The other night, in my graduate class on philanthropy and development, I was called “an idealist.”

 

We were talking about what philanthropy entails. Is it okay to be a philanthropist and use your money as leverage? An example: Andrew Carnegie (I’m sending you to an NPR article* for more information) leveraged his money to spread libraries across America.

 

He believed that reading–the ability to read and access to reading materials–would lift Americans out of poverty and increase American prosperity. It had worked for him, you see. As a child raised in poverty, he read each and everything on which he could place his hands. He attributed reading with his own success.
When he proposed his offer of libraries to communities, he agreed to provide the mortar and brick to build the structure, but communities would have to show strategic proof that they would staff, heat, light, care for, and keep the library in working order. His money was leveraged in this way.
This is the defining difference between charity and philanthropy. Charity alleviates. Philanthropy seeks solutions.
I said that, in thinking about the money that our class will give away (we are a part of PhilanthropyLab.org and have been gifted $25K to distribute according to our agreement), I felt a responsibility.
Is it really enough to give money, if you’re not directly involved, to the extent that your circumstances allow? Is it okay for me to believe that students need tutoring resources outside public school venues, provide money, but not offer to tutor?I certainly have the resources to tutor. Is money enough, if I want the game to change?

 

 

And so, I was called an idealist.

I called my oldest daughter on the way home to see if she agreed, or how she felt about having a mom that was an idealist. I told her I was considering whether or not I was going to own it. She did not seem shocked or concerned.

I also had to look it up. I thought that it meant considering ideals as a norm: one has ideals and one lives up to them (or tries). As a pragmatist is pragmatic, a pessimist is pessimistic, and idealist would be working toward ideals.

Surprisingly, the first thing that popped up was not a definition, but a website called IndeedJobs/Idealist (Indeed.com/Idealist). Next was a group entitled Action Without Borders (www.idealist.org/idealist), which claims to show 100,000 volunteer positions for idealists, like me.

I had no idea. (Apparently, I just have ideals, not ideas.) There must be many of us. Legion.

When I finally got to Dictionary.com, I was slightly surprised. (See the entire definition, below). Being an idealist is not as laudatory as it sounds. “Impractical”? “Seeing things as they should be, rather than they are”? Sounds like fighting words to me.

I decided I liked it, right then and there.

It also said “a writer who treats subjects imaginatively.” Okay. Although, why this is a trait of an idealist, I’m not certain. Are pessimists not also imaginative?

I’m not sure how the attribute was meant, but I’m going to keep it. I would like to see the world as it could be, not as it is, currently. If you’d like to call yourself an idealist, you can join me.

 

Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library
Wynchwood Branch Library
Wynchwood Branch Library

 

*There’s an audio version of the NPR Carnegie Library story. You might enjoy a listen (from 2013).
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From Dictionary.com
[ahy-deeuh-list]
noun
1.

a person who cherishes or pursues high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.

Antonyms: pragmatist, skeptic, cynic.
2.

a visionary or impractical person.

Antonyms: realist, materialist.
3.

a person who represents things as they might or should be rather than as they are:

My friend is an idealist, who somehow thinks that we always agree.
4.

a writer or artist who treats subjects imaginatively.
5.

a person who accepts the doctrines of philosophical idealism, as by representing things in an ideal form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are.
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