Extending Tax Cuts For the Rich, On One Condition

I have a feeling that I'm not the only one who's so glad the election season is over!  Wow!  What an ugly process this time around - as some politicians and news commentators said, this is the nastiest campaign season they've seen in decades.  How sad that the very people who are suppose to put their own interests aside in order to hear and represent the people instead consider only their own party politics regardless of what's best for the constituents. One of the big questions among partisan lawmakers and politicians now is, should we let the Bush-era tax cuts die out at the end of 2010 or should we renew them, especially for the middle class?  If the tax cuts are continued, the big political debate is whether the tax cuts for the rich should be ended or continued.  I say, let the rich keep their tax cuts but on one condition.  Here it is.

A heartwarming story was reported in the New York Times last Sunday, "Kindness of a Stranger That Still Resonates." It seems that a suitcase full of letters was delivered in 2008 to a man named Ted Gup, who is an investigative journalist formerly with The Washington Post.  The letters were all addressed to a Mr. B. Virdot.  The letters were all Thank You's to B. Virdot for money given to the letter-writers.  Apparently, an advertisement appeared Dec. 17, 1933 (during the height of the Great Depression), in The Canton Repository newspaper. "A donor using the pseudonym B. Virdot offered modest cash gifts to families in need. His only request: Letters from the struggling people describing their financial troubles and how they hoped to spend the money. The donor promised to keep letter writers’ identities secret 'until the very end.'"  And the secret donor, it turns out, was Ted Gup's grandfather, Samuel Stone of Canton, Ohio, who had himself escaped poverty and persecution as a Jew in Romania to build a successful chain of clothing stores in the United States.

Ted Gup read through the 150 letters in that suitcase, tears streaming down his face from the poignant expressions of gratitude from these desperate people and families during such a desperate time in history, a time very much reflected in today's economic disasters for so many.  He was so moved he decided to write a book about these letters called "A Secret Gift."  And last week, 400 people gathered in the famed 84-year-old Palace Theater in Canton, Ohio, at a reunion for families of B. Virdot’s recipients planned by Ted Gup.

Helen Palm, 90 years old, the only living recipient of those anonymous checks, sat in her wheelchair on the stage of the Palace Theater and read her letter for help, the one she wrote 77 years ago in the depths of the Great Depression to an anonymous stranger who called himself B. Virdot.  “I am writing this because I need clothing ... And sometimes we run out of food.”

It was a profound and powerful evening for all those who attended and for the rest of the city who heard the story.  Honoring the memory of a man who during desperate times chose to give from his wealth to those who were fighting to survive.

"For the older people [that evening], it was a chance to remember the hard times. For relatives of the letter writers, it was a time to hear how the small gifts, in the bleakest winter of the Depression, meant more than money. They buoyed the spirits of an entire city that is beginning to lose hope."

So I say, let the tax cuts for the wealthy in this country be extended ... on one condition:  that every one of those in the upper tax brackets do what Samuel Stone did and give from their wealth to those who are struggling to survive in our cities all over this country.  B. Virdot lived out a model for generosity that could sure be used these days!

The growing divide in this country between the rich and the poor, along with the diminishing ranks of those in the middle, is at an all time high.  In a sobering column last Saturday called "Our Banana Republic," Nicholas Kristoff stated that "The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976.  The United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.  C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent."

This is a tragic state of reality!  If there's ever a time we need the moral courage and determination of B. Virdot it's in these desperate times.  Imagine what could happen if this 1 per cent in our country followed Samuel Stone's model of generosity.  It might actually inspire the rest of us to follow suit.  And then imagine where we could be in this depressed and hope-chasing economy.  How many anonymous checks or gift cards or cash gifts could be given away in every city in America out of the wealth that still exists in this country?  How many people - men, women, and children - could be given hope and love for this upcoming Holiday Season?

This value of the "haves" giving to the "have-nots" is a part of the core message of every enduring spiritual tradition.  Here are some representative admonitions:

From the Jewish Scriptures:  "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God."  (Leviticus 19:9-10)

From the Muslim Scriptures: "Let not those among you who are endued with grace and amplitude of means resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen, those in want, and those who have left their homes in Allah's cause."  (Qur'an 24:22)

From the Christian Scriptures: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."  (James 2:14-17)

All sacred scriptures connect spirituality with how personal wealth is used.

Now I obviously realize that the Government can't do something like extend tax cuts to some people with conditions that they give to the needy.  But I have to admit it's getting wearisome hearing the endless debate over our economy with the primary determining issue being, "What's in it for me?"  I too want to have enough to live on.  I too want meaningful work and employment with commensurate remuneration.  I want to be paid what I'm worth.  I too want to survive in this difficult recession.  But believe me, most of us have more than we think.  Experts remind us, for example, that if we have the luxury right now of reading this blog in the format we're reading it in (e.g. computer, internet, hard copy even), we're in the top 5% of the world's wealthiest population.

As all the enduring spiritual traditions remind us, we are being called to rise to a higher level of life value than personal survival.  We are being called to be willing to think of others beyond simply thinking of ourselves.  We are being challenged to give of what we do have to help those who have less.

I don't know the extent of B. Virdot's (Samuel Stone) personal weath in the 1930s from his successful chain of clothing stores.  But I do know that what he did during those years for the 150 needy families in Canton, Ohio obviously reverberated down through the succeeding generations into the current climate of devastation from today's recession in that same city.  When the 400 people gathered in the old Palace Theatre several weeks ago to honor B. Virdot and his acts of kindness, they all talked about how Mr. Stone’s example of generosity resonates today.

“I think there’s a message here that people in Canton know how to get through the hard times by pulling together,” Mr. Gup said.

Days before Christmas 1933, with Mr. Stone’s gift in hand, Edith May took her 4-year-old daughter Felice to a five-and-dime store and bought her a wooden horse.  Seventy-seven years later, Felice May Dunn owns two farms and 17 Welsh ponies.  “In my life it made a big difference,” Ms. Dunn, 80, recalled. “It was my favorite toy.”

I wonder how that wooden horse gift has impacted her response to life these days?

Quantum Physics, the Boomerang Effect, and Spirituality

[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right.  If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] I read an article last week by Stacy Corrigan, a personal and corporate financial health coach, referring to a highly significant spiritual and scientific law of life. Quantum physics has proven that the core building block for all material things, as we know them, is energy. In the scientific world energy is equivalent to light. And then she gave this illustration:  "When two beams of light join together they become much more intense than two individual beams. We know this to be true when we look at a satellite image of the earth at night from space. The cities that have many beams of light close together show up more readily on the image than the cities where the same number of light beams are spread far apart. The energy becomes greater the more there is in close proximity to like energy."

Remember, she says, all material things drill down to being just energy.  So everything you contribute to life - your specific acts of kindness, caring and compassion; your money; material things like food for those in need; etc. - is also energy.  Which means that the more you send out, the more powerful the energy becomes, and the greater opportunity it has to team up with similar energy so that it can grow and flow, contributing to what she calls the "boomerang effect" - what you send out comes back to you multiplied.

This quantum physics concept has a fascinating parallel with some deep spiritual realities.  Notice a few sacred scriptures:

“Whatever a person sows, that is what he will reap.” (Galatians 6:7)  In other words, the energy that a person puts out through whatever kind of actions, behaviors, or projected thoughts will return in kind.  Computereze says, "garbage in, garbage out."  We become what we give out because it returns to us and ultimately transforms us into what we're projecting.  Kind of the negative version of the boomerang effect.

Here's the way another text articulates this reality:  “A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop.  But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)  Fascinating that even in the agricultural arena the principle is true - and in this saying, the emphasis is on quantity of output determining the quantity of input.  Generosity produces generosity.  Scarcity produces scarcity.

The context of this last text is intriguing.  The author (Paul) is talking to Christian believers in one part of the Middle East, appealing to them to give money to the believers in another part of the region that has gone through a devastating famine.  He's trying to raise both consciousness and funding to help with this specific emergency need on behalf of hurting, suffering people.

So he is basically articulating the boomerang effect to motivate their giving by suggesting that their generous giving will come back to them in equally generous ways.  Here's how he describes this:

"You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure … God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.  As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor.  Their good deeds will be remembered forever.'  For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.  As a result of your generous service to them, they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you." 2 Corinthians 9:7-13.

Notice the powerful energy that circles around – it goes out (as believers in one region give generously to the needy in another region), combines with other energy (the divine energy of generosity that comes to each person making their giving possible in the first place), and then returns in greater form (as the helped believers return kindness through their prayers and support of those who gave) – and it keeps spiraling around, back and forth, around and around, increasing in energy and impact.  The boomerang effect.

I'm convicted about how easy it is to live life with a perspective of scarcity - I don't have enough myself to live very well, so how can I be expected to give generously to others!  But as this spiritual principle (and scientific reality) states, my attitude of scarcity only produces more scarcity.  And here's where it is all so counter-intuitive - but the more I give, the more I receive.  Generosity produces generosity.  When energy is combined with more energy (like the city lights seen from orbiting satellites shows), the combination creates even more energy.  So when we choose to work with others who also give and share generously, our combined energy creates even more impact.  And what returns to us in the form of positive energy is even more powerful and transforming.

This is why giving to and sharing with others is such a profound spiritual experience.  Here's how one author puts it:  “Those who gladly share with others feel themselves bathed by a constant inner stream of happiness.  Sharing is the doorway through which the soul escapes the prison of self-preoccupation. It is one of the clearest paths to God.” (Swami Kriyananda)

What a powerful boomerang effect - as I let go of my preoccupation with self and protecting my ego and hoarding my possessions to have control over my life, and give generously to others, I am actually drawn closer to God - my soul connects with God's soul - and I am liberated in transforming ways.  In fact, I become truer to my truest Self - I'm acting out who I really am - a loving and compassionate child of God.  And this choice to live in alignment with my true Self results in a life of greater confidence, security, and increased generosity.  Generosity produces generosity by connecting me to the heart of God which is pure love and selfless giving to others.

The boomerang effect - it works both ways.  So which boomerang do you want circling back to you?  Which harvest do you want to reap?