I told someone the other day that my Grandfather, Garman Kimmell, was a philanthropist. I often include that in my description of him when I am relating some part of our story. However, on this particular occasion I found myself wondering what the other person thought that meant.
What does it mean to be philanthropic? Many people think of monetary gifts when they think of philanthropy. Maybe a foundation awarding grants for education or the arts. A wealthy individual or family writing big checks and getting their name in the paper. The word, and the corresponding behavior, seems to be out of reach for many of us.
Philanthropy comes from the Greek philanthropia and means “kindliness, humanity, benevolence, love to mankind.” It means to love your fellow human beings, and to show that care in ways that improve the quality of life, not just by relieving some present pain, but by attempting to address the root of the problem.
This sounds very much like “making a difference” in people’s lives.
Writing big checks certainly could make a difference in people’s lives, but most root problems cannot be solved with cash. It seems that most of our societal problems stem from a failure in relationships. While money can remove some of the barriers to relationship building, only time and physical presence can develop the connections that are needed.
It is difficult to care about someone you do not know. I can drive by the man begging on the street corner without much discomfort because I do not know him. If it was my child, or a friend, or frankly, even an acquaintance, I would be compelled to stop and see what I could do. Without relationship I am able to ignore another’s pain, within relationship I cannot. It is really that simple. The more connected we are, the more motivated we are to “make a difference.”
I am not suggesting that you stop and get to know every person begging on the street. I am suggesting that I have many more opportunities to develop relationships than I seize. I do not have to change the whole world, but I should be changing someone’s world.
Garman didn’t just give people money. He invested himself in their lives, their projects, their outcomes. He was willing to provide the financial means, but he was also intensely interested in the underlying problem. He didn’t just buy band aids, he invested in cures.
For Kimray to be serious about making a difference, our financial gifts need to follow our relational connections. In other words, put our money where our hands and heads and hearts are. Kimray can’t be truly philanthropic without being relational and we need to understand that dollars are only part of the solution.
I challenge you to think of yourself as a philanthropist. Someone who, for the love of fellow human beings, looks for ways to address the root problems which result in pain. With that definition you don’t have to be wealthy, just willing to risk getting involved.