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The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist

abstract:What if you were the head of a struggling non-profit that was working for the good of humanity, to stop global hunger, and a top executive at a food conglomerate offered you $50K as a public relations gesture to counter some bad press his company had received lately. Would you accept the check? Fast forward to a meeting in Harlem you are holding that same night where a group of significantly less privileged people have gathered because of your appeal for help for the hungry people in Africa. A tear-choked woman dressed very plainly listens and then, with barely any hesitation, comes forward from the back of the room and joyfully gives the $50 she earned that day doing housework for a white woman. This sets a stream of people in the room to come forward with shouts of glee as they toss their their dollar bills and change into the basket. The gifts that evening total $500.

Remarkably Lynne Twist was that struggling non-profit representative realized at that moment in time that money has a soul. She returned the food executive’s check to him the very next day with a note that went something like, “Dear Sir, I am returning your check to you. Please use it toward a charity that has meaning for you.” Years later when the executive retired, he contacted Ms. Twist, this time to give a far more substantial monetary donation from his own personal funds toward her cause, with the comment “In all my years of business, nothing stuck with me more than your act of returning our donation. Please accept this now, from the bottom of my heart.”

That point illustrated to me the very essence of, The Soul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. Money can be used for good, or it can be used to destroy hope, integrity and incentive. It doesn’t matter how much you have, it is our attitude surrounding money that determines which way the balance tips. We have the power to choose.


October 20, 2009
The other point the author makes is the false prevailing attitude of “not enough” or “more is better.” Like the goldfish risking its life to make it to a bigger bowel pictured left. People work to obtain certain goals such as sustainability, and security, and then they work to achieve a little more wealth; a nicer car, a bigger house, a beautiful watch, luxury vacations… and before you know it, their work and their quest to obtain more wealth, more status, more things—has destroyed the very goal they wanted in the first place—freedom from the worries of not enough, freedom from over-striving for more and more. They discover that they now spend little time with their family, they get less and less pleasure from mounting material goods that their success can buy, they lose site of simple pleasures in life; the joy of spending time, of giving, the joy of giving pleasure or relief from pain to others.

More than just a conscience-stimulant, “The Soul of Money” is a tonic reminder of powerful ways that our attitude toward money can either enrich our relationships or divide us. Consider the number of families who have been destroyed fighting over some asset or future inheritance, both sides tring to manipulate one another. Consider the people who got into the give-me-charity mind-set and stopped trying to find their own way toward a self-sustaining lifestyle where self-respect and integrity and pride in accomplishment were waiting. This brings me to the third point that comes across in Lynn’s book: how NGO’s, aid organizations, non-profits and charities need to change their mindset of “giving just enough” and not inspiring or teaching self sufficiency, developing a true partnership to complete the task from rescue to renewal. There are many examples in the book of her experiences around the world turning poverty stricken regions, communities, and whole sectors of populations into successful, thriving, self-sustaining entities.

She spoke of the conference attendee who read the 300 names of the villagers who donated funds so he could attend. Of the 90% burn victim from India who died a day after describing how her fatal injuries were the result of a failed dowry payment. Of the small business loan that allowed women in a village to start cottage industries that freed them from the burden of having to be subservient wives producing baby after baby because their paychecks allowed them an independent voice in the affairs of their family and to exercise their own free will.

If you want to be inspired, buy this book. If you want to examine the ways that you look at money and determine if you are using it to express your ideals, and to discover meaning—then this is the book for you.

The last story from the book that I want to share is her experience helping her mother set her affairs in order at the end of her mother’s battle with cancer. Knowing she had little time left, and having spent her entire life giving of herself and her wealth, Lynne helped her mother to connect to the very people in her life that at this point made the most difference. She called up the butcher and said how much she appreciated his friendly service and his delicious products that nourished her; she called up the cleaning lady and told her how much she appreciated that she made her home tidy and livable, she called up the mechanic and said how many times he’d kept her from being stranded and dealt fairly with her; she called up the hospice nurses who were now looking after her pain management and her end of life issues so respectfully and tenderly, and she thanked them (this was an agency she had years ago helped to establish with her philanthropic initiative). She invited all these and more people to her funeral, and told them she had reserved a place for them to sit right behind the immediate family, as her guests of honor. It was of course going to be the funeral of a high society woman, attended by far more supposed deserving people, but her words touched them, and when the end came, they did attend her funeral, and listened to the words of appreciation and recognition made publicly to them, giving thanks.

This is the sort of book that makes you take stock of your life, and puts perspective and intention back where it belongs; with our families, with our friends, with our colleagues and with our fellow man, and grows our own humanity.

I want to thank my daughter Emaleah for giving me this book. She is a joy in my life and an inspiration for the depth of wisdom and courage and love she shares each and every day with everyone around her. She is headed off to graduate school in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies to do her Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy. SOAS is part of the London University (to which the London School of Economics is also a facet). I wish her all the best and look forward to seeing where this new gift of knowledge will take her. Love you Em.



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