The Virtues of Passion

By Margaret May Damen, CFP, CLU, ChFC, CAP

It was the best of times: 

It was the worst of times. 

It was the age of wisdom; 

It was the age of foolishness 

— written by author Charles Dickens some 150 years ago in his epic novel, The Tale of Two Cities, but even more relevant today .

With the gridlock in Washington and discontent in our communities, is Charles Dickens’s epic novel more fact than fiction? And what does all this have to do with the United States and your charitable giving?

From my perspective, quite a lot. If one believes as I do the sage wisdom of the late Robert Payton, former director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, that philanthropy holds some of the answers to moving our nation forward in these’ best and worst of times’. “The only basis for a claim of special consideration for philanthropy,” says Payton, “is that it is the principal means by which our ethics and values shape the society in which we live.” Certainly Government gridlock and corporate greed have not kept our moral compass heading due north in recent years. Quite the opposite!  These two sectors have darkened the existence of virtue in our society. And when classic virtues come under siege or become incongruous with contemporary social culture and customs where is society to turn for some direction? Where is there a virtuous resolution to a values revolution?  And more importantly how does one effectively engage both men and women in the pursuit of a more benevolent and beneficent world. 

First let’s define the classic virtues we are talking about. The four virtues that Aristotle identifies in his Nicomachean Ethics as the moral virtues are: prudence (common sense and good judgment), justice (fairness, honesty and truthfulness), fortitude (moral and physical courage, and temperance (moderation of action, feeling and thought). Virtue, Aristotle says, “is the mean between two vices – one of excess, the other of defect-neither too much nor too little being in the best interest of a moral and responsible society” What Aristotle is talking about is balance: courage but mot recklessness, effort but not burnout. 

Perhaps it is time to consider incorporating the principles that Riane Eisler writes about in her book The Real Wealth of Nations, She offers a compelling vision of a system that goes beyond conventional economic models to support “caring for ourselves, others, and Mother Earth.” Her theories make a case for including human capital and the core component of caring and care giving as a measure of the true sate of the world economy. She also gives value to the volunteers working in charitable and other venues in civil society and calls this “the hidden system of valuations in which women and the work of caring and care giving stereotypically associated with women is devaluated.” For Eisler, a critical component is returning virtue back in our society is to create a caring economic culture with a shift away from a hierarchal leadership style toward a more democratic and equitable model of leadership based on a mutual respect.

Recently, Ellen Remmer, former president & CEO of The Philanthropic Initiative, Inc. (TPI) in Boston posted two blogs on the virtues of passion to spark and drive personal philanthropy. Remmer writes “Passion in philanthropy is about making a commitment to your most important beliefs and values.” Now more than ever the idealistic dreams
of the boom generation have a reason to shine.
Save the world one good deed at a time. Wipe off
the tarnish of decades of conspicuous consumption and take to the streets with conspicuous compassion with renewed passion and zest.”

In my book, Women, Wealth and Giving: The Virtuous Legacy of the Boom Generation, I identify passion as on the three key principles necessary for each of us to center our search in the pursuit of happiness (Thomas Jefferson – Declaration of Independence). Life at times can become confusing and complicated. Having the ability to center thoughts and deeds on conspicuous compassion can simplify life and free the mind and soul to be attentive to seeing the needs of others and being open to creative solutions. In charity and philanthropic issues giving with passion can enrich the integrity of our life’s purpose. Giving in this way can identify in our hearts the greatest desires for the use of our time, talent and treasure that we are blessed to control while we are on earth, especially when
we engage in doing them in the virtuous spirit of justice, prudence, and moderation  It brings clarity of focus to what is important in our life, and it can reprioritize values to redirect wealth into life and to the giving we do in our community. It can move and redirect the moral compass of our nation back toward true north.  

Margaret May Damen, , CFP, CLU, ChFC, CAP
President and CEO, The Institute For Women and Wealth
Co-author “Women, Wealth,and Giving: The Virtuous Legacy of the Boom Generation”

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