It is not a natural disaster, it does not happen at random and it is not a necessary evil. It is a vile beast that we created, and we must kill, because it is holding us as a human race back.
We love a good crowd fund. Something that goes viral, a story of overwhelming hardship, of incredible difficulty and of selfless commitment. It seems to be the way that fundraising is heading; giving money directly to the recipient who needs it without all the hassle and rigmarole of the charity organisation taking out their cut and slowing down the process. This way, 100% (minus the website fees of course) goes straight to the people who need it. Isn’t that what we all want?
But where does the 100% (minus the website fee of course) actually go to? Who is making sure that there is a real need for this request? Who is working out if there is a better way to meet the need or not? Who is tracking how the money is spent, if it really gets spent on what people were giving to? Who is monitoring the outcomes of this whole process? In the long run, is this process helping or is it causing more damage? Does that matter to people when they donate? Should it?
There is something to be said for a report. It doesn’t sound sexy, but finding out if you are making a difference when you donate money is surely the greatest return on your gift, rather than just assuming that you are making a difference.
Tim Costello, previous Chief Advocate for World Vision Australia, would tell the story of when someone wanted to give a large amount of money to the organisation but only if 100% of it went to the programs in Africa. Tim said ‘Sure. You hand me a cheque and I will post it to Africa for you. What happens to it when it gets there? I don’t know. But at least we will know that 100% of it went there’.
There is nothing wrong with crowd funding to help people, in fact it can be amazing, but let’s not confuse it with sustainable development and long-term growth. It costs money to work out what people’s needs are. It costs money to figure out the best way to meet those needs with respect, dignity and in a sustainable fashion. It costs money to ask the hard questions after a project has taken place to really discover if the desired outcomes have been met. All of this is not able to come from a crowd funding site…yet.
A good set of data is exciting to some people. They love it. Their life is a spreadsheet. They are the type of people that will say, ‘I’ve got a spreadsheet for that’.
I have said that.
I am one of those people.
I love the way that information and data points can give you an understanding of so many parts of our world and, if you can measure something you can improve it. But most of all because numbers tell a story.
But numbers never tell the whole story. How can we measure how good someone’s life is going to be by using numbers? Well, the United Nations is giving it a go. They have released the Human Capital Index. This little number measures a bucket load of data points in the lives of individuals and then ranks countries on what their quality of life is. Things like adult survival rate, probability of survival at age 5, expected school years and harmonized test scores (which is a way to understand student achievement on a global scale and not, as I thought, students around the world taking tests via the medium of song).
What do we learn from these numbers? Well, not a great deal that we didn’t already know. Sub-Saharan Africa are not doing that well, with Chad coming dead last, Australia is in the top 10, sitting at number 7, behind Ireland but ahead of Sweden (I’m not sure what to make of that).
What is surprising is that in first place is Singapore, just ahead of Korea. Both of which have incredibly high Harmonized Test Scores which is the difference between them and the rest of the top 10.
But I guess, after all is added up and calculated we can see that whilst things are indeed getting better, the majority of humanity is not living up to its potential because of poverty. Imagine all the things that we are missing out on, the people, the personalities, the ideas and creativity, the families, the stories – all because of a construct we created. We must end it and we must end it now. It won’t be ended by governments or massive corporations, it is going to be ended by every person doing their bit, and it can start here.
There are numerous studies on the impact that generosity has on people. It’s almost beyond a joke now. Generosity makes you feel better, makes you feel happier, is good for your mental health and can make you live longer. What more evidence do you need?
I’m glad you asked, because, there is more…
It turns out that, as well as all the afore mentioned benefits, being generous also allows you to have better relationships with your friends and sleep better.
But, again, there is more. After gaining better friendships and waking up so well rested, if you continue on your merry way of generosity you will feel more confident and less loathing of yourself. That’s right, ‘generosity is a natural confidence builder and natural repellent of self hatred’.
How is this all possible? It really comes down to the effect that it has on our minds as we do something for someone else. That process of thinking outside of ourselves, even if is brief, when done over a period of time, changes our perspective on our lives, problems and difficulties, helping us see the word with clearer vision and a better sense of reality.
Having a fight with a friend? Give some money away.
Having trouble sleeping? Give some money away.
Want to build confidence and hate yourself less? Give some money away.
Now, being generous is more than just giving money away, but that is the easiest place to start. Being intentional about doing something for someone else gives you control – you take ownership of that part of your life and the effects are far and wide.
It is easy to call someone names. It is simple to see one thing that a person does and create a story about who they are – judge them on their behaviours. It is much harder to get to know the person, understand their journey to this point, and even empathise with them as to why they sometimes behave the way they do. But isn’t that what we all want? We can be so quick to judge people around us but expect everyone to see us for who we really are, as complex human beings, rather than as the sum of some of the stupid things we do.
There are grave dangers around what we can do to each other when we are not connected, we don’t know each other and the stories that make up our identity, and we don’t understand the intrinsic value that each person carries within them.
So, I have been thinking about how I engage with people and topics, especially online. Perhaps you may find this valuable.
Rules of engagement:
- If someone has not travelled with you through your journey of crap and disfunction, if they haven’t sat with you when you are at your worst, celebrated with you when you are at your best and dreamed with you during the times in between, they have no right to offer their opinion on what you should do. People will still offer their opinions, but you only get to listen to the ones that come from the people who have earned it.
- Keep your political and social opinion to yourself. The only time you should share your opinion is if it is not set in concrete and can be shaped by what other people think and feel. This is called a discussion. It is a wonderful place were people are free to disagree with each other, challenge thinking and behaviour and are encouraged to own it when they think they have been wrong about something. It is a place where a person’s ideals and opinions are separated from their value as a human being – meaning that a person can say something, do something or think something that some might consider not nice or unhelpful, but they are not considered bad or evil. They are, like all of us, on a journey of growth and improvement. Because, let’s face it, in a few minutes it is likely we will be saying something, doing something or thinking something not nice or unhelpful.
- If you do not like something on television for whatever reason, don’t watch it, don’t talk about it, don’t post on social media about it. Don’t give it air to exist. Instead focus on creating the type of content that you want to see. Act out of positivity and creativity rather than out of negativity.
- Most of all, seek to connect and engage with other people and their story. Everything that everyone does makes sense to them. If you don’t understand them yet, ask more questions.
I think I’ve figured it out. The mystery behind why we Australians, like sport so much. And it all comes down to this…
Bad news impacts us much more than good news.
Now, stick with me for a second.
Hans Rosling, author of Factfulness, talks about how humanity has instilled within it the Fear Instinct, which seeks out news or threats to our lives from things which we should be afraid of. Historically, these things have been impending disaster or tragedy. Things that we should fear, so that we stay alive.
So, as a result the news each day is filled with stories that cause fear and sadness because that resonates with our fear instinct. In the history of the world, we have never been better at finding the bad news anywhere in our world and immediately broadcasting it to everyone, than we are now. We are more informed today than at any other time about the bad things that happen, but statistically the world has never been less violent and more safe.
What does that have to do with sport?
By the time that Sport gets mentioned on the news on TV, or our news feed, or we scroll down the news webpage to the sport section, we are so desperate for something positive and to feel good about the world we latch onto sport. And when our team wins it pulls us out of our depressed pit we have been living in for 45 minutes and takes us to a place of euphoria (by comparison). We chase that feeling as it becomes the antidote to the horrors in our world.
This is not just an Australian phenomenon. It is global. We think we love our sport in Australia but have you ever been to a sporting event in another country – we are all as crazy as each other.
Really, it just comes down to us understanding and managing our emotions. The world is not all bad with the only shining light being sport. There are so many good things happening for us to feel positive outside of our favourite team having a good game/match/innings/set/season/pre-season/draft.
Plus, sport is a fools antidote, because eventually our team loses and we are back to being depressed, until next week when they are ‘sure to win again’. It’s a never ending cycle. If we can recognise that, yes, there are bad things in the world, injustices and tragedies, but we are in a much better position that we have been for decades, and we don’t need sport to cheer us up. Feel free to start here.
Is it possible that you don’t have to pick sides? I hope so.
Can I care about people living in poverty in other countries and also those living in poverty in Australia? Are they really mutually exclusive?
I know of a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who gives money to support single mothers with children suffering from a disability…and that’s it. That is his focus. People will talk to him about cancer and other health charities, kids charities and even couples with children suffering from a disability, but he wont give to them because it doesn’t fall in line with his generosity focus. It doesn’t mean he has no heart. In fact he cares very deeply for all these issues but his choice is made.
I have discovered that there is a difference between being selective with the organisations that I support and not caring. My absolute desire is to end poverty, with a specific focus on developing countries and that is what I put all my energy towards. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about finding a cure for cancer…and research suggests that you have more of an impact by giving greater amounts to a few charities rather than small amounts to many charities.
The true call of generosity is to open your heart to those that are hurting, suffering injustice, or are battling in the face of severe obstacles. To be able to sit in that space and connect with what their experience would be like. You don’t have to fix the situation, but just be willing to encounter it. Out of that experience, you may want to do something to help, or not, that’s okay, just ensure that you are giving back to something.
It is a risk to open yourself up to those who are in need, it can be painful, but if we can live our lives with that as a focus then generosity will be the outcome.
Everyone had a mother. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, you had one. It’s kind of nice to know, that in an age of disruption, disconnection and division, every person on the planet was born of a woman. We all started out as helpless, fleshy blobs that were 100% reliant upon someone to care for us.
Not every mother is the same though. That’s quite an understatement. Each one has their own difficulties in life, past experiences which shape their present day expression, and insecurities. All this creates interesting environments for relationships to be formed. Some people have amazing relationships with their mother, some have great relationships, some good, some okay, some not so good, and some awful. That’s okay.
Some people lost their mother early, some later in life, some people have a ‘mum’ that’s not their mum. That’s okay too.
Whatever the case, whatever the status of relationship, we can categorically say that we have all had one, have one, miss one, need one and we take one day a year to celebrate that. Mother’s Day.
One universal theme that I come across for 99% of mothers is their desire to provide the best for their kids. Often, it is about providing a better life than they had experienced themselves. What a remarkable goal, outworked by thousands of acts of selflessness over years to give something so profound that most kids won’t understand or appreciate: opportunity.
I’ve seen it in the slums of Delhi. Mothers, who have never had the chance to go to school, standing proudly next to their young daughters in school uniform, glowing about how their girls love to learn.
I’ve seen it in the Philippines. Mothers living by a rubbish dump, doing everything possible to enable their small family to survive the day, somehow finding food to eat and keep a roof over their heads.
I see it in my wife. Navigating motherhood in a culture that highlights how amazing the lives of other mothers are, all the while running a small business and still coming to terms with some aspects of being a mum which don’t come naturally, but nailing mostly and sometimes not nailing it. I love that about her.
There is something to love about every mother, and probably a great many things to love about your mother. So, happy Mother’s Day to all the mums, mums wanting to be mums, kids of mums without a mum this year, and mums who have lost kids. One day isn’t really enough to capture all the meaning that is tied to this relationship, but it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday.
I am not the first person to be confronted by it and I won’t be the last, but it is still overwhelming. To discover that I have an addiction was quite a shock. There weren’t any tell-tale signs, or specific behaviour which would have given it away and it wasn’t until I sat thoughtfully and considered what motivated me in my decisions that I noticed it, staring me in the face.
I am addicted to feeling good. It might not sound like much but it is a sneaky little motivation that has robbed me of so much. It has kept me from being bold, trying new things, building strong relationships, having difficult but necessary conversations, and ultimately it has kept me from growing.
You see, as one of the motivating jets that can make my decisions on a sub-conscious level, feeling good has kept me inside my comfort zone, unchallenged and lacking integrity. Sure there are other things that can motivate our behaviour without us realising it, but for me feeling good is my kryptonite.
But, as with any addiction, the more you acknowledge it, talk about it and understand it, the less control it has. Over time, as I have noticed it playing out, I have been slowly replacing the urge to feel good with the desire to allow myself to feel uncomfortable. To sit the space of discomfort and realise that it won’t kill me, but in fact it could be the exact thing that I need to experience to get to where God is calling me to go.
We are nearly there you know. We have almost overcome extreme poverty. It’s not quite beaten as there are still hundreds of millions of people suffering in it but we have made some huge progress over the last 50 years and we will beat it in my lifetime. So I’ve been giving some thought to what life will look like for me ‘after poverty’.
It’s a strange thing to think about but the reality hit me the other day as I was contemplating my life and purpose. I have been working at overcoming poverty for such a long time now, and there are many more people who have been doing it for longer, so what would I do with life when there is no longer a need to rid the world of extreme poverty? How will my skills transfer? Not only that, how will my passions transfer.
This is the most exciting thought process that I have ever had – not because I am looking for another job but because at some point in the future, I will make myself obsolete and nothing could make me happier. I long for a world in which organisations like Opportunity International are no longer around because this means that people everywhere are able to make the most of their life, live up to their full potential, regardless of where they were born.
Surely this is the greatest succession plan. I am incredibly glad that of all the jobs that will become obsolete in the future, mine is one of them.
We are discovering that money, whilst it can’t buy long term happiness, can in fact buy short term happiness (happiness blips), if we spend it on the right thing. Things like the right experience which can create a memory that last a lifetime, rather than a physical thing that depreciates and collects dust over a lifetime. Also, spending money on specific brands – you know, the ones that go out of their way to create a relationship with you which build a customer loyalty bordering on the fanatical. Or on those larger purchases that we have been dreaming of for a long time – big screen TV, or the furniture we have been waiting so long for. These can all create some form of happiness.
But, to get the best form of happiness from money, and to discover the key to a meaningful life, is to spend money on someone else. Studies have suggested this for a while, that we can find happiness in a generous act, and that as our incomes increase the levels of happiness we experience do not correlate. Meaning that our level of happiness does not increase at the same rate as our level of income – there is a certain point when our income level has no impact on how happy we. Perhaps that is because we are not spending our money on things that will create happiness, or perhaps it’s what Dave Ramsay suggests,
“Money won’t make you happy. Money just makes you more of what you already are”.
To find happiness and real purpose with our money is to spend it on someone else, donate it to charity or otherwise give it away. This will dramatically increases our level of happiness. Doing it once might make you happy for a day, but making it a lifelong habit can make a lasting difference in your life, and the lives of others.