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The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back Hardcover – February 10, 2010
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It all started when 14-year old Hannah Salwen, idealistic but troubled by a growing sense of injustice in the world, had a eureka moment when a homeless man in her neighborhood was juxtaposed against a glistening Mercedes coupe. "You know, Dad," she said, pointing, "If that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal."
Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from Author Kevin SalwenDear Amazon Readers, What does "living well" mean? By traditional standards, our family was there--nice cars, expensive vacations, dream house, fancy stuff in it. It took a fourteen-year-old to make us take a second look. That teenager, as you probably know from glancing at the book description above, is Hannah (now seventeen). As she and I waited at a stoplight just a few blocks from our home, Hannah's head swiveled between a homeless man and a pricey new car. As she wrote in her journal later: "Driving past the homeless man that one time changed my life. I felt sad, like I wanted to help him, but angry, really angry. At myself mainly. Thinking there was so much I could do for this man and for a lot of the poor people in this world considering I had so much." Now, Hannah is not one to keep emotions to herself. She brought that anger back to our family's dinner table, challenging us to "be a family that makes a difference in the world, even if it's a small difference." My wife, Joan, and I defended ourselves: We volunteer for Habitat and work at the food bank. Hannah stared, unimpressed. Joan and I described the checks we wrote to charities each December. Hannah rolled her eyes. Finally, Joan decided to challenge back: "What do you want to do, sell our house? Move into one half the size? Give up your room?" That opening series of questions launched our family on an audacious project that we chronicle in The Power of Half. How we decided to sell our house. How we chose to invest the proceeds. Our travels to the places where we decided to work. Along the way, we tried to figure out how much was the right amount to give to charity, both in time and money (the average American gives 2.1 percent of income). We learned about extreme giving (50 percent, anyone?) by average people and about new programs popping up to teach kids about sharing and spending. But if that were the whole story, I doubt we would have written this book. Joan and I began to realize that our "Half" project was transforming our family--heightening our trust in one another, empowering our kids, building a deeper connection. Because we, as the parents, shared influence and listened in a new way to our kids, our project to make the world a little better was making the chemistry between us a lot better. In other words, we had traded some stuff for togetherness--and I bet a lot of folks would take that deal. So Hannah and I are hoping that our book can inspire you to create your own "Half" project. We don't expect you to sell your house, of course (that's nuts!), just to look at your life to determine what you have more than enough of. It could be time; it could be belongings. Depending on what issue you care about, you can brainstorm creatively what you can live with half of. (One example: If fighting drug addiction is your passion, you could give up half of the cups of caffeine-laced coffee and cola you drink.) By following the road map in the book, you can build your own project, and in turn create deeper bonds among your family, community, any group you choose. Oh, and of course make the world a little better at the same time. That's our definition of living well now. Kevin Salwen
(Photo © Allison Shirrefs)
A Q&A with Kevin and Hannah Salwen, Authors of The Power of Half
• we view the world as a single community, a place where the luck of where you're born shouldn't be the biggest determining factor in whether you receive help
• there is no safety net in rural Africa--no Head Start, no food stamps--to fill critical gaps
• we wanted our project to completely solve a problem with a group of people, and since our money goes further in Africa, we learned that we could help entire villages build their futures
• we wanted something exotic, something that would take us out of our comfort zone. It was so helpful for our kids (and for us as parents too) to be "the other" for a little while, to recognize what it feels like to be someone born without the privileges we enjoy. Q: Any other reasons The Power of Half is particularly relevant now? KS: These times are extraordinary for so many reasons, particularly the competing moods of fear, change, hope, stress. Parents are feeling those emotions even more strongly (and it's even more acute with divorced or single parents). With our senses heightened, so many of us are rethinking our lives. The Power of Half offers readers inspiration and new tools to bring their lives a healthier focus, all wrapped up in an entertaining family tale.
(Photo © Allison Shirrefs)
Photographs from the Authors of The Power of Half
(Click on images to enlarge)
|The Salwen family in front of their old house||Moving day at the Salwen house||Hannah Salwen cuts the ribbon for the Hunger Project||Where "the power of half" brought the Salwen family|
From Publishers Weekly
In this well-meaning but self-congratulatory memoir, the Salwen family decides to sell their gorgeous Atlanta mansion, move to a home half the size, and commit half the proceeds to the needy. Putting their plan into action, a raft of family decisions and meetings are led by mom Joan, a former corporate consulting executive and teacher, with the help of an actual whiteboard. Entrepreneur and activist Kevin, a former Wall Street Journal editor, writes with daughter Hannah, who, as instigator of the family project, provides commentary and practical suggestions. The chronicle is intriguing and the cohesiveness of the four family members is remarkable: "Friends and others... always focused on... the big house, the big donation, or the trip to Africa" with their eventual partner, The Hunger Project, rather than "the transformational energy" of "a family eager to stand for something collectively." The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them ("we think everyone can give one of the three T's: time, talent or treasure"); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Kevin and Joan Salwen were successful professionals (he a journalist, she a consultant with Accenture at the onset of this adventure) raising their children, Hannah and Joseph, to be grateful for their affluence and to “give back” to their community by volunteering. As Kevin and Hannah sat at a congested intersection, Hannah noticed an individual asking for food on one side of their car and a Mercedes Coupe on the other. Hannah had a moment of connection, stating, “if they had a less nice car, he could eat.” Before she got home, “they” became “we” and the question was, “how can we be a family who DOES something (about the world’s problems) instead of a family who only talks about them?” The family eventually decided they would sell their landmark home, move into a smaller (by 3000 sq./ft.) house and using half of the proceeds from this sale in some endeavor that would effect a meaningful, positive change on an issue of the world.
In researching the “where and how” of such a project, the Salwen’s were to learn much about actually helping others. They learned that over 2 Trillion dollars has been spent on “helping” projects in Africa in the last fifty year with little or no change to show for it. “Giving help” and most mission trips do far more harm than help. Lasting aid requires those who are being “helped” to have buy-in to the change instead of giving them handouts (which cause dependency and disenfranchises instead of empowers). Projects that have lasting affect are those which are long-term with meaningful commitment from the community to which they are enacted. After completing their research, the family selected to work in Ghana with The Hunger Project, a non-profit whose mission is to end world hunger by empowering “locals” to find solutions to their own issues and helping them to do so. The project would be to fund, for a five-year cycle, two (after receiving a matching grant, the two became four) “epicenters” in a cluster of villages that houses the community's programs for health, education, food security and economic development. By the book’s end, the project was just beginning so the outcome is still in development.
There were several points of deep thought for me in reading this short, well-written “report.” There is mention of religion in the book, but only anecdotally, the actions taken by the Salwen’s were rooted in a deep ethic of community, i.e. they wanted to help because there was a need. Their tremendous gift, by the author’s admission, did not change their life-style, they are still affluent. They challenged, by the discoveries they made in their research, their readers to confront how they can address the needs they (the readers) have found in their world. This is a book worth reading – engaging writing, the end uncertain but a hint of how a family can make a difference.