The greater half

A red light, a black Mercedes coupe and a homeless man are all it took for a 14-year-old girl to realize the change she wanted to see in this world. As Nicholas Kristof chronicled in his Jan. 23 column in The New York Times, the teen inspired her family to take initiative and fully grasp the power of half.


In 2006, Atlanta writer and entrepreneur Kevin Salwen picked up his 14-year-old daughter Hannah from a sleepover. On the way back, a red light hindered their travels, stopping them at an intersection with a black Mercedes coupe and a homeless man begging for food and money.

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After observing this imbalance, Hannah asserted, ""If that man had a less nice car, that man there could have a meal.""


It was simple, beautiful — yet, a fact generally ignored as a function of reality. But Hannah would not allow this inequity to continue without an effort to help. She pestered her parents relentlessly, insisting that they take action. That's when her mother made one fatally fantastic mistake:


""What do you want us to do?"" she questioned. ""Sell our house?""


And sell their house they did, donating half the proceeds to charity and utilizing the other half to purchase a more humble abode. The father and daughter duo chronicle this undeniably inspirational project in a book entitled ""The Power of Half,"" which is scheduled to be published next month.


The Salwen family acknowledges that not everyone can relate to owning a home which, after being cut in half, remains livable for a family of four. But, the message they wish to send is applicable for many families in the U.S. and beyond.


As Hannah, now a junior in high school, puts it, selling the house was ""kind of a ridiculous thing to do.""


""For us,"" she explains, ""the house was just something we could live without. It was too big for us. Everyone has too much of something, whether it's time, talent or treasure. Everyone does have their own half, you just have to find it.""


For the Salwen family, their half was money and care. The family pledged $800,000 ""to sponsor health, microfinancing, food and other programs for about 40 villages in Ghana."" The family also traveled to Ghana with an executive from Hungry Project.


Through their philanthropic choices, the family has also reaped personal rewards along the way: a more connected and communicative home life. Though the parents had initially felt that their kids would benefit from a bigger house, they realize now that bigger isn't always better.


With less space to retreat and hide out, the move from their previous home has allowed — or forced — the family to spend more time together. The mother of the family, Joan, considers the downsize a trading of ""stuff for togetherness and connectedness"" — a trade worth every penny and then some.


It's easy to feel disconnected from the gesture the Salwen family has put forth — they sacrificed their giant mansion, boo hoo. But, they could have driven away from that intersection and kept living their lives as usual, acknowledging the inequity yet accepting it as an innate factor of life, ignoring a sense of responsibility.


But they didn't. Instead, they did something that requires selflessness, integrity and even bravery. They accepted personal responsibility, they reshaped their lives around a 14-year-old's philanthropic realization, they committed to helping others and they found a healthier family dynamic free of excess lavishness.


The Salwens set an example, learned lessons and even taught some along the way. They did something for which they are proud and for which they are admired — they took action.


So, this is the question each of us should answer: what is my half?


-- Rachel Leavitt is a creative writing sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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