Many people feel overwhelmed and disheartened by recent events. The media feature a steady stream of mass shootings at schools and houses of worship, terrorism, college admissions scandals, income inequality, global warming, opioid addiction, threats to our democracy, hate crimes, political dysfunction and a general loss of civility.
These events, plus others, generate in many good people a sense of profound hopelessness.
The best antidote to this pandemic of hopelessness is philanthropy, which is inherently optimistic — reflecting the fundamental belief that we can have a positive impact on stubborn societal issues and the lives of others. Through philanthropy, individuals can promote change, make a difference and improve their communities.
Finding workable solutions for today’s challenging problems requires an approach that incorporates the best thinking from all perspectives – thinking that transcends politics. In philanthropy, people who have political and philosophical differences often cooperate to successfully address pressing problems.
One focus area for these efforts is the growing gap between the wealthiest people and everyone else. In America, the top 1 percent of households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth — more than the bottom 90 percent combined. This is the highest discrepancy since 1962.
In 2017, the gap between CEO and average worker pay was nearly nine times larger than in 1980. In one survey of large companies, CEO pay averaged $13.94 million, compared with worker pay of $38,613. Plus, U.S. women still earn about 80 percent of what men earn for the same work.
On a global level, the world’s eight richest people control the same wealth as half the world’s population. The fortunes of the world’s 2,043 billionaires grew by $762 billion in 2017, while the poorest half of humanity saw no increase at all.
According to Oxfam: As growth benefits the richest, the rest of society — especially the poorest — suffers. The very design of our economies and the principles of our economics have taken us to this extreme, unsustainable and unjust point. Our economy must stop excessively rewarding those at the top and start working for all people.
Nonprofits use advocacy and direct action to address this challenge.
Another area of focus is the protection of our core constitutional principles. The U.S. Constitution established the rule of law, critical separation of powers, checks and balances, representative democracy, federalism and civilian military control — transpartisan principles that protect us all and must be defended.
Historically, nonprofit organizations have played an important role in shaping the meaning and application of citizens’ rights. Through advocacy, education and litigation, nonprofits have helped to define and defend our democratic values from attack.
“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny,” said Thomas Jefferson. He also said, “The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights, and are the only instruments which can be used for their destruction.”
A third major area of focus is climate change, in particular global warming. Climate change disproportionately impacts the poor, women and children, racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable populations. The migration of people seeking more reliable supplies of food and water has already begun. Climate change is about much more than the weather. It raises profound issues of social justice, the sustainability of communities, and our common humanity.
The threats posed by these three major challenges undermine our collective and individual ability to make progress for the 7.7 billion people and billions of other living things that call Earth home.
The best antidote to hopelessness in the face of these and other pressing challenges is action — philanthropic action. There are daily opportunities to support nonprofit organizations — financially and with time and talent.
“I choose to rise up out of that storm and see that in moments of desperation, fear and helplessness, each of us can be a rainbow of hope, doing what we can to extend ourselves in kindness and grace to one another,” said Oprah Winfrey. “And I know for sure that there is no ‘them’ — there’s only ‘us.’ ”