The Gift: What do you give away?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The Gift
Rembrandt's famous painting of "Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple," 1626.

Religious teachings on wealth tend to question what the rich have accumulated. Here is Rembrandt’s famous painting of “Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple,” 1626.

Note from Dr. Wayne Baker: I hope you have been enjoying our summer series by guest writers. We began in June with Joe Grimm on America’s growing need for “Cultural Competence.” Our most recent series was by Terry Gallagher on “Second Acts” in American lives. Here is Part 1 in a new series by Terry …

That money that you give away? Is it really yours in the first place?

In a series in this space in 2010, Wayne Baker focused on some very interesting questions about the morality of giving, including a look at the charitable motivations of the richest man in American history, John D. Rockefeller, who believed that God made him rich so that he could give his money away “for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.”

But was that money really his to give away?

We hear a slightly different take on wealth from Thomas Gumbleton, the Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit. In a recent homily on the passage from the Book of Luke about the man whose barns were overflowing, “a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest,” Gumbleton emphasized that it was the land that produced the harvest.

“Sure, he had to do something to work that land, but the land was in itself a gift,” Gumbleton said. “He had done nothing to provide that, nothing really to make the produce grow—that was God’s work. That’s a very important underlying truth that we need to get hold of: All of this world is not something we brought about; it’s a total gift from God.”

Certainly that’s not something only Catholics believe (and actually, many Catholics don’t believe it at all). Many other religious traditions tell us that the riches we have in this life are not really ours.

So what do you give away?

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

The Gift: Should we look out for Number … 2?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Gift
Click the cover to visit the Amazon page for Grant's book.

Click the cover to visit the Amazon page for Grant’s book.

From Dr. Wayne Baker: Welcome back columnist Terry Gallagher …

Looking out for number one? Many believe that’s the key to climbing the corporate ladder. After all, no one can begrudge you for looking out for your own self-interest: if you don’t take care of yourself, who else will?

The song “Looking Out for #1” by the monster Canadian rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive put it most plainly:

I found out every trick in the book
And that there’s only one way to get things done
I found out the only way to the top
Is looking out for number one

But a very influential new book by Wharton Business School Prof. Adam Grant says that you’d probably be better off looking out for numbers two, three, four and so on.

“I think that a lot of people go in thinking it has to be all about me, and yet, most organizations are really interdependent,” Grant said in an interview earlier this year on the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio. “You have to collaborate with other people, you have to serve clients, and so oftentimes helping others is a way to actually rise to the top.”

Grant’s thinking is so original, so striking, so contrary to many commonly accepted notions about career success that it merited a cover story in the New York Times magazine in March. According to the story: “The greatest untapped source of motivation, he argues, is a sense of service to others.”

The title of the piece? Let’s make it today’s question to readers …

“Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?”

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The Gift: Balancing what’s free on the sharp edge of a paywall

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Gift
THE PAY WALL: After readers have called up 10 free New York Times articles in a month, this blue rectangle appears in the center of the computer screen.

THE PAY WALL: After readers have read 10 free-of-charge New York Times articles in a month, this blue rectangle appears in the center of the computer screen ending the free ride. Next month, you can read 10 more articles for free. What do you think of such paywalls?

From Dr. Baker: Columnist Terry Gallagher is writing this week …

All that free content on the web? Who pays for that?

It’s a crucial topic for news organizations, as more and more of them erect paywalls that require readers to pay for access.

On one side, you have the notion that because people have grown accustomed to getting content for free on the internet, they have a right to continue to do so forever.

On the other side, you have the argument that journalism is a real job for which people ought to get paid, and it seems perfectly reasonable to make readers foot the bill.

It seems to be working. Last year, for the first time in its history, the New York Times made more money off of circulation than advertising, thanks mostly to rapid growth in paid subscribers to its web site.

But what about all that other content that’s still free on the web (like Read The Spirit), created by writers, editors, artists, video producers and others who also are interested in making a living?

Why do they give it away for free? Maybe as readers, we should look at is as a gift.

“When done properly, gifts work like nothing else,” according to marketing guru Seth Godin, who’s been quoted here before. “Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment. True gifts are part of being in a community . . . . and part of being an artist. Plus, giving a gift feels good.”

Does reading a post like this make you feel like part of a community?

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The Gift: Come on now … you did get help, didn’t you?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Gift

GOP Obama attack ads on You Didn't Build ThatFrom Dr. Baker: Columnist Terry Gallagher is writing this week …

Remember the big brouhaha last summer about “You didn’t build that”?

In a July 13, 2012 speech in Roanoke, Virginia, President Barack Obama spoke about how public investment helps individuals to prosper.

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help,” Obama said. “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

The Romney campaign and the right-wing blogosphere pounced on the phrase, “You didn’t build that.” They made it the centerpiece of their convention rhetoric and the fall campaign and the punchline for a thousand memes.

(As you can see, at right, the GOP actually branded some of these attack ads—including a series of ads with Henry Ford and other famous inventors. The Romney campaign often played off the line, as in the photo at right.)

The anger in these attack ads was rooted in American individualism. Obama’s remark was a threat to the American core value of self-reliance, which Dr. Baker has written about earlier.

But isn’t it true that every successful person got help along the way, and not only from their friends and family, but also from the community? And even, horrors, from the government?

For example, every successful person who graduated from a public university started out on the receiving end of a government subsidy, a huge gift. (Public high school, too, and even private college if it was supported by government loans or grants.)

To pretend otherwise is like refusing to acknowledge a gift gratefully and gracefully. And isn’t refusing to acknowledge a gift the same as rejecting your community?

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The Gift: Sheldon Brown added to the links that bind bike riders

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Gift
Sheldon Brown (1944-2008) with a quirky "found" addition to his favorite bike helmet—a plastic eagle that once topped a small flag pole.

Sheldon Brown (1944-2008) with a quirky “found” addition to his favorite bike helmet—a plastic eagle that once topped a small flag pole.

From Dr. Baker: Here is Terry Gallagher’s last column in this series—and his 100th column at OurValues! Thank him by sharing news of this series with friends.

You don’t have to be a bicycle fanatic to see the passion that Sheldon Brown put into an utterly comprehensive web-based guide he created as parts manager, tech guru and webmaster at Harris Cyclery in West Newton, Mass.

The funky, improvised design dates from the web’s earliest days, and the tone reflects Brown’s profoundly quirky personality, but the information found there is absolutely invaluable to devotees of classic bicycles.

“If Sheldon Brown had been only an excellent bicycle mechanic, the esteem in which he was held, while great, could not have extended much beyond his native Massachusetts,” the London Times wrote in a worshipful obituary after Brown’s 2008 death. “But because of the selfless use to which he put the internet, regret at his death has been felt across the world.”

The obit—which has been archived online at this site—mentions Brown’s encyclopedic knowledge gained through a life of riding, fixing and modifying bikes.

“Then at 49, he found at his disposal an invention more powerful than anything in a mechanic’s toolbox,” according to the Times. “He quickly saw that the internet could make his expertise available not just to the customers of one bike shop, but to anyone who wanted it, anywhere.”

Brown clearly created the site as a labor of love, a gift he was giving away without thought of profit.

At the end of the day, though, it “was a vindication of the internet freeware credo that putting up free content will bring its own reward,” the obit said. By the time Brown died, his site brought in about half of Harris’s business.

So, what gifts are you giving?

What do you think about the gifts we should be giving?

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