the word go forth from this time and place . . . that the
torch has been passed to a new generation . . . ”
—John Fitzgerald Kennedy, January 20, 1961
too young to remember much about President Kennedy’s
inaugural address, in which he declared the passing of the
torch to a new generation of Americans. However, like so
many others of my generation, I’ve seen the video—as
well as the excitement and vision in the eyes of those who
were the first to join the Peace Corps, asking not what
their country could do for them, but what they could do
for their country. Whatever one’s politics, JFK’s
energy and vigor, and impassioned eloquence, set a new generation
of Americans ablaze with the passion to offer themselves
and their service to a higher cause.
some 40 years later, John F. Kennedy’s generation
is at the forefront of those who are readying themselves
to pass on another kind of torch.
by John Havens and Paul Schervish of the Social Welfare
Research Institute recently confirmed the figures of the
greatest wealth transfer in history: At least $41 trillion
dollars is expected to pass from one generation to another
over the next 55 years. That’s not just through inheritance,
and it’s not just at death—it also includes
philanthropic giving and taxes—but the point is, one
way or another it will get transferred to someone else.
has been made of this large numerical figure. After all,
it is unprecedented in our history. Some see it as heralding
a “golden age of philanthropy.” Others point
out that the average “transfer” to individual
heirs is hardly the amount envisioned when one hears the
However, to my mind, the more significant aspect of Havens
and Schervish’s research is what it tells us about
our potential as humans, and about the capacity of wealth
to lead us into that potential, individually and collectively.
and Schervish conclude that, “the leading cultural
and spiritual question of the current era is how to make
wise decisions in a time of affluence.” In his interview
in this issue, Professor Schervish expands on this statement,
explaining that the age of affluence we live in is characterized,
increasingly, by choice. Greater choice, he says, does not
in itself guarantee happiness—only choosing wisely
does. As wealth increases, people do not necessarily become
happier, because they do not necessarily become wiser (in
fact, their “What if wealth exists in order to lead
us to wisdom?” opportunity to make foolish and negligent
choices also increases), but the conditions for learning
wisdom present themselves in the very circumstances of the
expanded choices that come with wealth.
implications of this are not merely intriguing; they are,
in fact, momentous: What if wealth—by compelling us
to confront new questions and learn discernment —can
make us both happier and wiser than we already are? And
what if, on the evolutionary scale of things, that is a
fundamental “purpose” of wealth? What if wealth
to lead us to wisdom—if we
choose to use it for that purpose?
issue we present people who are trying to be wise, people
reflecting on some of the questions that arise when one
starts to wonder how best to pass on wealth to others, whether
it be material, emotional, or spiritual: What should I leave
my heirs? Who are my heirs, anyway? How much should I leave
philanthropically? Should I give it now or in a bequest
at my death? How do I leave money or property to family
and not cause a fight? How do I prepare the next generation
to handle wealth? What else do I want to leave besides money?
What legacy do I hope to leave—not just to my family,
but to the world?
journal issue begins to address these questions. It is intended
as a conversation starter—something to point you toward
resources, raise questions, and stimulate your thinking.
As always, we offer a variety of viewpoints, because it
is in hearing others’ views that we are prodded to
look more deeply at our own. As we sincerely reflect on
the array of choices available to us, we increase our capacity
does passing the torch mean to you? When you pass on your
wealth, will you also pass on wisdom?
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