used to swing it.


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