19 Nov 2020 Food lines and all-time highs.
The world is a complicated place. It always has been and always will be. It’s a place where beautiful and terrible things are happening in the same place and at the same time and sometimes even in the same people. Maybe in 2020 this is especially true, and my guess is, as we head into Thanksgiving and then into Christmas and the entire holiday season, the complication and tension will be just about as salient as they ever have been.
This week there were thousands of cars lined up outside of Dallas, TX, not on the interstate and not for a drive-in movie, but for food. And exactly at the same time, the stock market hit new all-time highs. The world is a complicated place. It’s made all the more complicated because remedying the situation those two pictures bring into sharp relief is not obvious by any stretch of the imagination, and you should be extremely wary of those who suggest easy fixes, no matter where you fall on the ever-divisive political spectrum.
What it will take is not obvious, but we have to have to start with that big stretch of the imagination, and the first act of imagination is empathy. Brene Brown has a great explainer of what empathy is, and what it isn’t, but for me what it boils down to is this: To sit with someone in the midst of their suffering (or elation!), without attempting to do anything else other than be present and to listen. Sometimes this is physically sitting with someone who’s going through a rough time, and sometimes—maybe in the case of feeling empathy for thousands of people lining up for food in north Texas—maybe it’s an imaginary sitting. What would it feel like to sit in your car, worried about running out of gas, waiting for food you can’t afford to buy for your children because a global pandemic or even “normal” economic conditions leave you under-employed? And where are the people in our own cities that are feeling the same sort of helplessness? Can we sit with these people? Can we do so without trying to “fix” them? Can we do so without centering on the guilt that we may feel about our stock portfolios being at all-time highs? Can we use our ears at least twice as much as we use our mouths?
If the first and ongoing act of imagination is to sit, to be empathetic, then the second is to walk around with our hands open. It’s not a savior complex, it’s not look-at-me philanthropy, it’s simply: “I choose to not clutch at what I’ve been given.” If we aren’t running away from or trying to fix the suffering of others, then we will inevitably be presented with opportunities to share our time, energy, and yes, money. And by walking around with our hands open, we might head into Thanksgiving week not thinking about the deals we’ll be able to score on “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” but rather, where are the best places to give come Giving Tuesday?
Last year I wrote a blog titled “What’s the point of giving your money away?” in which I said something to this effect: Giving money away is the single most important action you can undertake in the context of your finances. You can go back and read that blog if you want to know why I believe that, but I think it bears repeating. There are no easy fixes to food lines and all-time highs, but if those of us who count ourselves among the deeply fortunate would stretch our imaginations toward empathy and open hands, using the Thanksgiving holiday and Giving Tuesday as the practice fields for what is hopefully a lifelong game, then maybe 2021 could be a little better for us all.
If giving is something that you want to start or continue doing, there are all sorts of ways to do so effectively and efficiently. Ryan recently created a brief video on Donor Advised Funds, Geoff wrote last year on donating appreciated stock and using Qualified Charitable Distributions, and we are constantly on the lookout with clients for opportunities to maximize the impact of their generosity from a tax perspective. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you would like some guidance about this topic!