This morning I listened to a podcast from the Diane Rehm show from National Public Radio. In it, the host subbing for Diane interviewed Kevin Salwen and Hannah Salwen, the father-daughter authors of the book The Power of Half. The book documents the path the Salwen family took when they decided to sell their house and move into one half its size, donating half of the sales price to charity.
Along the way, they also changed many of their consumer habits and starting making more time for their family and their community. It is an interesting story and one that illustrates the idea that most of us could probably get by with less than we have, and probably could give more of our time, money, or talent than we currently give.
What amazed me, though, was the range of negative reactions callers to the show and commenters on the website had. These negative reactions generally fell into two categories:
The first category was complaints that while they had given half of their stuff, the Salwens were so well-off (upper middle class, it seems) that they still have a very comfortable life afterwards. They’ve never really known “need” so we shouldn’t see them as a good example. Plus, Jesus taught that we should only do good works in private. No need to make such a public splash about it.
The second category was complaints that the Salwens are out of touch with ordinary people and that in these tough economic times, there are many people who can’t afford to give half their stuff to charity (which Kevin Salwen specifically said at the start of the show they were not advocating that people do). “Flippant,” “insensitive,” and “disconnected” were some of the words used to describe the Salwen family.
There was also a small category of people criticizing that the primary recipient of the family’s charity is an organization that fights hunger in Africa. “There is great need in our own country!” some people complained.
Now, this really amazes me. This family examined their own life, realized they enjoyed a cushier lifestyle than they needed, and acted on that realization. In my mind, that’s a good thing. Who are we to criticize that? As near as I can tell from listening to them, it was done with the best intentions and the only reason they have publicized the story is to encourage others to think about what they could potentially do without in their own lives – a message that I think doesn’t hurt the vast majority of Americans, even ones who are in financial tough times, to hear.
What is it with this bitterness? If you don’t think the family deserves praise, then don’t praise them. But why do some people feel a need to attack them and tear them down? Spend half of the time you would have otherwise spent attacking them and use it to do something that betters the world!