~by Kevin and Hannah Salwen
Before being offered a copy of The Power of Half: One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, I had never heard of the Salwen family. However I'm sure many other people probably have; the Salwens were featured ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Today Show among many other programs. But, I don't watch much TV so I missed their story. In short, the family decided together to sell their mansion, downsize to a smaller property, and then invest half of the profits of the sale into a charity organization. I will admit, I was somewhat wary of reading the book. What the Salwens set out to do was amazing and I was afraid that reading the book would just end up making me feel more guilty than I already am about not doing more to help address the injustices of the world. Ultimately, I decided to go ahead and read The Power of Half despite this potential. I will say now that I'm very glad I did. I also want to make a point to mention that one dollar for every copy of The Power of Half purchased is being donated to Rebuilding Together, which is just cool.
When the Salwens decided to move into a smaller house, the biggest change for them wasn't their address. They consciously started looking at how they were living and made and effort to align their lifestyle with their ideals. But it wasn't always a smooth or easy process. People often didn't completely understand their motivations and criticized the family and their choices. And then the 2008 financial and housing crisis in the united States threw a few kinks into their plans, presenting them with more tough decisions. Ultimately, they were able to prevail and choose to invest in The Hunger Project. Throughout their project, their choices had some surprising, but mostly positive, impacts on their family. They encourage others to consider giving up half of something, anything really, and to use that to help make the world a better place.
The Power of Half is a fairly straightforward and slim volume. Keven Salwen retells his family's story in a friendly and engaging manner while his daughter Hannah--the catalyst for the momentous change in their lives--contributes mid-chapter and end of chapter activities to get people thinking about volunteerism and related issues. These suggestions often focus on families but can easily be adapted for individuals working on their own or as part of a group. The story is told, for the most part, in chronological order, but the occasional places it does bounce back and forth can be a bit confusing if you're not paying attention. Overall, The Power of Half was very enjoyable to read and it felt to me as though they were being honest in recounting their family's experience.
Instead of making me feel like crap (which I was worried about), I actually found The Power of Half to be inspiring and encouraging. The book was never about the Salwens shoving their good deeds into other people's faces, and they didn't come across as being pretentious; they realize that most families and individuals won't be able to make as dramatic of a donation and that they were extremely fortunate to be in a position in which they could. The book was really more about how their decisions affected their family in often unexpected ways. I grew up in rural Ohio where economic disparity wasn't readily obvious unless you made a point to stop and look--most everyone seemed to be struggling in some way. Now that I live in a much more urban environment I am confronted by economic inequality every day and I usually feel helpless to do anything about it. I realize how incredibly lucky I am even though I'm not particularly well off. The Power of Half reminded me of something I already knew: Even though I may be dealing with a tremendous amount of student debt, there are ways other than financially that I can help. And so, I have decided to become more involved with my local Habitat for Humanity. Thanks, Salwens, for the extra little push that reading The Power of Half gave me.