Catalyst, Great Stories, Philanthropy

A Royal Example

Given that it is December 1st it was appropriate that at our house we had our first fire of the season, roasted chestnuts for the first time ever (mildly disappointing but nostalgic), and listened to Christmas music while enjoying cookies and hot cocoa. At one point in the beauty of the evening I found myself paying more attention to the lyrics of an old Christmas carol than I may ever have before. It may have David Francey‘s plaintive simple voice and Scottish accent, but I heard Good King Wenceslas in a way I never understood it before. We’ve been working on developing a way to encourage joyful generosity for several years. We hope we’re closer than we’ve ever been to presenting something that may be impactful for people to experience the remarkable freedom that comes from giving to others in a way that is both sacrificial and personally transformative. The familiar words of Good King Wenceslas unlocked for me a couple key principles. 1. “Good King Wenceslas looked out” In the middle of what was probably a major celebration, the king paused long enough to notice a peasant far in the distance on a snowy night. Giving requires us to turn our attention beyond ourselves and our familiar people and patterns to see needs that may usually be overlooked. 2. “Hither page and stand by me… yonder peasant who is he?” Wenceslas didn’t assume he knew the man out in the wind and snow, but he knew someone who would know, and he asked their advice. It is easy for those of us who are wealthy (and that is pretty much all of us if we have some perspective), to assume that our success in accumulating money and influence makes us experts in everything. It takes humility to go to someone else and learn from their insight, but it is the best way to avoid embarrassing waste and unintended harm to those we hope to assist. 3. “…when we bear them thither” The king went personally to the peasant. He could have simply sent the page, but he knew both that the page wasn’t strong enough to do the task alone, and that the joy. was going to come not just from assigning the wood and food to be delivered, but from going directly to share a meal. Joy rarely comes from a distance. It takes getting out of our comfortable castles to discover it at fireside with people we easily see as “other”. 4. “Mark my footsteps…” Sharing the giving experience divides the work and multiplies the joy. We can imagine that the page never saw another peasant or snowstorm without being reminded of the blessing that came from blessing the poor. In my fantasy it is the page himself who is the narrator of the song. My role with Catalyst is sometimes that of the page, helping my employers to understand and respond to the needs we notice. I am spoiled to work with and for a family who are sincere in their desire to give, who have the willingness to reduce their lifestyle to allow them to give more, and who are continually discovering that their is uncommon joy to be found in giving that makes it of greater worth to them than anything else they could do with those funds. Best of the season to you and yours.