Today regular guestblogger, Dave Baldwin discusses The Power of Half–enjoy!
I first read The Power of Half about a year ago, on a recommendation from a good friend. I found myself nodding and relating to the story on a number of levels. Kevin and Hannah Salwen, the co-authors, are a father and daughter who jointly inspired the other half of their immediate family to sell their house and give half of the money away. I’m a supporter of The Hunger Project, the same organization that stood in the spotlight of the story, since 2006. That was partly what motivated me to read the book.
While the Salwen family’s experience is quite different from mine, I still found myself relating to the story. They lived in a $2 million mansion, and the kids had their own fireplaces. Based on the way they described their family’s van, it sounds like it was bigger than the houses some people live in. They paint a “before” picture that clearly illustrates the ridiculous preoccupation with accumulating material possessions that seems to infect American families. Kevin Salwen, the primary author, describes how members of the family rarely spoke to each other, zoned out in their separate worlds.
At one of the pivotal moments of the story, Kevin and Hannah were sitting at an intersection. There was a homeless man on their left, and an expensive car on their right. They shared the insight that they could make a real impact on global issues like poverty, and that it would require giving up some of the comforts to which they had grown accustomed. The family decided to put their house on the market and move into a house half its size. They had to shed half of what they owned, and the process breathed life back into their family.
I had experienced something similar when I left my corporate job to move to Raleigh back in 2007. I got rid of a sizable percentage of what I owned. I brought no furniture with me except a mattress and a bed. I had fit everything into one layer of the moving truck, and I moved everything into the house in 45 minutes with no help from anyone. There have been several periods in my life when I aggressively rid myself of possessions, and I’ve felt like a snake shedding my skin every time. When I read the Salwen’s story, I smiled as I pictured the family discovering a new freedom.
The remarkable thing about the Salwens’ story is how well it highlighted the inherent self-interest in giving things away. There was no sense of resentment or guilt-driven charity at all. The family had fun shedding many times their weight in physical goods, and I never got the sense that they significantly missed the money (a sum of over $800,000).
The family’s biggest concern about the money seemed to be the danger that it might not be put to good use. They exercised a lengthy period of due diligence for that precise reason. Kevin recalls having woken up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep from the thought that the money might disappear and make little impact. The Salwens also bought a second home before finding a buyer for the first, which put a strain on their finances. From their account of the situation, though, I got the sense that they just knew it would all work out in the end.
During the past two years, I’ve personally felt the squeeze of the recession, and I’ve had to cut a number of expenses. I count it as a blessing, and the Salwens’ story is a reminder of that blessing. Every time I have to live without a luxury, the experience reminds me that I’m no less happy without it. The Salwens gave up a comfortable life in exchange for a meaningful one. When I read their story, I can’t imagine them even thinking about going back. When I look at my own life in this light, I see that meaning and purpose have naturally displaced comfort. I can’t imagine going back, either.
When I find myself growing petulant over a superficial desire for something I know I can live without, I often think back to The Power of Half. I think of how, even in my poorest moments, I’ve still had access to greater wealth than most people on Earth can even imagine. I think back to the times when I had everything material that I wanted, and how unfulfilled I was. The Power of Half has served as a gentle reminder that, ultimately, I can do without almost anything.
The book is a quick read. I definitely recommend picking it up.
Your Turn: With the current economic downgrade, how are you fighting fear and living your best abundant life?
Dave Baldwin is a writer, originally from Pennsylvania, who has lived in Raleigh since 2007. He works for a local internet marketing company that specializes in creating content for the Internet.