If you haven’t read part 1 of Jenny’s story from Labors of Love: The Legacy of Inherited Wealth: Part 2, please read the previous post.
[All of this post is in Jenny’s own words.] During those years in graduate school, I was leading two lives—outwardly the educator life, and the more hidden philanthropic life. After I finished my doctorate, I knew I needed to decide which of those worlds I was really going to put my time and energy into. A lot of my fellow students were struggling financially, and I hid the reality of my circumstances from them. But I didn’t like living that way. So I decided to take a year off because I wanted to find out what I was doing what in terms of organizing in terms of organizing the wealthy, promoting philanthropy, and addressing the class divide.
I learned that many people of wealth are hidden, isolated, and troubled about their wealth. I wanted to help people in that frame of mind start to heal their wounds around wealth and get in touch with their power as part of an interconnected whole. I decided to start a consulting business, which I named Class Action. I describe myself as a “donor organizer and philanthropic advisor.” I focus on working with wealthy people here in the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts. People with wealth often feel like they’re spread too thin. They give whenever someone asks them for a donation, so they’re being reactive instead of proactive. I take them through a series of questions to help them get clearer about how they can create boundaries, so that they can give more powerfully and with less doubt.
I’m also doing cross-class work. I often think of myself as a bridge between wealthy people and organizations that don’t have money. About three years ago I co-founded a cross-class group with a friend who’s from a working-class family. We wanted to create a laboratory where all of us could learn more about how class operates in our psyches, in our daily lives, with one another, and in the larger society. We wanted to ask ourselves: What is the power that money has? How can one change one’s life without necessarily having tons of money?
We have four people with wealth, two people from working-class families, and two from dirt-poor backgrounds. We meet once a month for six hours, and we always have a potluck. Everyone does this work with a lot of friendliness, but there is a healthy pointedness about it too. It’s helpful because you get to face your fears about yourself in relation to money. You really do!
I’ve come to realize that, ultimately, you can only be accountable to your own conscience, and that you can’t do what working-class people (or anybody) want you to do, just because they want you to do it.
I have come a long way from the old days of guilt and shame about myself and money. Step by step—by taking action, experimenting, being in dialogue, and being willing to alter my circumstances and my identity—I have come to some sense of peace. Not a peace of stasis, but one that comes from trusting my ongoing commitment to creating a more sustainable world.