During times like these I am reminded that, no matter where we live, we are all one tragedy away from being forced from our homes, running for our lives and needing help from a stranger. It may not feel like that to you now, but I am sure 6 weeks ago thousands of Australians would never have imagined it either.
At the start of this year I set myself a challenge. My ‘Must Read’ list of books kept growing and I really wasn’t making my way through the long list of amazing books people kept recommending to me. Not that I wasn’t reading, in fact I was making my way through quite a number of books, but they were not the type of books that were serving me and helping me shape who I wanted to become (you may see some of them in the list of random books below).
So, my challenge was to read 1 book a month from my list and after I finished it, I could read anything else I wanted, as long as at the start of the next month I was to begin the next book. It’s been a fun year, some amazing books, some were a bit of a waste of time…but I completed the task.
Here is my list:
January – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
Being a person that doesn’t swear a lot, I read this book, not because of the title, but because someone suggested it to me. I predicted that Mark Manson would calm down with the swearing after the first few chapters and actually got into the content. It is a book about self-responsibility, taking ownership and not being influenced by external factors. (This is one of quite a number of books that feature an *, or a ? or %#@! to hide a swearword, it has become quite a thing but has kind of lost its impact now).
February – All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
This was the only fiction book amongst my official list this year. By far and away the best fiction book that I have ever read (sorry Lee Child). An incredible story from different perspectives based during the build up to and through the impact of, World War 2.
March – Factfullness – Hans Rosling
The last book that Hans wrote before he died (I found that out as I finished it and I may have been a little bit emotional about that). Hans lists the 10 reasons we are wrong about the world and why things are better than we think. Need a pick me up? Get into this one.
April – Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe
An insight into Australian Indigenous history, something that I think we should all read, and a good starting point for people who want to understand more about what happened in our past. I was astounded by the ingenuity and wisdom of the first Australians.
May – Creativity Inc. – Ed Catmul
Ed was the CEO of Pixar Animation Studios to see how he started out in life and then with this incredible culture, one of radical candour and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone. It was a bit of a dry read at times, but it was punctuated by some amazing stories about the movies they produce and some of the struggles that they went through.
June – The Sickness Unto Death – Soren Kirkergaard
As I got into the winter months I foolishly started reading some books that were quite intense and this was one of those. I had heard of Soren Kirkegaard before, I had heard people quote him and he sounded amazing, so I thought I’d grab one of his books and read it.
With this one, most of the time I was trying to figure out what he was talking about, piece the sentences together to make sense, which I assume is difficult because it’s been translated from Danish. I think the general theme of this book or the general understanding of it is that the sickness unto death is despair. That’s all I have.
July – Anti-Fragile – Nassim Taleb
Nassim Taleb seems to me to be like an incredible intelligent guy and Anti-Fragile is unpacking what the opposite of fragile is. Which is not something that is hard or strong but instead something that continues to grow stronger when it encounters shocks and tumult. Great concept, tough read for me.
August – Building a Story Brand – Donald Miller
I listen to the Building a Story Brand podcast with Donald Miller and I’ve heard him talk about this marketing concept a number of times so I thought I’d actually grab the book and read it. He unpacks a clear process to break down the elements of your company’s story and helps you communicate it very clearly. This is helpful for anyone in business, or marketing, or marketing businesses, or just about anything else.
September – Good to Great – Jim Collins
I think I cheated with this one, I listened to it as an audiobook, so I’m not sure how much I remember but in it Jim Collins goes through some of the greatest companies that were great for a long period of time, outperforming the market norm and discovered the things that made them great. Mostly it was to do with culture and leadership.
October – The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Charles Duhigg unpacks why we do the things we do, how we form habits, how the brain works in habit forming and how we can stop doing the things that we want to stop doing. He looks at Alcoholics Anonymous as a great example of this. Habits follow the pattern of cue-behaviour-reward, to change them is about shifting the behaviour and keeping the reward.
There is a great story about why child nutrition was poor in rural parts of the USA a few decades ago, and how a sole focus on safety turned one company around.
November -The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Perhaps I missed something with this one. It was a good read and a great philosophical insight into how people can succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity, but I found it lacked quality practical applications.
December – Indistractable – Nir Eyal
Nir examines the reality that humans have been easily distracted for our entire history. We like to blame technology but we really like to avoid uncomfortable feelings and will find anything to distract us from them. This book gives practical tips on how to notice when we are being distracted, figure out why and create a plan to overcome it. His tips are game changers.
Other random books read:
- Jack Reacher – Lee Child (x5 – Don’t judge me)
- Unpoverty – Mark Lutz – Rich Lessons from the Working Poor
- How We Love – Milan & Kay Yerkovich – Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage
- A World of Three Zero’s – Mohammad Yunas – The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Carbon Emissions
- Weconomy – Craig Kielburger, Holly Branson, Marc Kielburger – You can Find Meaning, Make a Living and change the world
- Inspired – Rachel Held Evans
So, there you have it. I would love to hear your favourites from this year and what I can read in 2020!
“Show me you calendar and your bank statement and I will show you your priorities.”
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become” James Clear
“How you do anything is how you do everything” James Bryant
You can tell quite a bit about a person by where they spend their time and where they spend their money. It shows you what they care about the most, even more so that what they say their priorities are. Words are easy but behaviour tells the full story and what we say our priorities are may not line up with reality.
It works on a national level as well. Australia sees itself as a global leader in all things promoting democracy and development. We want the world, especially the Asian region, to do well and for everyone to live safe and health lives…or so we say.
Our finances tell a different story. The past decade has seen an embarrassing decrease in the amount of assistance given to our neighbouring countries, so much so, that we are currently investing the lowest amount money to foreign aid in the history of foreign aid. We promised to get to place where we gave 0.5% of our budget to foreign aid. That’s 50c in every $100 earned. But we are currently giving 0.21%, or 21c in every $100 and it is unlikely to change.
It’s embarrassing, because we are being exposed for who we actually are on a global scale. The real leaders in the world are showing us up in their generosity. Sweden gives 1.1% of their Gross National Income, the UK gives 0.7%, Netherlands are at 0.65% and Germany are giving 0.41%.
We say we care about these things, but we don’t. We aren’t leading, in fact we are hiding. We are avoiding the difficulty of poverty in our region (our own back yard, so to speak) and hoping it goes away. History shows us that never works.
We must face it, lead the world in development and generosity and see positive change come as a result.
The Australian Federal Government says that helping our neighbouring countries transition people out of poverty “will be important for Australia’s economy and security.”
Giving money for the purpose of aid, development and education is not just a nice thing to do, it’s not just about creating more customers who are able to buy more of our exports, but it makes the world a safer place.
We know that when there is a higher proportion of people living in poverty in developing countries, who have little to no opportunities to improve their lives, the region will become unstable, and young people will become “prone to radicalisation, and susceptible to the influence of countries and ideas at odds with Australia’s interests”.
So we must act, because if we don’t “create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of grinding poverty, instability will grow and people will continue to seek refuge from violence and economic hardship on our shores.”
It sounds blunt, and it’s not the only reason why Foreign Aid is important, but if we want to stop the rise of radicalisation, violence and refugees seeking asylum, giving aid to the countries around us will do that. In fact, we should be giving more.
There are parts of our community that continues to ask the following question:
Why are we giving away $4b in aid when our farmers are struggling?
At first glance it casts Australia’s Foreign Aid budget in a questionable light. But it is horribly short sighted.
Australia exports over $430 billion worth of goods to the rest of the world, and much of it goes to Asia. The majority of wheat grown in Australia is sold overseas, with the major markets in Asia and the Middle East. Annually, it brings in about $2.4b.
Imagine if every country in Asia had worked their way out of poverty and had the capacity to purchase more? Countries such as Thailand and South Korea were once aid recipients and are now among Australia’s 10 largest trade partners.
In short, there is a very good reason to look after your customers. Treat them well and they will become repeat customers. If you provide a way for them to improve their lives so they can buy more wheat and meat products from Australian farmers then that just makes good economic sense. That’s it.
“Surely charity begins at home and surely we must look after our own first.”
“We must take care of our own country before we could even consider taking care of somebody else.”
In an attempt to be part of the active conversation around foreign aid and its complexity, here are a few thoughts as to why the above comments, which seem accurate, are wrong. There are so many reasons why we need to reconsider how we look at the issue of foreign aid.
Firstly, and not for nothing, but ‘charity begins at home’ actually comes from the concept that charity gets taught to kids first in their home, that’s where we learn about helping others. It’s not a statement about how our care and concern for other humans must be, first and foremost, on the people that happen to live within the same arbitrary borders as us, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that just has to wait in line.
Secondly, the more money that we put in the places that are so close to us, that would just about be considered Australia, the better off we are. Take Indonesia, for example, the more money that we can put towards their education system, creating a better educated society, increased economic growth and a more stable region. We know that Indonesia will become the 4th biggest economy in the world over the next 20 years, so it makes economic sense to help end poverty there. Surely we can all agree that increased economic growth and stability in Indonesia and the Asian region as a whole is a good thing?
As the Australian Government says:
“Helping poor people out of poverty in areas of strategic importance for Australia is also good for our own peace and stability. Of Australia’s 24 nearest neighbours, 22 are developing countries with some of them particularly fragile and vulnerable.”
Next: Instead of bemoaning about how we are ripping our farmers off, let’s look at why Foreign Aid is good for our farmers.
I know not to read the comments. I know that.
It’s something that I tell other people about social media – “Don’t read the comments!”
But, well I forgot for some reason. I don’t know why. When I came across a meme featuring Prime Minister Scott Morrison, put together by people bemoaning about how Australia gives $4 billion worth of foreign aid to other countries and not to our struggling farmers, I should have kept scrolling. But I didn’t. Rookie mistake.
The comments were different versions of “this is disgraceful, let’s look after our own first!” and of course “Charity begins at home!”, not to mention numerous comments on how awful all of our ‘corrupt’ politicians are.
As I read through these comments from people, whom I would consider ignorant and uneducated on the wider issues around foreign aid and global economics, I was stuck. I disagreed with everything that was being said and much was based on misinformation, which made me angry. I imagined that the type of people who are commenting would be those who are unwilling to change their opinion, or have an educated discussion, or any sort of discussion with anyone who disagreed with them without it turning into an argument with personal attacks and name-calling.
I found myself asking, if generosity is what I talk about and seek to live out, how can I be generous to these people? What does generosity look like in this situation?
I think it starts with self-reflection and asking some hard questions.
Am I willing to change my opinion?
Do I get argumentative with people who disagree with me?
How can I serve the discussion around issues where there is conflict?
The answer to the first two questions is ‘it depends’, which is a deeper conversation for another time.
The third question is about how I can serve the discussion, the answer is to participate in it, which is what the next post will be about…
We love the idea of teaching kids about being generous – because who wants to be the parent of ‘that selfish child’?
No one, that’s who.
But kids learn by osmosis. Just by being in the same proximity as their parents they pick up our patterns of behaviour and attitudes. If you don’t believe me, try swearing once around your small child. I guarantee that will become their new favourite word (or so I’m told, of course I wouldn’t know). Quite simple, if we are not generous then they won’t be.
So, quick, be generous!
But generosity is a muscle – it requires consistent practice. Try giving some money away to a person if you haven’t done it in a while. It’s painful, almost like working out for the first time in a few years.
Here is how we can find a way back to being the generous person we hope our kids turn into when they get older. It just takes some retraining of the ‘generosity muscle’, by doing the following:
This is the hardest part. Making a start. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. Take $5, set it aside and think about someone you love/like/tolerate/loathe and buy them a coffee. Just try it out, they may love it and be thankful, or they may tell you that they hate coffee and throw it in your face – it doesn’t matter either way. This is your training, not theirs.
2. Keep going
Now that you’ve made a start, find other ways to use $5 a week to make someone else’s day better. Coffee, snacks, a card or a small gift. $5 won’t buy much but the amount is not important, it is the intent behind it that matters.
Now that you are in the habit of being generous with $5 a week, take on the challenge of growing it. That can either be through multiple $5 acts of generosity or pooling more money together and making a larger impact on someone. A dinner perhaps, a donation to a charity, buying fuel for someone’s car or groceries for another family. Watch how people respond, but most importantly notice how you feel about yourself.
4. See Progress
Momentum builds and it changes the way you turn up in life. As you progress in your generosity journey, you will create different relationships with those around you because you are approaching them with a generosity mindset. You are becoming a different person now – a better version of you.
5. Bring a Friend
No one likes to travel alone…well some people do, but it’s still nice to have someone around sometimes. Find someone around you and take them on the journey of building their generosity muscle – it will change your life and theirs.
5 simple steps to work your generosity muscle and create a positive change in you, your kids and the world.
Have I missed something? I would love to hear from you!
On one hand I’m surprised, but when I take the time to think about it, it doesn’t surprise me that much. I mean, weird things make the news.
This one was not so much weird, but almost unremarkable, comparatively.
A man in the north-west corner of the USA bought breakfast for himself and dozens of other people. He was eating alone and upon finishing his meal, on his way out he paid for his meal, and then the meal for every other person in the restaurant. He left before anyone found out.
It cost him a total of $200 and it impacted people so much that it made the local news. Whilst I am sure we would all agree that it was a wonderful act of generosity, was it newsworthy? Especially when we compare his gift of $200 to the millions that people give away each year – why is this a story and not something else?
Here is why I think that this act of generosity created such an impact.
It was breakfast. People love eating breakfast out, for me it is quite a treat. And if someone were to pay for that breakfast, then I would tell people about it.
It was random. People had no expectation that someone would pay for them. It is not a normal experience we encounter, especially a total stranger at another table eating breakfast.
It was immediate. The time between when the generous act was done and the financial impact on those in the restaurant was very close.
It was thoughtful. The recipients would have had many things they want to spend money on, and all of a sudden they have ‘extra’ money after not having to pay for their own breakfast. This experience would have felt like they actually made a profit.
It creates hope. Two types of hope; hope that maybe one day, someone will buy us breakfast too, but also hope that good people are still around, perhaps sitting at the table next to us without us knowing it.
I have done a similar thing before. After having dinner with a group of people, I paid for some of the meals of my friends as I left. To this day I don’t know if they know, or if the restaurant charged my friends after I left and got paid double. I do know that I feel weird about that memory, perhaps because I didn’t make it into the news.
You can learn from anyone. You can learn from everyone. No matter what age, gender, culture, background or life experience. There is always something you can learn. You can especially learn from the person that you respect the least.
To be able to do that requires a special kind of attitude that recognises that even if you disagree with someone about most things or dislike a person with a great deal of passion, they still have something to offer you. They can teach you something about something.
On the flipside, even if someone disagrees with you about most things or dislikes you with a great deal of passion, you have something to offer them. You can teach them something about something.
As with most things that are difficult, it requires an act of generosity. The act of generosity in this is to recognise the fact that learning can come from anyone, and then to seek it out. Of course, it is easier said than done, but it is an act of generosity towards others and towards yourself also.
Towards others because when you seek to learn from someone you actually communicate to them that they have value. What greater generosity could there be?
Towards yourself because in seeking to learn from someone else, especially someone that you don’t like, creates a posture of humility, ready to learn and ready to grow. That is an amazing gift for you.
I recently ran in a 10km community run. I am fairly new to this process of waking up early on a Sunday morning and running around with total strangers, this was my second time. Having done it before and surviving I thought I had it nailed, so I was very relaxed before the event started.
After the starting gun (horn) sounded I was off, running strongly, overtaking people left and right but soon I began to struggle. I couldn’t get into a rhythm and I barely felt comfortable the whole time. As you could imagine, people began to overtake me – which did not feel good at all. I thought I would have the strength and stamina to catch up to them again; I did not. My focus shifted from the people who had already overtaken me, and I concentrated on not letting anyone else past. That did not work either. People kept coming from nowhere and running past like I was standing still.
Finally, I shifted my focus to just finishing the race. Not stopping. Just put one foot in front of another. This I did achieve, and I enjoyed crossing the finish line, but it didn’t feel like a good run. I felt defeated and embarrassed that so many people overtook me. Clearly I was out of my league.
It turns out, though, I ran a personal best time. The first few km’s I ran out of my skin, faster than I have ever run before, which is why I slowed towards the end – and why I never felt comfortable. I was out of my comfort zone the whole time. If this was the best I have ever run, then why didn’t it feel good?
I think it has something to do with how we perceive progress. It is important to feel like we are getting somewhere. Progress, even if it is a tiny thing, is incredibly motivating.
However, progress, when based on comparison to other people’s success is incredibly demotivating because we see all the people in front of us (or overtaking us) in the journey. Plus, outside of an actual race, we don’t know where other people have started or where they will finish – they are most likely running a completely different race to you.
The best way to create progress in our lives is to focus purely on ourselves. Not on the other runners. If we continue to put one foot in front of another, concentrate on the race we are running, looking to be better than we were last time/yesterday then we will see progress much clearer than if we are looking left or right. That way, even if it doesn’t feel comfortable, it will still feel good.