Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons Learned (1): Giving Away Money is Complicated

[Seeing as next month is the one-year anniversary of Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity I thought I would share with you certain “lessons” I have learned regarding this peculiar, yet rewarding endeavor called blogging. I want to distinguish this exercise from something else that is in the works: an attempt to articulate what I have learned since I decided to embrace voluntary simplicity/simple living. I'll work on the latter as I continue my trip across America.]

While I am still blown away by the response this blog continues to generate, nothing quite prepared me for the response to my Let's Start a Revolution!!!!!!!! post. To recap, at some point last year I finalized a pretty conservative budget going forward, taking into account all the obvious contingencies. I then realized that I had some cash left over. I didn't feel right keeping it. I also didn't feel right expanding my budget. Ultimately, I decided that the thing to do was to give it away. And so I did. That's when the fun/insanity/surprises started.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible response from many readers who absolutely “got” the post. Many suggested that I send donations to particular charities and causes and though I had distributed most of the cash by the time I blogged about it, I did take certain suggestions to heart. Many others commented or emailed me directly about similar efforts here in the U.S., and as far away as the U.K. and Australia.

Then came a small flood of emails asking for financial assistance. This was the most difficult, unintended consequence of this post. Telling absolute strangers that I couldn't send them any money, even though they clearly NEEDED assistance for their very survival, was the hardest thing I ever did in connection with this blog.

And when the media got wind of the post things got a little weird. A couple of hundred emails, comments, and press mentions later the message underlying the post became superfluous. Suddenly, and depending on the audience, Jack became the asshole hippy; the savior of the legal profession; the life-coach guru; the confused rich lawyer in need of assuaging some deep-seeded guilt; the guy know had figured “it” out, and on and on and on...


What this post taught me is that most people, most of the time, see only what they want to see. It is hard (or inconvenient?) to dig deeper to uncover the essence of a person, let alone a blog post.

All I can tell you is that I am a person who now has enough money to live on for the rest of his life. It might not be much to a lot of people. It is probably a small fortune to many others. But it is enough for me. And that is what is important.

I will leave you with an excerpt of an email I got from an immigrant bus driver who tracked me down after he found one of my envelopes in his bus:

“...I thank you from the bottom of [sic] heart. The day I saw you I was so sad about my job, my family and my life. When I saw the money I smiled and knew that there was [sic] good people in the world. I will always remember it...”

I always intended to put together a video capturing this renegade money giveaway, much as I did when I burned my law degree, but I never really had the time. Plus, with youtube silencing any videos set to music it felt a little pointless to bother with any real editing. It's not the same, but here's some raw footage of me traveling to NYC, Boston and Philly as I dropped off some envelopes.

Take care everyone,



Circus Life said...

I really love the "clack-clack-clack" of the train in the background. It really defines the moment...

Heather's Moving Castle said...

I get you and don't worry I won't ask for money. Kudos friend!!!! Hope to see a comedy movie about your adventure one day. :O) I doubt it would make an interesting drama. You do make people smile. Thank you for your good deeds.


Linda said...

Well, I've always wanted a Icelandic horse, so please send an envelope so I can get one at once!

Joking apart; I'm impressed that you didn't get caught up in the saviour/guru-thing. I actually think most people would. It feels good to know that there are people out there who don't see admiration and earning capital (monetary, cultural, social etc) as the prime goal in life.

And I agree with Heather: you do make people smile, and that alone is a good deed!

Take care, and beware of pitbulls :)

Tom said...

wow - i thought you said the other day that you had enough money to last you 3 - 4 years? Now you say you have enough for the rest of your life?

dtb said...

Ha! When I first saw the title, I thought it was going to be about nonprofits and tax exemptions. I guess that says more about my experience *asking* for money (ran a nonprofit for 4 years) than anything.

It's funny, I currently work for a financial investment firm and take calls from multimillionaires who are on the verge of nervous breakdowns because the stock market is "threatening their lifestyle" and they need at least $20,000 a month to live on.


Money is so wasted on those who have more than they need.

donna said...

Jack, you're an inspiration, thank-you

Debbi said...

Amazing what people will choose to read into one's actions, even when you have the best intentions. You can count me in with those who get you. As for the ones who don't--well, screw them, anyway. Just keep on keepin' on--and remember, there's no such thing as bad publicity. :) (But you were wise to stay anonymous, "Jack" :))

Kali said...

Wow, when I read the "Revolution" post there were only a few positive comments at the top, and I had no idea that the trolls came out later.

The motivation behind kindness isn't important, just the result, and whether you did it to make someone else feel better or yourself really doesn't matter. The fact is that kindness for any reason begets more kindness -- something that the world (especially the internet world) is sorely lacking right now. The trolls only proved how ugly it's all become.

Does it surprise me that most of them were lawyers? Not at all. They exist in a self-reinforcing culture where they are rewarded for lying and screwing people, and moral bankruptcy becomes the norm. When one of their own questions and breaks free it threatens what they have to believe about themselves in order to continue doing it. Sad really.

Jack said...


I guess real life can be pretty dramatic.


Thanks for following.


Will do. To both the horse money and the dog thing :)

Jack said...


To clarify, enough that I can work in almost any job that pays anything for the rest of my life. 2-3 years if I don't ever work at all. But even then, I'm exploring how to make it last much more.


What's disturbing is that at some point, and given the right situation, I might have been one of those people calling you right about now.


I wouldn't go that far, but thanks. :)

Jack said...


Good to know you are on my side.


It is the result that I focused on. I think some of those trolls had legitimate points, even if many of them were, by definition, out to committ mischief