More Than Money
Issue #30
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When Differences Divide

Table of Contents

“Our Differences Can Change the World”

by Bob Kenny

Americans are an argumentative bunch. The shouting can be traced all the way back to the revolution, when the colonists decided to pick a fight with their British kin about money and government. Because the colonists ended with the last word, a country was born—one based on what could only be described as the mother of all family arguments.

And the arguing didn't stop when the last redcoat left. The Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, indeed every aspect of what became the new American government, was created on the basis of—and in anticipation of—argument, disagreement, and even bloodshed. (Does anyone remember why Hamilton and Burr were feuding in the first place?) Out of this bickering came some of the most profound, eloquent, and durable covenants in the history of humanity.

Let's take the Declaration of Independence as an example. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he put down on paper some basic moral principles that were shared by many colonists. Those words resonated then, and continue to do so. Those basic moral principles help us argue about important issues, such as racism and sexism, even today.

I would suggest that vision and its successful achievement—whether in a country, in an organization, or in a family—is vitally connected to moral principle. When we speak to people's moral sense, as Thomas Jefferson did so eloquently with the Declaration of Independence, something powerful happens. People get charged up and motivated in powerful ways. The Declaration of Independence incited a riot, which turned into a revolution, and that was precisely its intent. Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers were interested in fundamentally changing the way people thought about government.

At More Than Money, we have a similar mission. We want to change the way people think about money and wealth. So let's take a closer look at who these Founding Fathers were. Besides Jefferson, there were John Hancock, Henry Lee, Robert Livingston, and Jonathan Witherspoon, to name a few. All were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and all were extremely wealthy individuals. George Washington was one of the three wealthiest men in the country when he became our first president.

I can't help but wonder: If these men were alive today, would they be members of More Than Money? They recognized certain moral principles, and the importance of acting on them—what we might call moral courage. At More Than Money, we try to help people think about their own moral principles and how they can act on them—express their moral courage, if you will—in ways that can create a more joyful, just, and sustainable world. Or, said another way, create a world that can foster "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The final line of the Declaration of Independence reads: "We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Jefferson and company signed a document that supported their principles, and then went public with that document for the world to see. As Bill Sullivan of the Carnegie Institute put it, this was not a limited-liability contract. It was a fullblown covenant made to each other to support and do the right thing, for now and for posterity.

Sometimes arguments and disagreements can change the world. The adventure comes in working out these differences, and in what the differences allow us to become. In identifying and sharing some basic moral principles—as individuals, as families, as communities —we can draft a roadmap for how to live and behave in the world.

Bob Kenny, Ed.D., is the executive director of More Than Money. For more than 20 years, he has worked with individuals, communities, and organizations to identify and address the gaps between their stated values and the reality of their lives.