There is an old parable I have come across at various points throughout my career. Iâ€™ve adapted it for my work with nonprofits to illustrate the ability of vision and purpose to inspire generosity. It goes like this:
There was once a traveler in ancient times who happens upon a work site with countlessÂ men, bloody and sweaty, laboriously cutting stone. Curious about their work, he asks the firstÂ man he encounters what he is doing.
The man doesnâ€™t look up. He responds flatly, â€œI am cutting stone.â€Â Unsatisfied with his answer, the traveler approaches a second man and repeats the question.Â This man pauses long enough to say, â€œI am cutting stone for a wall of some sort. This workÂ feeds my family. Thatâ€™s all I care about.â€
Determined for information, the traveler asks a third man.
This man, as sweaty and bloody as the other two, stops what he is doing, puts down his ax,Â and smiles with pride.Â â€œI am cutting stone for a wall, which will be part of the most magnificent Cathedral that hasÂ ever been built. I know I wonâ€™t see it built, and my children wonâ€™t see it built, and even myÂ childrenâ€™s children wonâ€™t see it built, but I will die knowing that I was part of something that willÂ be here for generations after I am gone.â€
Iâ€™ve never given a name to the cathedral in this story, but Iâ€™ve always visualized it as NotreÂ Dame. Which is why I have found this story reverberating in my mind and in my heart as aÂ fire ravaged parts of this ancient treasure that, true to the wishes of the third stonecutter, hasÂ indeed been here for generations.
I am reminded of the truly ephemeral nature of all earthly things,Â which I personally believe is equally unsettling and comforting.Â Particularly in our modern, throw-away age of technology, virtualÂ reality, and simulated social experiences, I find it humbling thatÂ we are brought to our knees at the loss of something so physicalÂ and tangible.
Notre Dame Cathedral is awe-inspiring â€“ no matter your faith, creed,Â or beliefs â€“ not only for the extraordinary feats of architecture andÂ engineering, but for how it has withstood the test of time, survivingÂ the wraths of both nature and man for more than eight centuries, anÂ enduring symbol of the transcendence of humanity.
Notre Dame has once again transcended, connecting people aroundÂ the world through shared sorrow, love, and veneration, which isÂ being displayed in myriad ways. I was touched at the unity betweenÂ strangers in the streets as they joined together in song, watching asÂ flames consumed this historical treasure. Within 24 hours, hundredsÂ of millions of dollars were committed to the rebuilding of NotreÂ Dame; now it is more than $1 billion.
An unpredictableÂ ripple effect thenÂ reached threeÂ Baptist churches inÂ Louisiana, recentlyÂ destroyed by arsonÂ in reprehensibleÂ acts of hate: aÂ crowdfundingÂ campaign raisedÂ more than $1.2 million in less than two days. In a somewhat moreÂ predictable ripple effect, there has also been brash backlash toÂ the outpouring of support. Critics questioned the motives andÂ intentions of donors, depicting them as everything from tax-evadingÂ opportunists to proliferators of wealthy elitism.
Backlash like this can leave many wondering if no good deed canÂ go unpunished, but such criticism is actually vital to the very natureÂ of philanthropy. Because while it can threaten the inclination of theÂ wealthy to support any cause, it can also start important discourseÂ among diverse groups of people â€“ the kind of discourse that mayÂ create an essential sea change in attitudes and actions aroundÂ ubiquitous social issues. It reminds us that, for better or worse,Â philanthropy can amplify any voice.
An ethos within our Firm is that humanity depends on philanthropy.Â Most obviously, this tenet refers to the impact philanthropy has onÂ its beneficiaries; itâ€™s easy to understand how disadvantaged peopleÂ depend on the goodwill and generosity of others, whether financial or otherwise.Â But, perhaps less obviously, there is another, latent implication withinÂ the wordsÂ humanity depends on philanthropy: that we all depend onÂ philanthropy as well. Whether we define ourselves as benefactors,Â supporters, or critics, we are all inherently and irrefutably human.
As such, we depend on philanthropy as a way to express unityÂ and solidarity, dissonance and objection. We depend on it to makeÂ our voices heard and our presence known. We depend on it toÂ build a sense of community, defined not by physical boundaries orÂ geography, but by a sense of belonging to a shared ideal.
At its purest, we lean on philanthropy to reconnect with our ownÂ humanity in a moment when we may find ourselves feeling detachedÂ from it. Through it, we manifest the purely human qualities ofÂ generosity and compassion.
Philanthropy cannot exist without generosity or compassion,Â but it also cannot exist without need. This is the dual nature ofÂ philanthropy, a symbiotic relationship that is forged betweenÂ benefactor and beneficiary through reciprocal acts of humanity.
Notre Dame graciously allowed us to make her the beneficiary ofÂ our collective generosity and compassion. In our own effervescentÂ humanity, that is something we will always need.