“Despite the headlines, we see a world that’s getting better.”
This is how Bill and Melinda gates opened their 10th Annual Letter, an official release where they share insights and updates on their philanthropic efforts.
Make no mistake, the couple is not in denial about the challenges our world is facing, which becomes obvious when looking at the 10 tough questions addressed in the letter. “What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?” and “Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?” are some examples.
But aside from the obvious political and economical conversations we can start after reading the Gates’ letter, we can also draw important nuggets of life wisdom from it.
With endless optimism (it takes a lot of it to start a letter with those words in 2018) and a continuous dedication to philanthropy, the billionaire couple can teach us a lesson or two about love, life and privilege.
“When Bill first came over to the foundation from Microsoft, he was used to being in charge. I’d stayed home with our kids, so I was restarting my career. There were times I felt that disparity—in meetings when I was reticent and he was voluble, or when the person we were meeting with looked toward Bill and not me,” wrote Melinda.
“It’s always been important to us that we are equal partners in our foundation’s work. We’ve learned over time to give each other feedback at home about times in the office when we didn’t meet that goal.”
In any relationship, it’s important to perceive one another as teammates working towards a communal greater good. You can’t prevent disagreement from happening from time to time, but if you approach any relationship in that way you’ll always be willing to find the patience and make the effort to come to a mutual understanding.
When asked whether it is fair that they have so much influence, Bill and Melinda addressed their privilege head-on — something all of us should aim to do.
“No. It’s not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little. And it’s not fair that our wealth opens doors that are closed to most people,” wrote Melinda.
“World leaders tend to take our phone calls and seriously consider what we have to say. Cash-strapped school districts are more likely to divert money and talent toward ideas they think we will fund.”
Being aware of your position of privilege is great, but using it to help others is even greater. In the letter, Bill mentioned that the couple strives to spend resources in ways that fill the areas of need that the government and corporations won’t take on.
When asked about the personal motivation behind the couple’s philanthropic efforts, Bill gave two reasons:
- It’s meaningful work
- It’s fun
Isn’t that refreshing? There is no need to try to convince yourself or others that your motivation for helping others isn’t egoistical to some extent. Giving back feels good, and that’s OK. The more people get into it, the better the world will be. Who cares about the reasons behind the good actions if they are impacting lives in a positive way?