Hal Taussig will never make the Forbes list of highest paid CEO’s. It’s not that his Pennsylvania travel company isn’t profitable. Untours, the company he started in 1971 with a $5000 loan, pulls down annual profits of a million dollars, sending thousands of customers a year on shoestring cultural immersions to 24 destinations around the world.
It’s just that Hal donates every penny (yes, 100 percent) of the company’s profits to innovative projects that address poverty. He lives in a tiny two-room house with his wife Norma (she owns the century-old wood frame house that was built for mill workers), rides a bike to work (he gave his car away to a hitchhiker nearly 40 years ago), shops at thrift stores (his one suit cost $12 — “It’s a Brooks Brothers. I’m very proud of that suit,” Hal says) and refuses to take a salary. He has one pair of shoes that he resoles when they get worn and he reads newspapers and magazines at the library.
“I decided a long time ago I didn’t want to accumulate wealth,” Taussig says. “Things do not make people happy. Living simply is how I get joy out of life. I live a very rich life on very little money.”
In 1999, when John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Paul Newman awarded Taussig with a “Most Generous Business in America” award, he went to New York to accept it, but rather than staying in a hotel, he stayed in a $10-a-night youth hostel.
“I don’t feel right about staying in a five-star hotel when there are people who don’t even have a roof over their head,” he says.
As for the $250,000 award, he used the entire amount to help home health-care workers start their own business. His wife Norma had just had a stroke.
“The woman who was taking care of her was only making $8 an hour while the agency was making $18,” Taussig says.
“We give loans and provide a hand up, not a handout,” Taussig says. “I’m trying to make the poor into capitalists, to help them become self-sustaining, to give them a way to make a living.”
Since 1992, when he started the Untours Foundation, he has provided more than $6 million, in loans to support such ventures as NativeEnergy, which sells “green tags” to fund wind, solar, and methane power; strawbale housing on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation and Bionatur, an heirloom seed company born out of the efforts of the Landless Workers Movement.
“We look for really innovative things that have the potential to change the world,” says Elizabeth Killough, who works for Hal at the Foundation. “Hal is off the charts. I tell him I should pay HIM for the opportunity to work here. I used to be his consultant and when he asked me to work for him, I hesitated. Everybody needs heroes and I didn’t want to find out there was a dark side. But I’ve been here seven years now and he’s the real deal.
“Five years ago, he came to me and said, ‘Let’s make Media (Pennsylvannia where they’re headquartered) the first Fair Trade town in America. I laughed and couldn’t imagine what that would look like. I googled it just to humor him. And sure enough, there were fair trade towns in Europe. And we managed to get Media as the first Fair Trade Town in the U.S.or as they say in Europe, the first Fair Trade Town in the Americas.”
“He really walks the talk,” says his daughter, Marilee Taussig, who left corporate America to work for her dad’s company. “It’s an admirable way to live your life, but sometimes it’s hard to be a family member of someone who is such an idealist, someone who doesn’t believe in a safety net.
“I call myself the unheiress. If my dad had decided to leave me a million dollars, would I have turned it down? Absolutely not. But what he left me is something much richer and that is the ability to live what you believe in and put your money where your mouth is. It’s all well and good to talk about living simply, but it’s a whole other thing to live it.”
“Money is the least important thing a parent can give a child. My dad gave me integrity, a sense of humor and a sense of purpose,” Marilee says.
Marilee says the company itself is a real reflection of her dad’s beliefs. “It’s a nontouristy way of traveling.” He believes foreign travel means more if the traveler can live like the locals.
Taussig contends “Americans don’t really want to be herded about like sheep or cattle.”
His loyal customers, many who return year after year, agree.
“We’ve been on escorted bus tours, cruises, the kind of thing where they take you to a hotel, tell you to put your bags out by 6 and be at the bus by 7:01. But Untours are completely different,” says Jerry Nolan, a retired doctor from North Carolina. “There’s nothing quite so informative and educational as traveling with Untours. You become kissing cousins with the locals.”
As a boy, Taussig lived in a log house on a cattle ranch in Colorado. His mother made his underwear from flour sacks. After getting a college degree, he tried to get into the cattle business, but invested all his money in a bull that was sterile.
“I went broke and got fired before I found my calling,” Taussig says.
Taussig taught history at a high school for 10 years before taking a yearlong sabbatical throughout Europe. He and Norma and Marilee rented apartments, shopped in village markets and traveled by foot, bicycle, train, bus and boat.
“That was an educationally important year for me. It got me in deep touch with other cultures,” Taussig says. He wrote a book called <em>Shoestring Sabbaticals</em> and came up with the idea for Untours: a travel agency that enabled tourists to get to know a place intimately.
What does he think about AIG CEO’s making $17 million, Merrill Lynch brokers bringing in $32 million?
“I’m glad these issues are now being discussed. Piling up money doesn’t bring happiness. Having a huge bank account doesn’t produce a profound contentment in life,” Taussig says. “Wealth gets in the way of human kindness, joy and peace.”
To find out more about traveling with Untours, click here.
You don’t need Alex Trebek or “buzzwords for $5000” to know that the internet’s top trend right now is “How do I monetize my website? My blog? My twitter feed?” Even YouTube offers monetization to prolific video uploaders.
Since I’ve been accused of being a “subversive presence on the planet,” I want to talk today about the exact opposite.
How do you un-monetize your life? How do you go against the culture’s dominant paradigm of wanting to “always get, get, get” and practice what’s known as the gift economy?
The gift economy, a philosophy more than a financial practice, is one in which people refuse to believe in scarcity and fear. Instead of always trying to “get more,” a gift economy is for those looking for ways they can give. It’s so radical that most people can’t even understand it.
I pitched a story about the gift economy to my editor at People magazine. She loves heroes, good news, and heart-warming human interest stories. But even thought I gave her three specific examples of people working solely in the gift economy, she couldn’t understand it. “But how does it work?” she kept repeating.
It works, although I could never explain this spiritual belief to her, because once you give up your incessant fear and belief that it’s a dog-eat-dog, every-man-for himself world, abundance can’t help but show up in your life. It’s actually the reality of the human condition, but as long as we’re “monetizing” and erecting walls of fear, we block abundance.
Perhaps the best example of the gift economy is Nipun Mehta, a guy I consider my hero, the guy I begged my People editor to let me profile. In April 1999, when he was 25, he gave up his lucrative paycheck at Sun Microsystems to become a full-time volunteer. A fan of Gandhi, who said, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” Mehta started “giving” as an experiment. He started with money (he gave to charity), moved to giving of his time (volunteering at a hospice) and then decided he’d go full-time, giving of himself unconditionally with no strings attached. Thirteen years later, his experiment has been a huge success.
He started a free restaurant, a free inspirational magazine and has given away hundreds of millions of dollars in free tech services. He’s a Stanford-trained engineer who was raking it in during the dot.com heyday. But he wasn’t sure that’s where happiness lay. He works with a network of more than 100,000 volunteers who operate on 3 principles:
1) Everything is strictly volunteer. Money is NEVER charged
2) No one ever ASKS for money. Many charities do good work, but they all ask for donations. They do endless fundraising. He says that forces people to be in a needy space and he comes from a space of believing in abundance and the goodness of mankind. And indeed, money has shown up in spades (from the billionaire founder of Sony, as just one example) and from anonymous donors who send in checks for $10,000 or more. But Nipun and crew NEVER ask or expect.
3) They focus on small actions. “You just take care of what you can touch, give to whatever is in front of you,” he says and the ripple effects have organized into what he calls their own magic. “I can tell you story after story.”
The Karma Kitchen that he and fellow volunteers started in Berkeley (there are no prices on the menu and the check reads $0.00) spawned karma kitchens in Washington D.C. and Chicago.
“We don’t charge for anything, nor do we advertise anything. The project is sustained by anonymous friends who donate what they can, not as a payment for what they have received but as a pay-it-forward act for someone they don’t know,” Mehta says.
In place of financial capital, Mehta and his network of volunteers are building social capital, synergy capital and a type of subtle capital beyond definition.
Another one of my heroes is Ethan Hughes who runs an 80-acre farm in northern Missouri on the gift economy. Everything he and his wife Sarah grow, they give away. They’ve given away goats, fruit bushes, seeds, soil and compost. They’ve given trees to every major city in Missouri. Most importantly, they host more than 1500 people a year who come to their farm from around the country to learn about permaculture. Permaculture classes normally start at about $1500. But Ethan and Sarah give them away free.
“At first people are shocked. So few mainstream Americans believe someone would actually give something away free with no ulterior motives. We’re in a cynical society that rarely trusts someone who says, “hey, I just want to help.”
The Hughes and their network of volunteers have helped build a library, bucked hay for a fellow farmer, cleaned up city parks and donated something like 50,000 hours of community service…all with no expectation.
“It’s really important to me to create access, and the gift economy is about access,” Ethan says.
Another example is Dr. Binal Shah, a naturopathic doctor with a biology degree from Rutgers, who offers a gift economy medical practice. She calls it the Karma Clinic and says it’s not about giving away “free” healthcare. It’s about sharing an experience of generosity that has the potential to shift both the giver and the recipient.
That’s why I say, “forget monetizing.” Think about something important, like what gifts do you have to give.
In northern Russia, they have an expression, “soul talk.” It means speaking from the heart, talking about BIG things. Grandparents sit their grandkids under the old oak tree and say, “Let’s talk about some big ideas. Let’s talk about our souls, about what’s important.”
These conversations can take hours.
In our country, there’s not even a word for “soul talk.” Parents are too busy checking their Twitter feeds to sit down and tell their kids, “You know, this is what I believe in. This is where you come from. This is what your grandma did when she was your age. This was what she hoped for you.”
According to one study, the average parent engages his or her kids in conversation for an average of ten minutes a day. Even stay-at-home moms spend little more than 15 minutes talking with their children.
By the time you throw in a few, “Are you sure your room is picked up?” and a “Did you do your math homework?” there’s barely a minute left over for a quick peck or an “I love you.”
And what does that really mean? Do we sit down with our children and tell them about love? Or do we let them make their own assumptions from the message they get on the silver screen, the ones where handsome, well-built men look into the eyes of gorgeous beauty queens, coo endearments and instantaneously find love. Instead of just mouthing the words, maybe we should sit down and tell our kids what love means. That loves is when the beauty queen is giving birth to the handsome hunk’s babies and he’s there holding her hand. Or when he comes home late and she decides to trust him anyway.
We need to spend hours talking about things like love. About big ideas. Big dreams. Not just, “How’d you do on the spelling test?” or “Okay, who took the remote?” But conversations about deepest hopes, failure, politics, God, bodies, favorite type of Jell-O.
Children need hours and hours of conversation with people who are willing to serve as role models. They desperately need a glimpse into the untrampled countryside of their mentors’ minds.
Your kids need to talk to you, to hear what you think, to know what you stand for. They need to hear you say that a big idea is far better than a big car, that a big dream is more important than a leather jacket.
My old roommate Mary and I used to talk “soul’ for hours. Night after night, we’d get going about 10 p.m. and talk about everything from politics to the pollution in the Kansas River to whether or not her blue top would go with my paisley skirt. We’d proceed in nonstop soul talk–which was more like thinking out loud—until 2 or 3 in the morning, until one of us would muster the resolve to say, “I guess we’d better get some sleep.” Those talks were energizing. They stimulated our hearts. They made us bigger people.
It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important in this culture of garage door opener and smart phones. We forget to wave to our neighbors, let alone talk from the soul. No longer do we sit on our porches, shout “hello.” No longer do we trust our leaders, give people the benefit of the doubt.
What’s worse, we don’t even recognize the sadness of what we have lost.
I love that advice and decided to headline today’s blog post with those words of wisdom, not because it’s exactly the topic I’ll be discussing, but because those two intentions match mine.
My topic today is Gabrielle Bernstein’s e-Course “God is my publicist.” Hay House gifted me with this three-week lecture partly, because they’re really cool folks, but mostly because they reckon it will help promote my new book, E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiment that Prove your Thoughts Create your Reality. Unlike some publicity campaigns that require big budgets, weekly strategy sessions and countless pleas to the media powers-that-be, Gabby’s course suggests appointing God to handle the details.
That doesn’t mean sitting around polishing your nails and refusing to pick up the phone when say, Oprah calls. It means making a rigorous practice of connecting with the big guy and asking that your message reach the folks who need it. As she points out, the possibilities to connect and make an impact are endless.
Endless possibilities, as far as I’m concerned, is a synonym for God, even though many of us hooked that word up long ago with the exact opposite.
God, to use the synonym I refer to in my book, is the FP (or the Field of Infinite Potentiality). I devoted my life to the FP many years ago. I appointed it the CEO of my career and, so far, it hasn’t let me down. It’s enabled me to write 16 books and create a life without “a real job” for more than 20 years. It’s enabled me to make a living on my wit and my craft.
I believe the only thing keeping anyone apart from the FP is their own walls and judgments.
Judgment, I was relieved to find out, is not my function. Surrender to the FP is really my only job. The less I try to do on my own, the better my life becomes.
Gabby’s other potent publicity strategy is sending love to potential customers….in my case, readers.
She reminds us that all of us have a mission and, no matter what we think it might be, it always involves love. Expansion. Beauty. Joy. So, dear readers, whoever you might be, I send you heartfelt appreciation and, yes, love which is the only thing that’s real.
Unless you’re a perfect driver (and although I know many people who think they are, I know no one who actually is), you’ve probably encountered a speed bump*, undoubtedly going faster than the posted speed.
When you inadvertently hit one, it’s a clear sign to slow down. Likewise, rumble strips, those grooves on highway shoulders that shimmy your car and offer unexpected back massages when you accidently leave your lane, are signals that something needs to be corrected.
No one would ever dream of stopping their car, getting out and complaining because “woe-is-me! I hit a rumble strip!” Nor would they call their friends, rush to a support group or enlist their therapist. The proper procedure when hitting a rumble strip is self-correct. It’s a piece of cake.
It works the same when setting an intention. Reaching any goal, manifesting any desire is a simple matter of deciding that you want it and starting to move in that direction. It’s no more complicated than driving from say, Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Let’s pretend Los Angeles is what you have now—a beat-up Ford Escort, a crummy job and weekends watching re-runs alone. San Francisco, where you really want to be, is a shiny, new Jaguar, a high-paying job that utilizes and appreciates your greatest strengths and weekends watching movies with an astoundingly hot specimen of the opposite sex.
So, how do you get there? You start focusing on San Francisco. You forget that Los Angeles and your beat-up Escort even exist. And you remember that at every moment, you’re either heading towards San Francisco or you’re doubling back towards Los Angeles. Every thought is a step in one direction or the other. Thoughts that take you back to LA are “Good jobs and hot dates are not that available” or the even more popular, “Good jobs and hot dates are available, but not for the likes of me.”
Thoughts that move you towards San Francisco go something like this: “That new job is going to be so amazing.” and “Man, is this person sitting next to me on my couch ever so fine.” The more energy and excitement you invest, the quicker you’ll get there.
Some people get stirred up, take a few steps towards their desires, panic, and turn right back around towards Los Angeles. Others leave the LA city limits, walk for a spell, take a rest to look around, and then get pissed because it doesn’t look like San Francisco.
Of course, it doesn’t look like San Francisco. You’re not there yet. You’re still seeing countryside that’s just outside Los Angeles, stuff you have to pass to get to San Francisco. But you’ve left LA. Say a cheer and keep focusing. Whatever you do, don’t stop driving.
The only way to reach the sweet, champagne-drenched finish line of where you want to be is to keep your nose pointed in that direction. Do not turn around and look back. Los Angeles is history. Stay focused on…did I mention San Francisco?
When you hit those speed bumps, it’s just a sign to calm down and carry on. And as for those rumble strips, be grateful they’re showing you that, for a moment, you’re headed in the wrong direction. But it’s easy to self-correct.
Getting to San Francisco doesn’t take any particular gift. It just takes willingness to keep driving. To laugh at the rumbles trips. And to keep focusing your attention, energy and awareness.
See you in San Francisco!!!
*For those who like useless trivia, speed bumps are called sleeping policeman in Jamaica, kipping cops in Great Britain and speed breakers in New Zealand.
There’s the S.A.T. for getting into college, the L.S.A.T. for law school and the M.C.A.T. that opens doors to med school. But here, being offered for the very first time, is the best test I know for measuring creativity in human beings.
Answer the following question.
Pam Grout’s Test of Creativity
1. Are you breathing? (‘x’ the appropriate box)
My name is Pam G. and, as of today, I am launching a brand new chapter of A.A. Unlike Version 1.0, my A.A. stands for Amazing Awesomeness and it only has two steps.
Step #1: Admit that…..”Something amazingly awesome is going to happen to me today.” First thing every morning, before throwing off your covers, before leaping out of bed (and it doesn’t take long in this program before participants do leap out of bed with joy and expectation), before firing up the old Mr. Coffee, proclaim to the world that something unexpected, exciting and amazingly awesome is going to happen to you today. It takes what, three, four seconds? Yet it’s one of the most important things you will ever do. The first few minutes of every morning pre-paves the next 24 hours with positive expectations. It sets up a powerful intention, a forecast on which you can focus.
And it never fails to come true.
Step #2: Come to believe…..in blessings and miracles. Pretend you’re a private investigator assigned the task of finding all the beauty and largesse in the world. The dominant paradigm might suggest otherwise, but practiced with regularity, this ritual will force you to see things in a whole different way. Instead of looking for problems, be on the hunt for new blessings. Take on the mission each day of reporting back with at least three pieces of amazing awesomeness, three blessings that are different than the day before. I often liken myself to Lewis or Clark, scouting important new territory.
Because we get out of life whatever we focus on, practicing these simple two steps has the power to override and overturn the accepted paradigm.
Like Bill W.’s A.A, that has reformed the lives of millions, this new program (A.A. 2.0) can transform a “nameless squad of empty glass thinkers.”
I invite others to join me in tweeting their blessings (only rule is it has to be different each day) to my Twitter feed. Or feel free to leave your blessings here. By expecting and looking for a different, more kinder reality, we can, together in one jubilantly mighty whoop, uplift and lighten this tired old world.
Don’t you think it’s time?
I am quaking in my boots. I promised that in the run-up to the release of my new book, E-Squared, I’d blog every day. My publisher, Hay House, sent me a book called Platform by Michael Hyatt. In order to build momentum for a book through social media, a marketing bonanza of which even the smallest of authors can take advantage, he recommends daily blogging.
That’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time. It’s thrilling because, my gosh, I’ve wanted to be disciplined enough to write daily for as long as I’ve been able to hold a pencil. It’s the linchpin that holds a writer together—consistency, daily attendance to the muses, and well, the simple act of applying the old rear end to the chair. I’ve used it countless times when writing the 16 books that have my name on them. But, when I’m not on assignment or not being expected by some editor to deliver the goods, I don’t always write. I turn off the pipeline to my muses. Somehow I expect them to beat me over the head with whatever it is they want me to say. Even though I know the only way to truly call yourself a writer is to write.
It’s hard to admit this. One of my books is, in fact, about the importance of doing just that. Art and Soul, one of my all time favorites, is about showing up for the muses, day after day. Yet, for the last few years, I faithfully show up, alright, but only when editors give me deadlines, only when I need to add heft to my checking account.
That’s why I’m terrified. Blogging every day feels like streaking in front of a crowded arena. Granted, my subscriber list so far amounts to what, my mom and a couple friends?, but, if I do this right, I hope to create a following. That’s a scary thing to say.
Why would anyone want to follow me? Who am I to command respect? Yes, I suffer massive insecurity even though I’m what the world might call a successful writer. I’ve sold and written 16 books. I’ve been on big TV talk shows. I write for the kind of national magazine you find in dentists’ offices. Yet, I’m still terrified.
But when was terror ever a decent reason to cut off your brilliance? All terror really means is you’re listening to the wrong voice. In everyone’s head, there are always two voices. There’s the voice of your true calling, your magnificence, if you will.
And then there’s the imposter, the voice I like to call my Inner Salieri. If you saw the 1984 film, Amadeus, you know all about Antonio Salieri, a Venetian composer and director of the Hapsburg Opera. In the film, made from the 1979 play of the same name, Salieri was intensely jealous of Mozart. He recognized the young composer’s artistic gift and did everything he could to sabotage him. That’s why I call the voice that continually tries to defile every noble attempt at creating art my “Inner Salieri.” It’s the voice that puts a roadblock between me and everything the higher forces are asking me to do. In my opinion, it’s the root cause of most depression and unhappiness. It’s a tricky bastard.
That’s why arming myself against my Inner Salieri is a day-by-day process, one that can only succeed with discipline. One that can only succeed by showing up day after day on this blog, revealing my thoughts and opening up the trench coat to the naked real me inside.
“What keeps the world in chains but your beliefs?”
–A Course in Miracles
Every town has one. The mumbling guy on the street. The woman in all-black who frequents coffee shops carrying a three-foot cross. Those intriguing characters that always make you wonder. In Lawrence, Kansas, where I live, we have a whole contingency of such characters. Dennis, who typically wears a Spiderman outfit, never leaves home without his “daughter” Cheryl, a plastic doll he either carries or pushes in a stroller. Over the years, Cheryl has “grown up” from a baby doll to a bigger doll until now she’s the size of a storefront mannequin which, in truth, she actually is.
Pranksters kidnapped Cheryl the other day and the local police force, taking it quite seriously, put out an A.P.B., which thankfully resulted in an immediate recovery. Dennis and Cheryl are local celebrities. Dennis even has his own fanpage on Facebook.
The point I’m trying to make is that Dennis is no different than the rest of us. His world, although a slight deviation from what’s considered normal, is very real to him. Just as the world we’ve made up in our minds is very real to us. But both—Dennis’ world and the world we “see” and believe in with such a tenacious grip—is fiction. Neither constitutes Reality.
Reality, according to physicists who study these things, is that we are all connected. We are all one. In fact, the biggest secret in the world is we all really love each other.
We only “see” this other reality, this separate, divided, ugly world, because we imagine it to be that way. Illusions are as strong in their effects as is truth.
Because we continue to repeat and believe in the world we see on the six o’clock news, we continue to see the all hell-breaking-loose world of destruction and limits. Because dodging minefields is our source of vision, we continue to see a world of doom. Through our rote insistence on fear, we have created a fearful world.
But it’s no more real than the world of Dennis.
We have enslaved the world with our fears, doubts and miseries. By simply changing our vision, by imagining what “could be” instead of believing in “what we think is” we can literally change the world. The inner always creates the outer.
Instead of swimming in the insane culture-wide obsession with pathology, we should revel in the endless flood of miracles.
Isn’t it time to give up the world we keep re-running in our mind, to overthrow the status quo? A new more imaginative and free world is possible. But we must retrain ourselves to look through optimistic eyes. To say “thank you” and recognize all the beauty and largesse in our lives.
Posted on August 18, 2009
“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step is an act of faith.”—Mickey Hart
Launching a new book is like standing on stage with your pants down. You feel kinda vulnerable, wondering if anyone’s gonna like it.
Even after 17 books, I totally relate to Maya Angelou who once said, “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, I think, “Uh, oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”
So thank you everybody for “finding me out” and supporting me anyway. All your oh-so awesome emails, your congratulations, your “likes” have really rocked my world.
I cannot tell you how much it means.
And if you’re still not sick of me, stop by Facebook on Monday from 3 to 4 pm EST for a chat on the Hay House website.
Now, got out and have the best weekend of your life.
To get it started, here’s one of my favorite videos, for those who haven’t seen it in a while. I interviewed Matt years ago for one of my National Geographic books.
I dare anyone to watch it without breaking into a smile.
Pam Grout is the author of 17 books including E-Squared: 9 Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and the just -released sequel, E-Cubed, 9 More Experiments that Prove Mirth, Magic and Merriment is your Full-time Gig.