Tuesday, March 2, 2010

book review: The Power of Half

The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back 
After reading Nicholas Kristof's intriguing New York Times column about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. Kristof's column provides a lovely introduction to the book. The story is a fascinating one. This family decided to sell their house, buy a smaller one (at half the price) and give the difference to charity. The book tells the story of how this family came to this decision and how they chose where to give their money.

It's not a touchy feely, over the top, inspiring book. It is inspiring, but it's inspiring in such an attainable way. The Salwens are quite honest about their finances. They were living in a $2 million home. They downsized their family of four into a $900,000 home in the same neighborhood. Sacrifice is a very personal thing. The Salwens recognize simultaneously how much and how little they did. It was a crazy idea, but they also talk about how easy it was to do (except for actually finding a buyer for their home).

I enjoyed this book in different ways than I expteced to.First, as someone who lived in Atlanta for years, I enjoyed the local flavor of the Salwens' story a great deal. I appreciated the adaptation of their message. They recognize their choice is not one everyone could make, but they do encourage the power of half in some way. If your family watches four hours of television together each night, cut that in half and find some way to do something more interactive together or give back. It's an adaptable message, and it's beauty truly is in its simplicity. Lastly, I was surprised how much I learned from the way Kevin and Joan parent. Mr. Nomadreader and I are still at least a few years away from having kids, but our vision of familyhood and parenting are quite similar to what the Salwens have done, except, of course, our ideas are simply ideas, and they've found ways to enact them.

The most interesting part of the book was the Salwens' journey deciding where and how to spend the money. We all have the desire to change the world (I still harbor illusions of this truth, even though it is admittedly buried more deeply in some than others), but no one wants to feel futile. The how is the hardest part. Kevin, the father, tells the story, but each chapter features two pages from Hannah, their oldest daughter. Hannah includes a children and teen friendly activity in each one.

Here's one of Hannah's takes:
Hannah's Take: Believe You Can Make a Difference
by Kevin and Hannah Salwen,
Authors of The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

About 111 women die of breast cancer every day in the United States. A million teenagers get pregnant each year. Someone dies every thirty-one minutes because of drunken drivers. I'm not writing this to bum you out. But you might be thinking, There are so many problems, there's no way that I or any one person could solve anything.

When civil-rights activist Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a public bus in 1955, she never dreamed of the impact she would have on millions of lives. "I didn't have any idea just what my actions would bring about," she said years later. "At the time I was arrested I didn't know how the community would react." The reason Ms. Parks didn't get up is that she knew the racist laws were wrong.

Rosa Parks is just one of the thousands of influential people whose actions changed the views of many people today. Think about Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Greg Mortenson, John Woolman, Madame Curie (if you don't know them, check them out; they're all remarkable). Sometimes small acts significantly affect a large group of people. But even when they don't, they can have a big influence, maybe on just one individual.

So don't get discouraged because you can't solve a whole problem alone. As the British philosopher Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." I know exactly what he was talking about. Before our family project I kept telling myself that no matter how hard I tried or how much money I gave, I would never be able to fully solve any of the world's big problems. When I worked at Café 458, the Atlanta restaurant for homeless men and women, I saw dozens of people come in looking depressed and lonely. But still I didn't see them as individuals, but instead as a group, "the homeless."

Then one day at Café 458 I heard two homeless men talking about a college basketball game that I had watched with my dad the night before. I snapped to the realization that these people are people. How stupid and rude I had been to see them as different from me. I realize now that having that epiphany was a big step for me. In that split second of comprehension, I switched from seeing them as a group of people to viewing them as individuals. When I started seeing people in need as individuals, the problem of homelessness and hunger seemed smaller and I felt like I could make more of a difference. I also started believing that I could help because the problem was on a personal level.


Think of a person from your community who inspires you. Look beyond his or her specific actions to the kind of qualities that person brings to work or volunteer activities. For example, some people are better at creating new programs than at actually putting them into action; other people are doers, ready to take someone else's ideas and run with them. Is that aunt in your family a problem-solver? A good listener? An inspirer? 

Now think about your strengths in the same light. If you took your best characteristics out into the world, how could you use them to make a difference? Are you patient? Maybe you would be a good tutor. Are you musical? Maybe you could be playing the guitar at a nursing home (and bringing your family along to sing -- no talent required). We all have gifts the world can use.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back by Kevin and Hannah Salwen. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2010 Kevin and Hannah Salwen, authors of
The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back
Want to know more? Amazon has an interview with Kevin and Hannah, pictures from their journey and a letter from Kevin.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Pages: 256 pages
Publication date: February 10, 2010
Source: I received a copy for review from the Publisher via FSB Associates (thank you!)

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm....I think this would annoy me more than anything, lol. But that's good that you enjoyed it! :)


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