Does it take money to make a difference?

I was asked this question recently after a talk I gave to a group of Girl Scouts who were visiting eastern Massachusetts, including Salem. Several years ago I created the Salem Women’s Heritage Trail, so I was asked to highlight some of the women on the trail for our bright and enthusiastic young visitors. I told them about Salem authors, publishers, teachers, philanthropists, reformers (abolitionists, suffragists), artists, founders of social service organizations…it’s a long and impressive list.

And then, questions and answers.

“Do I have to have money to make a difference? a girl asked.

I realized that I hadn’t argued that, NO, YOU DON’T!

In fact, I replied, it’s the women who didn’t have a lot of money whose stories I find particularly captivating and inspiring. How did they achieve what they did against obstacles that we cannot even imagine today? What were their strategies and tactics? What was their background? What motivated them? How did they come to believe in themselves?

The answers to these questions are what I have attempted to provide in my Unitarian Universalist talks and sermons over the years, because history is living energy. We can tap into the wisdom of women of the ages to enlighten us today, especially when we find role models who have faced the same challenges as us, including not having a lot of money.

In Massachusetts women’s history alone, I think of Phillis Wheatley, who was kidnapped from Africa as a child, brought to Boston where she was “sold” to the Wheatley family and eventually became the first published African-American poet.

I also think of Louisa May Alcott, whose father was notoriously incapable of earning money. Thanks to her pen and her imagination, Louisa became the most successful and famous woman writer of her time – and she supported her family! And she always insisted that women be paid like men.

I remember Margaret Fuller, who spent about a year and a half living with friends and relatives because she couldn’t afford a house of her own. She became the first female literary editor of a national newspaper; an outstanding reporter in the United States in Europe; the first female foreign correspondent (in Italy); and the author of Woman in the 19th centurya landmark book in the history of women’s rights.

And so, you do NOT need to have a lot of money to make a difference. What you need to have is an unwavering belief in your abilities, no matter where they come from; a strong support system (meaning letting go of people who don’t support you); and the ability to spot or create opportunities and pursue them – and keep going!

That said, you need money. You need money to survive and thrive, and you DESERVE to have money. As one of my coaches always says, “You can’t do anyone a favor if you’re broke and homeless.”

She’s right, and since service is our highest calling in life, we really need to think about this truism and serve ourselves first!

Silver is also a lubricant. It helps you get things done, including publishing your own book or investing in your own business!

We were all brought up with the persistent Puritan notion that money is bad, that money is the “root of all evil”. It’s a lie, and it’s a way for people, especially women, to be held back. Instead of focusing on LACK of what you have, focus on what you have. You have your talents and your reason for being here. With the right support system – people, faith, whatever – the money will come because you deserve to be rewarded for using your gifts! And you will use it to help others.

I always learn something from my audiences, and I’ll keep this Girl Scout question in mind for future discussions.

I haven’t had a chance to find out his name, but whoever you are, thanks for the question and keep coming!

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