The Fire Right Now

The following remarks were delivered at The Roast of John E. Kobara in front of 350 of my eclectic friends and colleagues at the Palace Theater in Los Angeles on February 19, 2020. The event raised more than $200,000 for LA nonprofits. The title was inspired by James Baldwin. 

Thanks to the FOKU (Friends of Kobara United) for organizing and underwriting this craziness

Fred Ali, Wendy Garen, Antonia Hernandez, my UCLA mafia: Rob Ettinger (his wife Jane), Peter Taylor and Craig Ehrlich and the FOKU chair Alan Arkatov.

Thanks to the entire cast who made this roast possible, my assistant Jason Boone.

And to all of the speakers—not enough time to rebut, refute or respond to the numerous allegations made tonite.

My family--please stand they have made the greatest sacrifice of all--enduring me, loving me, and the time they gave me to be with YOU. Bobby, Malia, Jenna, David, and my partner of 35 years, Sarah. 

I am standing here filled with gratitude for all of the sacrifices that have been made for me and for all us to be here.

I feel very fortunate to have been in Philanthropy these last 12 years.

FOKU JEK on stage
Photo taken by: Stephanie Tran

Suddenly I was so much better looking and funnier……

Felt like an attractive tall well-endowed blonde (get it endowed)--with very very large grants.     I would tell people--Look up here at my eyes, at my face and quit staring at my grants!!!

Let’s take a quick stroll down from the philanthropic penthouse to the ground floor of ground truth.

People have been calling, e-mailing me. What is happening? You are not retiring! Tell me the truth! Why are you leaving this great job?

I have been meeting with the parole board for years and they have declined my requests. But this year they approved my release! I am free! I am no longer institutionalized!

Some of you know I battled epilepsy for 10 years when I was young, got me interested in neuroscience. I met with the leading neuro scientists, including Dr. Phelps who performed the first hemispherectomy. I explored the plasticity of the brain—why and how people use more of their brain, get off the neural pathways, live longer and avoid dementia. They told me the key was “playing out of bounds”. Playing out of bounds is out of the box, out of your comfort zone thinking and living. And what I learned was out of bounds is so much bigger!

I am ready to play OUT OF BOUNDS, full time!!!

And why a roast John? Philanthropy just enhances privilege. I have been honored, feted, and awarded without merit. I wanted the roasting I deserved. To turn up the flames of humility. To acknowledge our imperfections, especially mine.

I have tried with great inconsistency and great flaws to live a life of commitment and service and compassion and morality.

Please forgive me if I did not listen to you. Forgive me for taking your time and not giving you enough. Forgive me for laughing at you. For what I said or did not say. Forgive me for not giving you a grant or giving you one you did not deserve.

For I have tried to be a philanthropic arsonist.  Trying to light fires. Annoying little fires. To create some light and some heat. Burn some things down and warm some things up. To help us assemble our kindling our logs and our sparks of energy to light up our purpose, our reason for being. And hopefully to see the interconnectedness, the amazing inter-dependency of everything, of all of us. For we are just molecules and atoms bouncing off each other---in a beautiful fiery dance of life, of continuous change, in pursuit of harmony.

Tonite's roast is brought to you by a new drug:

Introducing PHIL-AN-THRO-PY!

Philanthropy makes you feel good about yourself for extended periods of time, it counters that malaise of uncertainty, anxiety and stress that raise doubts and anxiousness about your goodness. Side effects include taking random jobs that give you the false impression of helping others. Flashes of false empathy and even heart palpitations that mimic compassion. Dizziness and the vertigo of self-importance. Restless strategy syndrome caused by knee jerk reactions to personal experiences. The self-delusion that money alone will solve problems. Other side effects include the elimination of guilt, increased blindness deafness, and dangerous levels of ego obesity. Philanthropy has not been approved by the FDA because it is just a placebo.

Philanthropy IS a very privileged place. And privilege is a function of the awareness of privilege. We are privileged. What have we done, what will we do, with OUR privileged lives?

No matter our point of view, what side we sit on, we agree that the status quo is unacceptable. The suffering around us is intolerable. Philanthropy will never be enough.  We need to change systems, policies, and budgets. We have to become advocates and activists. That is the only way to restore hope, equity, and opportunity. This is an All-In MOMENT. To use everything we have at our disposal. Our moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual leadership, and yes our money.

For choice IS the enemy of commitment. We have to commit.

Commitment is the biggest human challenge. Full unconditional commitment to ourselves, to others, to our relationships, to our work--to truly becoming who we are and need to be -our best selves. What is our plan to become better humans? Not just skilled humans who are competent and content, but aware of our purpose, passion and potential.

Sometimes we have to see the end to appreciate the present. We are just temporary stewards. Time is limited, and we must do what we can, where we are. NOW.

We are just footprints in the sand, sources of energy that hopefully influence other footsteps, generating more energy and ripples of change to bend that arc towards justice…. Change is inexorable and inevitable. It seems to come at inconvenient times. The truth is nature abhors a vacuum. And things adjust quickly, and the void is easily filled.

Legacy is a shadow. Immortality a facade.

Yet, we all just want to be remembered

Remember that Asian guy nice guy yeah he was at the California … the California Foundation, no the California Endowment. Yeah nice guy who thought he was funny, there was that roast, remember, Yeah Joe no Jim Kob, Koba Yeah Jim Kobayashi.....Good guy

The truth is I will never forget you. 

We have been on this amazing journey together. Some of you have been part of the caravan and some of you have been at these incredible destinations where we worked together, cried together, cared together. You showed me so much kindness you laughed at my jokes you laughed at me and made me a better human. Isn’t that the goal? Helping each other become who we need to be. This journey is not about jobs or careers not about money or wealth. It is about the connection of souls who rise above self-interest to make a dent in the universe to relieve the suffering. It is an accumulation of love, brutal truths, joyfulness, broken hearts and gut hurting laughter, that slaps us upside our heads and kicks our asses to awaken our souls and open our eyes and hearts to what is real and essential.

This roasting eulogy is a living moment for all of us to take inventory. To reflect on where we are in our journeys to become better humans.

Wherever you are right now is perfect. But time is not your ally. Now is the time when the conversation you continue to have with yourself has to get real.

Even now you are making promises to yourself you will never keep

That’s why you need one of these: (Hold up KICK MY ASS)

The Kick My Ass-Do It Yourself Ass Kicking Kit.

You need this.  A gift I made for you. Pick one up when you leave.

Seeing our true reflection, really seeing it, is the greatest reality check. The most powerful point of friction with our hypocrisy. The friction of the truth within us and the lives we lead. That friction can wear us down, exhaust our capacity to hope. It is that same friction that can opens our eyes and hearts and sparks ideas and energy. It is that friction that can build a small fire that becomes a blaze of light to show you the way.

I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light, the astonishing fire of your own being. Hafiz 

Thank you for making me feel welcomed here, that I belong. For giving me your attention and talent. I have tried to be helpful--to put your needs above mine. To put the needs of the community above ours. Thank you for forgiving my faults and appreciating my intentions

Thank you for roasting me tonight. To light a fire under me. And perhaps reignite the fire within us.

For me, philanthropy begs the question: How do we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable? How do we reinvigorate our sense of compassion? Because sympathy is arrogant, and empathy is always insufficient. How do we reinvigorate our compassion? For compassion comes from the root, passio or pati, which means “to suffer.” How do we suffer with others? How do we suffer together?

We live in such a profane world of broken promises and dreams. Of untapped and wasted human potential. Unnecessary suffering. And the layers of embedded racism and colonialism that we still have to reconcile and rectify. And yet in the face of what seems impossible odds there are energizing signs of change and hope, where justice and equity can get a foot hold. And we see the prize, and we keep fighting.

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Jiddu Krishnamurti

James Baldwin: I know that what I am asking is impossible. But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one can demand — and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testifies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.

Here's to the history we are still learning, to the history we are living and mostly to the history we are yet to make!

Yeah yeah, I have been freed from the institution and retiring to play out of bounds, but I will never retire from the fight and the work.

While my philanthropic aura is fading….

And I am shorter of stature, my endowment sags, my attractiveness wanes, I have a lot more snow on the rooftop--but still a fire in the belly!

It is my time to move on. One must recognize that time before others do. Cede things to the next gen--- to you, the newer and perhaps younger stewards to keep the flame stoked, burning hot and burning brightly.

To continue doing the impossible.

Love you all. Thank you.

Our Philanthropic Journey

Most of us do not relate to the word philanthropy. It is Bill Gatesian, John Rockefelleresque, foreign word that is reserved for the Bentley crowd. Even wealthy donors do not use the "P" word. Yet the literal meaning of philanthropy is beautiful. From its Greek origins it translates to Love of Humanity. In other words giving is a way of expressing our love for one another. 

Regrettably only a few of us can be on the Forbes 400, but all of us give. We give as much as we can. Most of us could give more---time and money--but we all have a generous spirit.  Philanthropist

Yet giving away money is a mysterious business. To the uninformed, giving away a lot of money would be easy and fun. Like most things it is not what you think it is. I was with a nameless billionaire the other day (you are so important John!!) and he complained about the "burden" of his giving--that "there is no way I can give away all of my money before I die." I know some of you just want a name and and contact info :) But in all serious pursuits, in all careers--when you fully engage yourself in the art and science of something--challenges are revealed. You begin to realize how much you do not know. It can paralyze you or it can liberate you. To most it causes a brain freeze bigger than chugging a giant milkshake.

Funny thing, people with wealth or any extra money will tell you they love their philanthropy. They will tell you how fulfilling it is. Similar to any of us when asked about our computer skills--no one is not "proficient"! People who give away money who generally have been successful in life find it hard to admit that their philanthropy is transactional, random, and a "burden".

As I have said in this space for years, the key principle in life is to give without an expectation. Be ready to give first. Lead with your giving. Not just money, but with your attention, time, and expertise. When you are truly philanthropic with your life and have turned off WIIFM (what's in it for me), you benefit in ways that far exceed your giving. 

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Picasso

All of our journeys are philanthropic. We do not have to be billionaires to make a difference. We forget how much we have when we focus on what we want. We love humanity but do not know where to begin. 

As you know I help people give their money away. But I have learned that if the giving is not tied to the donor's heart, passions, their authentic interests, their core values, then their philanthropy is limited and unfulfilling. Giving becomes a task even a source of stress (like with my new billionaire buddy:). That's how many people feel about networking and mentoring. We can view time as our greatest asset and we become time hoarders--or so we think. We view it as precious and hold it back from others on one hand and then just waste it like we have all of the time in the world.

I literally get sick when people say things like, "Can't wait until this day/month/year is over!" You never get the time back. You can get your money back! Time is irretrievable. 

Reminded of Seneca's incredible 2000 year old book On the Shortness of Life

It is not that we have a short time to live, but we make it short by wasting a lot of it. We are frugal in guarding our personal property, but as it comes to squandering time, we are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.

Do I have to regale you with the physical, spiritual, intellectual benefits of giving? The increase in endorphins, oxytocin or just plain old satisfaction. Studies abound that show that generous people are happier, live longer and are healthier. In the newish book, The Paradox of Generosity, philanthropic families "had broader social circles, less self absorbed, and a greater sense of purpose." I had the great pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Kristof about his new book A Path Appears, perhaps the best book on philanthropy I have read. This is like 8 great books in one. And Nicholas and his partner Sheryl have done a wonderful job of making the case to give more and how to do it. 

It is also well known and verified through research that you give like your network. If you live in a gated community you give 40% less than the average American! Because wealthy people who live in wealthy communities are trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you hang out with people who are less generous, chances are you are too. And "live more cynical and narrow lives" according to the research. Giving broadens your network to new worlds. Worlds outside of our bubbles, "gated communities" of homogeneous people who reinforce each other's perspective disconnected from reality. Susan Fiske's research at Princeton is the most disheartening. The wealthier we are the more we view poor people as objects instead of people. In other words, when we reside in a biosphere protected from the harsh realities of the real world, poor people are things not human.

So reach out and connect. break your bubbles and break out of your biospheres. Seek people and charities you love and help them. Get the benefits of giving and giving more. 

So as we meander down our philanthropic paths, consider how much you have and start giving it away. Lead with your giving and it will take you to places that you want to go. Places that show you purpose, meaning, and why you are here.

I developed a special edition of my SWiVEL doc  Download SWIVEL Philanthropy_2014 for people to help one another with their philanthropy. Share it.

I get so much out of writing these posts--way more than you! Thank you for the gift of your readership. John


Give AND Get

We have all been told that it is better to give than to receive. I know as a kid this was never intuitive. We constantly wanted to receive. We had so many needs and wants. As a child, receiving was way better. But as we grew and matured we understood the wisdom in this maxim. You realize that you Get what you Give. That sharing is not an act of generosity but a necessity of the soul. Material things fade in importance and meaning replaces money. We understand that we have much more to give from our wealth, our wisdom, and our work. Guilt can motivate but gratitude sustains our generosity. We learn the intrinsic benefit of giving that redeems us as givers.

When you give, you feel generous, you feel powerful. When you think about others you strengthen yourself. While we may give to get these benefits, we need to always remind ourselves that we have the precious opportunity to give--we get to give.  Give-get1_11-282

For it is in giving that we receive. Francis de Assisi

As a country we are generous. We have been a model of philanthropy and giving of time and money for the world. But when we measure our efforts not as a comparison to other nations but to our own expectations we might come to different conclusions. 

The average US household gives about 4.2% of their income. Most of it goes to church , alma mater and to the hospital, about 67% of all giving. *

Wealthier people give less. Households making over $200,000 a year (top 5% of earners) who live in really nice neighborhoods give 50% less than the average American household. In fact only one zipcode of the top 20 wealthiest zipcodes (where average income approaches $500,000) is in the top 1000 zipcodes of giving %. *

So it is also surprising how little we give. Aren't you surprised? What should we give 5%, 10%, more? 

If we moved the needle to 5% fo all Americans individual giving would increase about $60 billion a year!

Each of us can give more. We can. 

But why do we give? What motivates us? 

In a newish book by Adam Grant, Give or Take, he details the benefits of giving. With decades of research he concludes there are three types of people. 

Givers: They give without expectation and make giving a priority. They look for giving opportunities not just react to them. 

Matchers: They keep track of the score. Who owes whom. They believe in full reciprocity and equity. I scratch your back......

Takers: They always make out  in all transactions even in giving. They are Me first.Only give if they gain.

Of course, few admit they are Takers, but we all know them. I meet gobs of them. They try to be subtle and sly but you spot them a mile away. Their favorite radio station is WII-FM. What's In It For Me! Giving to them is a deal where they reap the profit. Most people think they are Matchers, some are disguised Takers. Matchers see equity in giving. Matchers beleive in equity and that they should always get their fair share. Givers trust others intentions. They believe in giving first and last. Givers are represented at both ends of the barbell. Super successful and failures. People who give generously ascend their worlds or they foolishly give everything away without any self-interest. But givers who are not fools are the most successful.

Grant makes many surprising findings that basically reinforce the idea that unconditional giving to those in need, to a cause greater than themselves, builds a base of support and connects them to new worlds. In other words, it strengthens your network! A network that is diverse and "touches multiple domains and worlds."

Grant asserts that giving always helps the giver most. He describes many studies and cases here. Once the Giver understands the need, meets the people with need, connects with the need, then the Giver benefits more. Givers think of themselves as role models. They think about the consequences of not giving. Givers care. 

So as a fundraiser, I have met all types with every conceivable motivation and angle. In the non-profit world there is usually a "Give or Get" requirement for members of boards of directors. Meaning you have to give or get money for the non-profit with some $ minimum. Even though this is a "requirement" many do not meet it. I prefer Give AND Get--meaning you must give something personally to have "skin" in the game. The amount is what you can afford, but you need to be personally invested. My experience is that few board members meet and exceed these duties. They refuse to give. I have watched hedge fund managers whine like babies. Super wealthy folks give more excuses than a tardy teenager. These are phony givers. They masquerade as givers but do not give. They are Takers who are not truly committed to the cause or the organization they brag about serving. 

Some jaded and cynical people tell me that rich people got rich by being Takers. But as Grant shows in his book, true Givers are the ones who go to the top. 

On the other hand, I have met so many truly generous people who I aspire to be like. To always help. To always give. To always personally invest myself. These giving mentors have shown me the way. Taking is short term, and matching takes a lot of effort to keep track.  I have learned that my capacity to give can grow with practice and exercise. I can and must give more. 

So in life you have to Give AND Get. We all want to be givers. The more you give proactively the more you get. Your giving and the way you give mentors your children and everyone else who looks up you. If you give more without an expectation, without listening to WII-FM, you will receive so much more than you imagined. 

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give. Winston Churchill

Thank you for giving me your attention. And for what you give to others. John

*Chronicle of Philanthropy study of giving 2013

The Habit of Gratitude

As we gather with friends and family to give thanks for what we have and for those we are not with, I wanted to express my gratitude to you.

Sharing my thoughts here has made me a better person. I see things, read things, and most important--do things differently.

Thank you for energizing me, for inspiring me, for pushing me to be who I want to be. For helping me appreciate what I have and what I can do with what I have.

Let's all re-commit ourselves to feel and express our gratitude everyday--make it a habit.

And then filled with that gratitude we can help others who need us and have so much less than us.

Thank you for giving me the courage to pursue the habit of gratitude. 

Happy Giving of Thanks and for reading. John

I participated in a worldwide 21 day Gratitude Challenge and this video was produced by several of the volunteer participants. Enjoy!

Written and produced by Nimo Patel and Daniel Nahmod.

Video from KarmaTube

Philanthropy for the 99%

We make ourselves so crazy during the holidays that we forget important things. We get easily caught up in the giving season and forget to give of ourselves--we  forget why we give. Don't get me started on the commercialization of this time of year and how we have been trained to buy our way into and out of the holidays. We all know in our hearts that material things can never repair or advance our relationships. We know that a single time of year of superficial contact will not sustain our network. Yet we fall into this trap, into this mental deception, on a pavlovian annual basis.

Presents will never replace our presence.

Let's be more philanthropic. 

This fancy P word can seem foreign and inappropriate for us who occupy the lower 99%. But let me assert that if you understand its true meaning we all need to adopt it as part of our lifestyle and habits all year long. 

φιλάνθρωπος philanthropos, combined two words: φίλος philos, "loving" in the sense of benefitting, caring for, nourishing; and ἄνθρωπος anthropos, "human being" in the sense of "humanity", or "human-ness". 

When we care about each other, about our fellow human beings--when we love each other--this is philanthropy. 

Giving is not a chore it is a habit. It is not a list of things to buy. It is your readiness and willingness to help others unconditionally. 

It is not a task to unburden our guilt. It is the joy of loving another. Of responding to needs with openness and kindness. 

Here are four quick tips to become more philanthropic:

1.Write a note: One of my greatest peeves is the un-signed holiday card. The mass mailed card that contains nothing human--not even the label is hand written! Yes the photo cards are nicer than a card with a pre-printed name, but wow have we lost our humanity. Writing a note that is personal and thoughtful is a beautiful thing and a lost art.

The thought does count, but you have to act on your thoughts.

2. Give the gift of time: Where you spend your attention and time defines what is important to you. Make a commitment to spend more time with those you care about and love. Don't just say it to yourself, but make a commitment to them. You need this as much as those you care about. Don't regret time lost with others. It will be you who loses. 

3. Give to your passions: Align your financial and volunteer giving with your passions--with the issues that are most important to you. Don't get stuck with giving because you "always" give to them. Or because someone else asked you to. Make your giving reflect who you are and who you care about. You will give more and get more. Your giving will have meaning to you and others.

4. Give more: As a nation we give about 4% of our income to charity. Actually, the middle class is the most generous and gives almost twice the percentage of their incomes as the super rich. However, we all need to give a little more.  We can afford it. There is a growing population at the bottom of our economy that is really hurting and suffering. Pick an issue or cause that resonates with you and give! You can make a difference with any amount of money. Give what you can.

These are the most important investments into your network. Networking your passions and care for others multiplies your impact and your opportunity to make a difference.

Jk and yunusA few weeks ago I had the great honor of meeting Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Laureate, the creator of micro-lending and the founder of the incredibly successful Grameen Bank. He was asked what corporations could do to be more philanthropic--how could their corporate social responsibility be more successful? He said, "If every corporation adopted 50 or 500 families in poverty and helped them, we would end poverty. We need to help each other."

We can easily get caught up in complex campaigns, strategies, and efforts that yield little change. Helping each other, helping people in need--will always make a difference.

Who do we know that needs our help? Who needs our help that we need to know?

We change the world one person at a time. We do.

You have so much more to share and to give to others.

Let's be more philanthropic, in the true sense of the word-- during the holidays and through the next year and the next.

Thank you for all you do for others and what you will do in the future!

Thanks for reading. John 

PS: Interviewed for LA Magazine's website on trends in philanthropy in Los Angeles