Steps Towards a More Human Future
Many good things in our world require money to accomplish ; many good people have needs that require money they don’t have. Many chronic problems exist in the world, and special problems – earthquakes, drought, floods, tsunamis - arise all the time. All these require money, which, for most people, is in short supply. The finances of our governments are such presently that they often simply can't meet these problems and needs. Whether governments even should address these issues, is in the meantime vigorously debated. The question is pressing - and becomes more so : how, legitimately, in a world of seven billion people, can these many needs be met ?
One solution clearly won’t fit all situations – but why not make a start with at least part of this large question ?
Three kinds of money
Money itself takes essentially three main forms – namely :
- Purchase money for goods and services
- Loan money, to fund projects and enterprises of many kinds ; and
- Gift money, including philanthropy
The basis for establishing fair and correct prices for goods and services ; the flow and availability of capital as loan money – these are important themes to consider. For now however, I’d like to review the threefold social idea of Rudolph Steiner, as discussed elsewhere at Living Waters Wellness, as a starting point to explore the third kind of money, and third area of interest concerning human need : purposeful, systematic gifting and philanthropy.
Three key spheres of human life
Human culture, in Steiner’s view, consists of three main areas of activity, namely :
The sphere of rights
Rights, in this “ threefold “ perspective, concern the regulation of conflicts in human relationships ; specifically, infringements on the safety or well being of one group or individual by another individual or group. To be free from such infringements is a basic need of every human being. In the threefold perspective, “ right’s life “ concerns the effort to ensure safety of this kind for all human beings on an equal basis, regardless of economic or social status.
Within the threefold organism of society, economic life concerns the basic needs of life of all human beings : food, shelter, clothing, and all else that has to do with maintaining the physical needs of life. It includes the production and distribution of goods, the relationships that arise around these activities, and the communication processes necessary to establish them. Because the needs to be met in economic life are common to all people, the necessary condition of this sphere is a spirit of brotherhood, cooperation and goodwill.
Within the threefold social organism, spiritual-cultural life has to do with all that human beings bring to each other on the basis of individual gifts and abilities. This includes the realms of religious, spiritual, philosophical and moral insight, teaching and education, medicine and healing, the arts, and creativity and invention in all their many forms. The special requirement of the spiritual-cultural life is freedom ; namely that each individual may develop and contribute his or her own abilities without interference ; and may choose his or her own vocation as teacher, scientist, healer etc, freely and without hindrance.
In Steiner’s threefold understanding of society, the areas of rights, economic and spiritual-cultural life each unfold their strength best when they work independently. He recommends at first, therefore, a radical separation of the three spheres - or more exactly, a radical reduction of influence and interference of one sphere on the activity of the others. This initial separation, Steiner indicates, will prepare the basis for a later fruitful interaction and cooperation among the three, which will promote the optimal health of society.
What each sphere contributes
Rights life. When active and effective, rights life creates conditions of safety, dignity and freedom, in which social life can unfold in an optimal way. Rules and agreements that reduce undue harm, coercion or infringement upon freedom within society, create conditions for both economic and spiritual cultural life to thrive. They build and protect a space within which the individual human being can unfold “a life worth living “. Over time, they reduce harm and expense to society, e.g. from crime and direct oppression of one person or group by another ; but also from unfair or destructive economic practices, environmental contamination etc.
Economic life establishes conditions for the material survival and well being of society. In this realm of life, human beings work creatively with materials received from the earth, transforming them into goods and products, increasing their value and usefulness. Methods that increase efficiency in the production and distribution of goods evolve constantly, and enhance this effect. Applied knowledge of natural processes, technology, the needs and nature of the human being, all contribute to satisfaction of man’s earthly needs.
Beyond the meeting of human physical needs, economic life also has this special characteristic : that by adding value to what nature provides, it has a tendency and capacity to create wealth.
Spiritual-cultural life. The special contribution of the spiritual-cultural life to the threefold social organism, is to enhance the quality of human life. Education, the arts, healing work, religious and spiritual life, research, scholarship, skilled communication and technical invention all have this in common. Arising in the inner world of the human being, the spiritual-cultural life radiates benefits outward into society.
This radiating effect is often not noticed or valued properly, because it is subtle. It does not generate products for human beings to use, but rather unlocks and cultivates potentials in them. It preserves what is good and what is possible in the human being, and builds a bridge for it to become actual.
The benefits of spiritual-cultural life to society may appear only in part in the present ; their more complete effects in the longer course of time. In its best manifestation, spiritual-cultural life creates a good and human future for our lives and our society.
It should be mentioned that the threefold ideas was not presented by Steiner as a utopian plan or prescription for society, nor as a reaction to any other social theory. The initial strict separation of influences of one sphere upon another, and their later interactions were also not intended as a rigid rule or formula. The threefold social idea was presented rather as a scientific observation of the actual nature of society ; and of relationships that will naturally arise and generate social health, as soon as they receive the chance.
Spiritual cultural and economic life : a special relationship
The economic sphere produces goods and products - but we can also ask : how ? What factors contribute to success in economic life ?
Sufficient natural resources are of course a necessity, if economic life is to prosper ; also sufficient capital ; and conditions of peace and safety in the place where work is carried out. These are the familiar elements of economic life. Yet there’s also more.
The economic sphere has a continuous need for people : people who are well educated and healthy, have good judgment and are ethical ; are flexible, creative, able to work cooperatively with others. It needs the results of research of various kinds, expertise from the realms of technology, finance, the law. Economic life depends continuously on the abilities of individuals – abilities groomed and cultivated in the spiritual-cultural realm of life.
It’s very little noticed in our society, but the economic sphere depends highly on the spiritual cultural realm for a skilled, educated, well prepared work force.
Where does wealth go ?
As noted earlier, when activities of economic life go well and successfully, they tend to generate wealth. What becomes of this wealth ?
In our prevailing world economic system, the greatest share goes to those who organize, manage and finance economic life ; people who may feel themselves its main drivers and creative agents. Practically speaking, ever more wealth settles into these relatively few hands ; more, very probably than they need or could actually ever spend ; wealth that will accrue to any number of future generations of their families.
In such a system one’s perspective – and perception of others – can become distorted. Self interest becomes the core value, competition the core method, personal gain the core goal. The concept of brotherhood seems a quaint and unrealistic notion here ; cooperation and goodwill expendable ; as may be large portions of the slower, less clever remainder of society.
A further, near irresistible temptation where great wealth is at stake, is for economic interests to intervene in government and politics – in the threefold perspective, the sphere of rights. Money spent to support friendly candidates, influence policy or public opinion, creates enormous leverage - money seemingly extremely well spent. But this concentration of wealth and power has its risks.
In an economy of global scale, the effects of any error or misconduct within this relatively small controlling group tend to magnify. On the fringes of the world economy, meanwhile, millions walk a knife’s edge of poverty, depending between life and death on fluctuations of interest or currency rates, commodity prices, the rise of fall of distant stock markets. Any error of concepts, insight, judgment at the top – not to mention any criminal activity – can jeopardize the whole system. The collapse of the financial derivatives bubble of 2008 - and the worldwide credit crisis it triggered - are a frightening example.
The case for philanthropy
As noted earlier, the gifts of the spiritual-cultural life to society are indirect ; their full value unfolds only over time, and may go unnoticed. It's perhaps for this reason that in hard economic times, when production and consumption of material goods recede, spending on the spiritual-cultural aspects of life tends to fall so dramatically ; that such fierce pressure is brought to bear on governments to withdraw from programs serving spiritual-cultural life, such as publicly funded education and medical care. But whether it's right or wrong in the long term for government to be involved in this realm of life, funds have been lost which have not been replaced from other sources.
The spiritual-cultural realm also has a more basic problem. In this sphere of life, payment is most often in terms of “fees for services rendered”. But the activities of spiritual cultural life – for simple examples, the teaching of children or the care of the sick - do not by nature create wealth. In the very best of times, income from fees will not be enough to fund the building of a school or hospital, buy equipment and furniture, fund research, provide grants and scholarships, or any number of other capital or special needs. Extra needs will always arise, for which funding must be found.
In the meantime, as noted above, the economic life is dependent on the spiritual-cultural life : dependent for the fruits of science and research ; for educated, healthy workers, creative workers, ethically and morally sound workers, to name just a few needed characteristics. And economic life, by its very nature generates wealth.
It's not just a matter of self interest therefore, that the economic sphere should contribute to the needs of science, education, medicine ; to the preparation and well being of its work force : not only fair and reasonable, but possible. The means to help are always flowing to hand.
Beyond the fair needs of economic life to develop and maintain itself, simple insight would indicate that the needs of the spiritual-cultural life are an optimal destination for wealth created in the economic sphere. This, in short, is the case for philanthropy.
Important as they are, gifting and philanthropy cannot rightly be coerced ; rather they should be done out of insight. The work of corporate and private foundations is at least in part a manifestation of this, with the philanthropy of billionaire Ted Turner, and at his encouragement, that of fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, as recent examples. But in the big picture, in a world of seven billion people, philanthropy remains relatively sporadic and weak. What insights and social forms are needed, for it to better reach its potential ?
Any philanthropic transaction has two parties – a donor and a recipient. To optimize this process, therefore, will take work on both sides.
Rudolf Steiner suggested to those in spiritual-cultural life, that they could hope to find financial backing for their work when :
- They organized themselves into corporations
- They could competently and effectively manage not just their spiritual cultural work, but their own finances, administration and outreach tasks
- The organization can find the “right way of working.” This includes both relationships and processes within the group ; an atmosphere of respect, communication and cooperation ; vigilance concerning quality of the service offered ; and freedom, in accord with the needs of spiritual-cultural life. Secrecy, lies, the exercise of power, on the other hand, may be the death of an organization.
- “The right person is in the right position”. That is, when for each post and task in the organization, the truly right and most appropriate person is found. This fits with Steiner’s indication that in spiritual-cultural life, leadership should be on the basis of ability ; that among fellow practitioners in an area of work, the leader should be whomever has the best expertise at that work. Likewise with all positions in such an organization.
Spiritual-cultural institutions can fall short of this in various ways : when positions are filled on the basis of power or internal politics ; as a reward or punishment ; because someone "has always done it", or because “no one else wants to do it”. Particularly toxic is the importing of an expert from the economic life to “set the institution in order” - often by reducing personnel, salaries or services. Quality is immediately sacrificed, and this often begins a downward spiral.
Health in the areas noted must naturally be a priority within a spiritual cultural venture - and no less so for donors selecting parties to help. Also implicit would be the question whether the organization does something truly relevant and needed by society ; and that in fact it does no social harm.
Donor organizations may not fairly attach strings or tamper with the freedom of those to whom they donate ; but they do need to find suitable recipients, and to know to whom and what they donate. Recipient organizations for their part, need to present themselves to donors – ethically and factually, to be sure, but also in an attractive, appealing way. As these tasks require quite special skills, both donor and recipient organizations do well to create specialized teams for this - again with care that "the right person is in the right position. "
Needed : a shift in thinking
Anyone who does fundraising know that donors give willingly for buildings and equipment – but less so for ongoing programs. The assumption is that the recipient, usually a non-profit organization, should manage its money well enough to handle “operating expenses” on its own. But as noted above, these organizations do not meet their needs on the basis of fees for service. And in our current hard economic times, alternative ways to meet these needs are shrinking fast.
As a result, spiritual-cultural life - and its practitioners - find themselves under relentless financial pressure. If fees are too high, private individuals simply cannot pay them. If governments pay for services, they press constantly for a lower price. Government support for research, grants and scholarships, in the meantime, is also seriously on the wane. And, where economic life interacts with spiritual-cultural life, its guiding motive is most often profit : it wants what it wants from spiritual-cultural life, when it wants it, at the price it wants it, and in the quantities it wants it.
Spiritual-cultural work is almost universally undervalued. Why ? Again : because its benefits to society are only seen in part. A child learns to read - a patient is treated and can return to work. These are of course good things - but their full value and effects unfold only in the course of time.
Spiritual-cultural work - and those who do it - are in this way like a seed of grain, which may later produce a hundred seeds - or an apple, whose seeds may one day a thousands apples. Our mistake is to think of them only as food we eat today, as commodities ; and we expect to have them cheap. This lapse of thinking is almost universal ; and a key reason spiritual-cultural life is in such grave danger.
To have a real future, spiritual-cultural life will need help. How can we best prepare the earth for this seed - support the young growing plant ? Help must come at least in part from a vigorous, transformed philanthropy. The impulse and enthusiasm for this arise when we see in full what spiritual-cultural life gives to society. This can hardly be reviewed enough :
- When directed towards human beings, it unlocks our full human potential
- When directed towards the materials and substances of the earth, it produces inventions and innovations which improve our quality of life
- Its contributions tend to radiate, and to multiply. A single gifted individual may unlock, encourage, redeem the potential of many individuals. A single invention or innovation may benefit the entire world
Philanthropy can look further than buildings and equipment, to what happens in the building, what is done with the equipment ; it can ask earnestly : who are the people who do the work, and what are their real needs ? How can we best help ?
Growing a healthy future
In economic life, the success of a business is said to depend on " location, location, location." Advertising – skillful external presentation of products and services – is also crucial, as it extends “location” to the minds and imagination of customers - even those who may be quite far away. In spiritual-cultural life, public relations and fundraising play this same role ; except that here an organization’s “customers” also include its donors. Organizations that do spiritual-cultural work must see to these tasks if they hope to survive - with as ever the caveat, “the right persons in the right position”.
For donors, to find appropriate recipients to help is a reconnaissance task, similar to marketing research. Instead of seeking markets and customers to sell to, they here seek the right party to give to. Suitable candidate groups, as seen above, will combine :
- A needed and relevant service to society
- Capable, competent practitioners (“right person in the right position”)
- An ethical and harmonious group process (“right way of working”)
- An outward directed orientation : that is, an actual desire to share its concepts, expand services or reach a wider audience
Over time, donors will evolve a fine eye and ear for appropriate candidates. How loyal is the organization’s client group ? How real the results or effects of the service rendered ? An example might be a college professor to whom students flock, on the word of mouth recommendation of other students. Such phenomena are quite honest testimonials, “pictures worth a thousand words”. At the other extreme was a conversation Rudolf Steiner once had with a lower grades child in a Waldorf School. When asked his experience of his eurythmy class, the child replied that when the teacher taught, it “turns the spit sour in your mouth.” Suffice it to say, the eurythmy teacher was taken to task !
Again, donors must not expect to have control over, nor derive financial benefit from the help they provide. And for donors too, rightly skilled persons must be found for this reconnaissance work.
Different kinds of philanthropic support
To build continuity and stability, it helps to think not just in terms of present needs and projects, but of more long term, or even permanent categories of need. To attract interest and donations to such categories, and to focus and structure effort, endowments can be established for them. Both donor and recipient organizations can create such endowments. When developed properly, donor-recipient communications concerning these may become remarkably efficient and effective.
“Service recipient” endowments. Practitioners in spiritual-cultural life often face the dilemma that for one reason or another, the client (e.g. a doctor’s patient) is unable to pay for the service received. This may be known at the start, or happen once service is underway. Awkward as this is for the service provider, and hard to bear financially, the consequences for the client may be far worse.
Society’s interest in helping such people is most often seen only in dollar terms. We tend to tire of the disadvantaged, to see them as a burden. Conventional thinking tends to harden into the attitude “who cannot pay, must do without”, and assume the disadvantaged brought this on themselves. While it’s true life gives no guarantees, that our mistakes and what we fail to do have consequences ; while it’s reasonable to expect people to be responsible for themselves, the number of uneducated children worldwide, of sick people inadequately treated, of people living in poverty through no real fault of their own, has grown rapidly in recent years.
The lost potential and contribution of one such person to the world, and the effects on the person him or herself, are easy to overlook ; but the loss of tens of millions of such units, of hundreds of millions, and the effect of this on our world, cannot be ignored.
We established above that it’s in society’s vital interest to nurture and protect human capacities, to take care these assets are not lost. This orientation is a positive, forward looking one wherever it appears. It underlies the recovery model of mental health care. It also manifests wonderfully in the Camphill movement for persons with developmental disabilities, and the parallel sheltered workshop movement in Europe. Here persons with disabilities are not just economically productive, but may unfold abilities unsuspected, which might otherwise have been lost.
Such initiatives contribute to the health of all humanity. This may extend even to the dollar cost to society. A professor of special education, a leader in her field, once had an interesting comment in this regard. She asked our class what we thought, in the long run, would be the least expensive way to care for children with special needs. After some awkward moments of silence, she answered her own question :
“The best possible care at the earliest possible moment”
This is a statement to think about carefully, as it has relevance for all areas of spiritual-cultural life. To support or recover the individual human being, that person’s potential, is not just noble or desirable in an abstract sense : it’s cost effective.
Practitioner training endowments. Those who work in spiritual-cultural life must be trained in their work – a sometimes long, expensive process. In recent years, tuitions for education have risen steadily, while government educational grants and scholarships have declined. Loans for students have in the meantime been aggressively and even unscrupulously marketed by lenders, with the result that students start their careers already deeply in debt. The alternatives are that students either delay their education, or must work as much as full time during their studies.
It makes more sense that students begin their studies as soon as they’re ready ; that they have full attention available for their studies ; and that afterward, they begin contributing to society with the least possible encumbrance. The same is true for practitioners already in the field, in their continuing education needs.
For donors, it might seem a leap of faith to support students who may in some cases be young, untried as to their character and work habits, and possibly not even suited for the chosen field of work. Aptitude testing, volunteer experience and pre-training internships in the chosen area will go far to address such concerns
“Your name here” organizational endowments. In suggesting that people in spiritual-cultural life organize themselves into “corporations”, Rudolf Steiner recommended they take full responsibility for their own practical administration. This makes sense, as administrative decisions then proceed from the closest possible awareness of the work at hand, of its real nature and needs. Not every practical task need be done by a practitioner of the spiritual-cultural work the corporation does - by a teacher, doctor, research scientist, etc ; there is only a need for oversight and direction. Examples of this kind of work include :
- Office and clerical tasks
- Bookkeeping and finance
- Practical matters like maintenance and repairs
Work more related to the core tasks of the corporation - public outreach, program development, the hiring of teachers, doctors or nurses, researchers etc - require experience and expertise specific to that branch of spiritual-cultural work. Fundraising is a special case. It requires a specific vocation for fundraising, and a gift for communication ; yet it often fails when done by an "outside expert". To succeed, fundraising needs the authentic voice and close familiarity of someone who knows - and has done - the work.
The many activities just noted are all critical in order for the corporation to function ; but the related costs - wages, salaries, supplies – present a problem, as no “fees for service” can be charged for them. But these expenses must be covered. How to accomplish this ?
As noted previously, donors often balk at supporting the operating expenses of an organization ; but this is in fact what’s needed. Donors must of course be prudent in evaluating any need or request brought to them ; they must be able to justify what they do. But our situation asks us to look again at our thinking. We find the justification we need when we look at the larger social organism, the reciprocal relationships it contains.
In economic life, as we’ve seen, wealth arises when skilled attention is applied to the materials of the earth - to how they're obtained, processed and worked with. The various steps by which “materials” become “products” enhance their value ; our ingenious machines and distribution systems permit mass production, and multiply these units of value. This chain of activities enables economic life to generate wealth.
Spiritual-cultural life does not have this character, but it contributes what economic life cannot : knowledge, science, innovation, and the healthy, educated, creative individuals of whom economic life has constant need. That economic life should contribute from its surplus what spiritual-cultural life lacks, and so chronically needs - namely, capital – is not just desirable, but reasonable and possible. It is justified.
These observations are important, as they build a bridge of thinking for spiritual-cultural life, between its pressing need for support, and direct practical action : perhaps one strong enough for the traffic of a world seven billion strong.
The ideas we’ve discussed can apply, once worked out practically, to the gifting activity of businesses and corporations, even the largest such entities ; but this does not rule out personal philanthropy. One only hopes this can be done with the maximum creativity. What’s needed is an attentive, even artistic eye for the value of what those around us give, who work in the spiritual-cultural life ; and at the same time for their needs. This can result in a gift or pledge of money, but also in one of recognition : in a personal word of appreciation, in active referrals, in informing others of a service in a positive way. Whatever form it takes, at best this will be steadfast and dependable.
An idea which becomes an ideal
Rudolf Steiner once stated that every idea which does not become an ideal in us, kills a force in our souls ; but that every idea which becomes an ideal, creates forces of life. What is an ideal ?
An ideal is an idea of which we feel, “This must become real ; this must be established in the real world.” It's something we don’t just understand and feel, but follow through on with sustained action.
Thus when the threefold social idea and a transformed philanthropy based in it, become ideals for us, they can infuse health not just into the life of society, but into us as well - into our whole being !
Article by : Jeff Smith RN
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For more on the social ideas of Rudolf Steiner, also explore books and lectures such as :
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