Fourteen year-old Hannah Salwen and her father, Kevin, were driving along one day when she noticed a homeless man standing on the corner of a street. At the same time, she saw a Mercedes driving by and something just clicked in her.
“Dad, if that man had a less nice car, that
[homeless] man there could have a meal.”
What transpires next is the story of how Hannah persuaded her family to sell their “gorgeous $2 million mansion, with its stunning Corinthian columns, spacious rooms, ample back yard…” and donate half the proceeds to a charity. The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back is a thought-provoking book written by both father and daughter.
Read the summary here.
Here are 7 take-aways I got from The Power of Half:
1. NY Times journalist Nicholas Kristof says it so well in this great opinion piece: “… the aim [of the Salwens] was to encourage people to step off the treadmill of accumulation, to define themselves by what they give as well as by what they possess.” The Salwens realized they were just buying things nonstop and increasingly adding activities and commitments to their schedules—this was having a toll on the family and putting a strain on relationships. The family’s generosity project led to a transformation of their relationship with each other and as individuals. The process of hashing out details and talking about the issues repeatedly brought them closer together.
2. This is a family dedicated to making decisions together. The parents, early on, had decided that the children (Hannah and her brother, Joseph) would have equal decision-making power.
“Our kids need real authority, a real sense of ownership. They need to help guide this project with full voting rights. We might end up with decisions different from those you and I might make on our own, but I think we’ll end up with something that we all actually believe in.”
Joan Salwen, Hannah’s mother, to her husband, Kevin
3. Joan, the mother, was an excellent facilitator and organizer, and did an amazing job guiding her family into the heart and soul of the social issues of the world. Everyone did an impressive amount of research and ended up unanimously choosing to work on world hunger. Four organizations working on world hunger were interviewed and in the end, after a series of intense discussions between themselves, the Salwens picked The Hunger Project.
4. The book had a nice juxtaposition between the father’s narration and his daughter’s perspective. At the end of each chapter, “Hannah’s Take” was a concise summary of what her father, Kevin, had just written, embellished with her own personal view and suggestions for action.
5. The decision to downsize and work with a charity was an intentional act of generosity. Every step towards this act was thought through and carefully deliberated.
6. The parents were so open and curious about what their children were thinking and learning. They clearly imbued in Hannah a spirit of volunteerism and generosity through their own role modeling. They were very patient with their son Joseph, who was slower to come around to the idea of selling the house, but they recognized he had to go through his own process of figuring it out. Eventually he became an ardent champion of their mission.
7. I’m frustrated with the criticism and skepticism expressed about the Salwens’ actions. So what if they downsized from a $2 million house to a $1 million house. They did it because they could. So what if they could still afford to send their kids to private schools. They did it because they could. They traveled to Ghana so they could try to begin to understand the face of poverty and hunger.
At least they tried to DO something. And the kids are learning that giving back and being generous feels good. The book simply made me think about what is possible with generosity.