Did you miss our Speaker Series on March 27th? You have to read Regina Rosen’s inspiring speech!
“Together is the operative word. It is a collaborative effort in every way.”
Written by: Regina (Gini) Rosen
Twenty five years ago, some Kingstonians had a vision. Arising out of a “Dare to Dream” conference aimed at discovering ways to best serve our community, several dedicated citizens formed the Martello Tower Society, which ultimately became the Community Foundation for Kingston & Area. Among those forward-thinking people were our co-founders, Eveline Flint and Michael Davies, who was introduced to the concept by the Lord Mayor of London, England.
As you already know, in the simplest of terms the Foundation raises money from generous donors, invests it conscientiously, and grants the earnings to worthy not-for-profit groups – who do good work. But that’s just the bare bones.
One of our many parallel missions is to encourage and to be a catalyst for philanthropy. Generally, philanthropy is thought of as a synonym for donating money. But it is much broader than that. The dictionary of Canadian English includes these two additional definitions. 1) Philanthropy is a love of mankind shown by practical kindness and helpfulness. 2) Philanthropy is the effort or inclination to increase human well-being. Ideas expanded way beyond dollars.
The founding members of CFKA dared to “dream the dream” that has become us. How did they, and all those who followed them, do it? And a question we rarely ask: What were they thinking?
My role here today is to re-tell a bit of our history; to take a more in-depth look at the work we do and the subsequent impact we have had on our community. But I am not going to give usual talk outlining a bunch of “impressive” numbers and “meaningful” statistics and “amazing” stories. Although they certainly exist in abundance, you can find all of that information in the 20th Anniversary Edition of Ripples which we invite you to read for reference. Instead, please join me on a philosophical journey.
I recently saw David Brooks of the New York Times interviewed on PBS’ Charlie Rose. That day his message was: “Ideas drive behaviour.” A society, a community, or an organization is formed by the way it thinks. Brooks talked about the way Social Capital creates a spirit of hope and optimism in society. Those two words touched my heart as it brought back fond memories of one of our most illustrious board members, the late Henry Meyer. He frequently reminded us that the Foundation not only deals in financial capital, but more importantly, in social capital. Because social capital best addresses what ails society: isolation, separation, division and gaps.
Brooks then went on to say if ideas drive behaviour – today’s society chose the wrong philosophers. So, he offered an alternate set of philosophers whose core principles reflect a more enlightened society. Those names share more deeply the core principals of the Foundation and offer insight into why we do what we do.
Brooks began: The current society chose John Stuart Mill who believed we live and should live as individuals, with individual concerns. Then Brooks said we should have chosen, Martin Buber, who in his book: I and Thou speaks about relationships: humans as “communitarians.” I just love that word. Although I never heard it before I immediately realised that everybody who works for/ or with/ or is a beneficiary of/ the Community Foundation is a “communitarian.” It is not a religion like Unitarians, or an organization like Rotarians, it is a philosophy to live by. In invite everyone to be a “communitarian.”
Then Brooks said: society chose Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern Utilitarianism. Bentham proposed that for humankind “It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.” When we should have followed Victor Frankel, who in his book: Man’s Search for Meaning says: “What motivates us is to do good and lead a meaningful life.”
Lastly, Brooks said society chose Rene’ Descartes, who, by saying “I think therefore I am” declared that humans are primarily cognitive, rational creatures. When we should have chosen St. Augustine – who believed we are emotional and loving creatures.
Back to Bentham for a moment and seeking “happiness.” People are always asking: Am I happy? How do I get happiness? People perform a whole variety of things – including trying to buy it – that focus on their own needs. But it always leads to failure and disappointment: because it is not the right question. The right question is how do I find meaning in my life? How do I connect and contribute to things beyond myself? That’s how we understand and create clarity in our lives and everyone else’s.
At the outset I asked what were our founders thinking? I believe they thought about the ideas of Buber, Frankel and St. Augustine when they launched this venture.
I recently heard a lecture about the ancient Sumerian tale: The Epic of Gilgamesh which is considered the first recorded piece of great literature. The speaker questioned what was it about? Although it is a very, very long and complicated story, at is core it is about a young man, Gilgamesh, who asks “How do I live – knowing I will die?” At the end of the epic, the hero realises that not only is it a sufficient answer, but the only, is to seek meaning in his life.
And what we do together at the Foundation is meaningful. Together is the operative word. It is a collaborative effort in every way. Everybody can participate and everybody is needed. Donations range from $25 to $1 million and everything in-between. Money comes from industry, commerce and individuals, and we attract support daily. The attraction is that we never forget that we are in the heartfelt business of giving away money. Martin Luther said: “The heart of the giver makes the gift dear and precious.”
There have been lots of quotes, but may I leave you with one more before I end. Andy Warhol said, “They say that time changes things; but actually you have to change them yourself.” As the Foundation continues to grow we are extremely grateful to those who have so generously given your time, support and money to impact “change for the better.” Addressing the issues, the needs, the innovative ideas and the dreams of our community is big work indeed.
All of us who support the Foundation feel that we have been given a gift: the gift is the opportunity to create that positive change. Everyone: staff, committee members, Board of Directors, donors who make it possible, and in particular the grant recipients who use our grants to do the real work. All of us are part of this great dynamic enterprise of positive change .That’s where we started; that’s what we do; that’s who we are.