by Bob Kenny
The $41 trillion dollar wealth transfer
that is predicted to occur over the next half-century is
a phenomenon that is almost impossible to fully comprehend.
Its magnitude is hard to grasp. However, I believe that
this huge asset transfer from one generation to another
is a sociological event that will shape our society for
far longer than 50 years; I think it will shape the entire
future of humanity. It is my hope that how it will impact
each of us individually, and, in turn, how each of us will
influence our society as a result of what we have received,
will be the topic of much discussion.
We are living in a culture and a time of affluence
unique in history. As a reader of this publication, you
probably have been at least partially affected by the wealth
transfer, perhaps in ways you are not fully aware. We can
use these next 50 years, individually and collectively (in
the words of sociologist Paul Schervish), “to achieve
what is deeper in life.” Or we can succumb, as he
says, to “new temptations toward materialism and superficiality.”
We have choices to make. Unfortunately, as Schervish notes,
“there is no automatic connection between affluence
and wisdom.” (See More Than Money Journal, “Passing
the Torch: The Great Wealth Transfer,” Issue 32, p.
So how do we make wise choices? First, we
need to decide whether or not we are going to enter a discernment
process. More Than Money exists to provide a context, a
place, and a community where you can participate in a process
For myself, contemplating this wealth transfer
has led me to reflect on how I have been personally affected
by it. After college, I taught in a small Catholic high
school for a few years. We were given a small salary, which
I thought of as a stipend. I was teaching while trying to
figure out what to do with my life. It was a great experience.
Along the way, I became interested in how
young people make decisions about social and moral issues.
I was acceptedto study moral reasoning with a famous psychologist
at Harvard. Although I was delighted to be accepted, I had
no idea how I was going to pay for a Harvard tuition bill.
Then a wise and dear family friend offered
to pay for my studies at Harvard. The whole nine yards—tuition,
housing, board, books, all expenses! It was an incredible
gift. I did not realize it at the time, but this gift was
a type of wealth transfer. The beginning of a sociological
event was having an effect on me personally.
“The gift” put me at Harvard,
with everything paid for, plus ample spending money. The
gift was an education in my field of choice that would allow
me many possibilities for the rest of my life. Although,
on the surface, it looked as if I had the perfect life,
the gift helped me realize that having anything I wanted
was not all fun all the time. Like so many people, I believed
that if I had the money to do all the things I wanted to
do, I would be happy, if not ecstatic. When I found out
it was not true, it changed me; and it started to change
the way I made sense of the world. I needed to discern a
path for my future.
Questions started to emerge: Where was my
motivation? Where was my passion? What contribution did
I want to make? The adage, “To whom much is given,
much is expected,” was one I had heard often, and
now it came to mind often. Sure, there were many people
who had been given much more, but there were vastly more
who had been given far less. What did this gift really mean
for me? What was the money for?
As I continued to question, to contemplate,
and to discern, I found that my gift provided me with the
freedom to look beyond myself. My basic needs were taken
care of and I had a great education that ensured I would
be able to find an interesting job and a good livelihood.
I was able to look outward, beyond myself, and in so doing,
to begin to close the gap between where I was, where I wanted
to be, and what I wanted the world to be someday.
The process of discernment helped me understand
that I wanted to make my contribution to the world as a
professional in the “no profit for me” world.
(You might say that I took a “vow of middle class.”)
I made a distinct, conscious choice not to work to acquire
lots of money, but to work in the non-profit world. However,
without “the gift” I am not certain I ever would
have made such a choice. I think it would have been easier
to convince myself that I could not afford to make that
choice. I believe I made a wise decision.
In retrospect, I realize that I needed to
make a wise choice if I had any hope of being happy. In
the last issue of More Than Money Journal, when Paul Schervish
said, “There is no automatic connection between affluence
and wisdom,” he also said that “with affluence,
a large part of decision-making around survival and day-to-day
living is taken care of; the economic problem is solved.
This adds new temptations toward materialism and superficiality,
but it also offers opportunities to achieve what is deeper
in your life.” (p. 7)
The gift I received was modest when viewed
in the context of $41 trillion dollars, yet it gave me the
freedom and the space to go through the process of discernment.
I will be forever grateful for that opportunity “to
achieve what is deeper in [my] life.”
More Than Money as an organization is about
helping people to be mindful of opportunities to achieve
what is deeper in life. It is about challenging the myth
that money is life’s report card. Ultimately, it is
about transforming the world. As each of us discerns how
we will embrace the sociological event of wealth transfer,
we are choosing a path for the future and leaving a mark
on 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.