Robber Barons v. Philanthropists (a memory triggered by reading the 1994 New Yorker article on SYDA Yoga)

When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher, Mr. B,  assigned to the class engaging in a debate as to whether Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon were philanthropists or robber barons.  We were put in teams and told which side we had to argue.  When we were given the assignment, I went to Mr. B privately and said it was not possible to argue one side or the other.  These men were only able to be philanthropists at their level of giving because of the money they had made as robber barons.  My teacher said that was an unacceptable position.  I was to argue the position I was assigned, I was wrong that it was not an either or debate.  I should understand that what was critical to this debate was which aspect was the elemental identifying characteristic.

Where I think was our real difference of opinion was that Mr. B thought that one could/should not recognize both enormous evil and enormous good in the same person.  If one was evil, then the good was essentially irrelevant.  If one had done tremendous good, then it should not matter if there was bad along the way.  I tend to see the whole.  I take the good where I find it (for example, I have found great truth and utility in the writings of Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda although I would not recognize either as my “guru”), but do not expect the “bad” to be absent or non-coexistent with the “good” and tend to be outspoken in my recognition of both.  I still sometimes get in trouble for this.


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