The Blue Sweater (by Jacqueline Novogratz)

I just devoured a book (sent from TED curator Chris Anderson) entitled The Blue Sweater. Written by Chris’ wife and Acumen Fund founder Jacqueline Novogratz, Blue Sweater tells the story of Jacquline’s philanthropic journey via Chase Manhattan Bank, World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, Stanford University, and ultimately with her own Acumen Fund.

I’m not really an emotional guy. But during a TED Conference, I tend to well-up on a regular basis. It’s a combination of gratitude for just being there, a recurring sense of family and shared purpose, and simply being overwhelmed by a stream of profound “a-ha” moments.

Reading this book, I kept experiencing waves of that same sense of overwhelming connectedness-to-all-creation and all people. Jacqueline’s story shrinks a very big world into a sense of common family. Her story inspires us to recognize the Other in ourselves – to remember that everything we do impacts “the least of these.” Nothing remains neutral.

Some of my favorite passages from the book:

Sometimes you have to be a fool or your heart can turn to stone.

The big question for me: … how to strike a balance between the quest for order…with the human craving for freedom.

My professors and fellow students [at Stanford] were comfortable speaking about power and money. Love and dignity, on the other hand, were words people were often embarrassed to say out loud, or so it felt. There had to be a way to combine the power, rigor, and discipline of the marketplace with the compassion I’d seen in so many of the programs aimed at the very poor. Capitalism’s future, it seemed to me then – and much more so now – rests on how much creativity and room for inclusion it can tolerate.

Why do some people stop growing at age 30, just going from work to the couch and television, when others stay vibrant, curious, almost childlike, into their 80’s and 90’s? (John Gardner)

When you have everything, you start to think that material things are most important. When you lose them all, at first you think that you have lost yourself, as well. But with faith, you begin to see it is only those things that you build inside – those things that no one can take away from you – that matter. Now we try to live from a place of love. And we understand that you can only have great joy if you also know great pain (Prudence, a Rwandan genocide survivor).

There are none more dangerous to extremists than moderates.

Our world’s challenge is not simply in determining how we punish, but instead in how we prevent the kinds of atrocities that can come only from a deep-seated fear of the Other in our midst… As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, we need to find better solutions that will include everyone in today’s opportunities. (ital mine)

…in any good society, nothing justifies the powerful excluding the powerless from basic opportunities.

What we need going forward is a philosophy based on human dignity, which all of us need and crave. We can end poverty if we start by looking at all human beings as part of a single global community that recognizes that everyone deserves a chance to build a life worth living.

Jacqueline makes the world a better place “just by being in it.” We so need this kind of thinking, and action, right now – among all people with vision (which is everyone). Because if there’s a truth this book makes crystal clear, it is this:

… All people, rich and poor, from all nations, religions, and backgrounds, are our sisters and brothers. From this place, everything else must flow.

Which brings to mind a new documentary that Cathleen Falsani brought to my attention. The world is getting smaller, thanks in large part to emerging virtual tools. It’s why I call this personal journal “microclesia.” We can no longer pretend to live as though our world ends at our neighborhood, or our national border. Our very survival is at stake.

UPDATE: TED’ster Seth Godin blogs Blue Sweater

My friend Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, is at the forefront of making the world smaller. She has the unique ability to combine the financial and the spiritual in a way that does justice to both. No matter what you do, the smaller world is coming to your doorstep. No matter how you spend your day, the living, breathing, interacting big world is going to touch your private one.

An anonymous donor has put up $75,000 in a matching grant–if you buy the book this week, $15 will be donated to Acumen (for each of the first 5,000 copies sold). I hope you’ll take advantage and order a copy today. Thanks.

UPDATE (2): Someone commented privately that the video trailer, while pointing out religion’s downside, seems to promote its own kind of “new religion” of “higher consciousness.” That’s an astute observation. In her cameo, Cathleen defines fundamentalism as “having all the answers inside a tidy little box.” We tend to label those boxes (“Higher Consciousness,” etc.) and then expend a lot of effort promoting and protecting our cherished imagery. This is a great reminder to perhaps spend less time protecting our little religious boxes and focus more on the spirituality of simply loving one’s global neighbor, and perhaps even extending good to one’s enemy.


2 thoughts on “The Blue Sweater (by Jacqueline Novogratz)

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the book. I had read Seth’s recommendation. However, it was yours John that convinced me to read.
    The issue of human dignity is an important one. And I believe that people in the poorer regions have much to tell us about this. A friend of mine told me of her trip to South Africa and her discovery of a happiness not based on material possessions. It had a transformative effect upon her.
    As a Christian, I feel obliged to promote humanism, or, a Christian humanism that does elevate human community over the ideologies that rob people of their dignity.
    We have much work to do to create a world where human dignity is the rule.

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