Healing The World
During Christmas week, as I bake and wrap, I try to plan. What exactly are my priorities for Warburg Realty, the company I have been proud to lead since 1991, for the coming year? What is urgent? What can wait a few months? I take stock of my personal behavior: what am I doing well, what can I be doing better? Am I listening hard enough?(the danger of running an organization, I have learned, is that people are reluctant to disagree with you.) Am I staying true to my internal compass, making certain that I don’t veer from a path of integrity in which I and the company are guided by doing what is right rather than what is expedient? And of course, part of this taking stock involves looking at the world around us.
In recent months, I feel increasingly aware of the homeless on our streets. Veterans, women with children, once again every corner of Madison and Park Avenues in the 50s is inhabited by people with nowhere to live, not enough to eat, no coat, no socks. It breaks my heart-I am an easy touch and tend to deplete my stock of dollar bills every time I leave the office. Perhaps because I am in the housing business, the resurgence of the homeless problem strikes a particular chord within me. I realize that I am someone whose business has been successful, whose income is comfortable, and whose children and grandchildren are safe from want. And I know many of my readers enjoy the same good fortune. I feel intensely the obligation which comes with that luck: we need to try, in whatever ways we can, to perform tikkun olam – the healing of the world.
We need to be aware of what we CAN do, since it is so easy to feel defeated in the face of what we are not empowered to do. We can treat the people around us with respect and consideration. We can pay a living wage (or better) and try to make sure that a living wage is national policy (and the current minimum wage does NOT qualify.) We can support legislation which facilitates the construction of low and middle income housing so we don’t see New York turn completely into a city of the rich and the poor, with our workers commuting from homes ever further from their jobs. We can support equal rights all over the country, rights which guarantee parity regardless of how we worship or the sex of the person to whom we go home.
In Manhattan or north Brooklyn, where a one bedroom costs half a million dollars or more, residential real estate agents easily forget that ours is a tiny and atypical business universe. A million dollars buys so little in these neighborhoods that it begins to seem like it is not much money. But we have an obligation to remember the world outside our rarefied island of privilege, where a twentieth of that amount could be transformative. Certain minimum standards should be applicable for everyone: a job, a home for our children or our parents, access to basic medical care, enough to eat, a decent education which enables social and financial mobility. That mobility, the promise of which brought most of our families here in the first place, is growing ever harder to achieve.
Between the plight of refugees, the issues of hunger and homelessness, the disappearance from American schools of the arts with their message of hope and aspiration which speaks directly to the spirit, opportunities abound for our involvement. One of the proudest moments of my career came a few years back when the Real estate Board gave me the Kenneth Gerrity Humanitarian Award for the work I and my wife have done to promote the arts and social justice. As the holiday season peaks and we are fortunate enough to sit at tables laden with food, surrounded by those we love, I hope we can all remember – the world needs healing and it begins with us.