It's a Living. Part I: David's Saga. Episode 15: Giving Wisely

Neural network. Computer artwork of the brain's neural network represented by lines and flashes. A neural network is made up of
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In the previous episode of our fictional saga, David and Susan had quite the fireside chat: from whether work-life balance is overrated to whether their mismatched sex drives could be fixed. In the end, they changed the topic to something easier: trying to figure out a wise way to volunteer.

David opened the discussion: "The foundational question is whether it's better to serve the neediest, which is what pulls at your heartstrings, or to serve those with the greatest potential to profit, like when medics on the battlefield triage, allocating their limited resources to the people they're most likely to save."

"But when there are people starving in Africa, can you justify helping gifted kids in America?"

"Actually, yes. Help the gifted and you're more likely to create a ripple effect. The gifted have the most potential to be wise leaders in government, nonprofits, companies. They're the ones with the best chance of curing cancer, of preventing me from getting a third heart attack, or any heart attack."

"I can't ignore the most vulnerable. Do you really think Jesus was misguided when he said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me?"

"Fine. You serve the least among us and I'll serve the most among us and you'll feel good about yourself and I'll have done more to improve humankind."

Susan realized she wasn't going to get anywhere with David, so she switched from strategy to tactics. "I think I should volunteer at a nearby public school that has mainly poor kids."

"You're going to give them singing and piano lessons? That won't do squat to get them out of poverty."

"Well, what if I directed a play there, a musical, maybe something political like Rent or Les Mis after school. Even you've always said that theatre can be transformative."

"True, hearing those lines again and again penetrates. And the teamwork and the poise, and it's so motivating. I've never seen kids work as hard as when working on a play."

"And not just the actors: the set builders, the prop person, even the ushers. Okay, I'm going to try to find a school that will let me do it. I still have a teaching license so maybe some school will."

"I think a principal with half a brain would be thrilled."

"Okay, David, what are you going to do to volunteer?"

"Like I found out at work with the single-payer bill, you can make a big difference by volunteering for some government lobbying group. Government has huge power, especially today."


"Yeah, but that's my day job. I should do something different. Maybe something local so I can see the benefit, like create a Mentor Match website where adults and gifted kids could sign up to mentor kids."

"Yeah, but is Sage Valley the place on earth with the greatest need, excuse me, 'the place you can make the biggest difference?'"


"How about this? I try to raise say $100,000 from any fat cats I can find and then issue a challenge to the membership of the Society for Neuroscience--that's 46,000 of the world's leading brain scientists. Something like, "The first scientist who can reliably predict IQ from a genome or brain scan would win the $100,000 prize.'"

"Why that?"

Because it's not politically correct to study intelligence so the government, foundations, and biotech companies aren't studying it. The $100,000 prize would incent scientists to study that very important thing."

"Why is it so important?"

"Because if we can understand the biological basis of intelligence, we may be able to develop a cure for mental retardation--a huge percentage of violent felons in prison have an IQ well below average. And that knowledge could also be used to enhance normal intelligence. While intelligence can be used for good and for evil, there's no question that a smarter populus would end up being a net good for humankind."

"Yeah, that's what the Nazis said."

"There's a world of difference between developing a drug that a person or a prospective parent could elect to take to ensure her child had normal intelligence than the Nazis who wanted to sterilize people, kill people, to create a master race."

"You're dreaming."

"After seeing that my just writing a white paper changed health care for every American, I'm in the mood to keep dreaming. You go and direct Rent, I'll go and try to raise some money."

"David, I'm actually enjoying this sort of deeper conversation. We haven't done it in a long time. How about we do it again soon, maybe even tomorrow night? Any idea what you might like to talk about?"

"How about discussing the end of jobs: What will happen as the result of all the jobs that are getting offshored or roboticized?"

"Until tomorrow."

The next episode will be published on the next business day.
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Marty Nemko welcomes your visiting his website: where lots of his writings and radio show are archived. And, if you need career help, you can email Marty Nemko at
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