I’ll be the first to admit that it can take me a little while to understand what is happening ‘within myself’. I will often ask ‘what is the emotion that I am currently feeling’, or, more often, ‘I remember feeling an emotion the other day, what was that?’ I can be slow.
“Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”
Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet is credited as saying this. And it’s true. You will never be disappointed by anyone if you have no expectations. It’s also a very sad way to live. Because often we get what we expect to get. So when we expect nothing from someone we get exactly that.
If we expect the worst from people, it is surprising (or maybe not as surprising) how often we receive the worst from people.
Is the guarantee of never being disappointed worth missing out on getting the best from someone? If you expect great things from a person, you will be let down at some stage, but you will also see great things from them.
Take how we think about big business for example. The general population now expects big, faceless companies to do the wrong thing. To monopolise the market, tear down the little guy, and rip people off so they can pay their shareholders more in profits. When that happens, it is just business as usual. We expect it.
But what about the hundreds of businesses that have signed up to become a B Corp – a company that balances purpose and profit for the good of our world? What if our expectations shifted and we began to expect businesses to focus on sustainability and community? Some would disappoint us, yes, but it would be worth it to see those that would live up to, or even exceed our expectations.
Expect great things and you will be disappointed sometimes, but it’s a small price to pay to see the great things that people are capable of.
I am anti-bully. I’m against them. I think we should treat everyone we come across with kindness and generosity.
Except, sometimes I don’t live up to that. Just ask my kids.
For the most part though, kindness and generosity drives me.
There are those who still seem to bully others no matter what time of day, how much sleep they got last night or how strong their coffee is. Why is that? What do people still behave like this?
It’s a learned behaviour. They got it from somewhere when they were younger. Somebody taught them to behave like this, either intentionally or by example.
No one called them out. No one told them “this is not okay”, and follow that up with, “you aren’t able to be my friend/stay at this school/work at this company/lead this organisation/represent this entity and still behave like that.”
It works for them. They get want they want this way. It has worked for them their entire life, so why should they change now?
They are afraid. Trampling on other people does not come from a good place. It comes from someone who is deeply afraid of rejection and being hurt.
We know that they are there. We see them in our schools, workplaces and in the community. What do we do with them?
Firstly, there are consequences for behaviour. Legal, relational and social. Bullies must face those consequences.
But the most dangerous thing that we can do to bullies is to beat them down into submission. We can’t just bully the bullies and then celebrate the win because instead of creating one less bully in the world, we have created one more. Violence leads to more violence. And bullying perpetuates more bullying.
A violent take over of a country is always followed by a violent take over of the country. Unless someone intentionally fosters peace in amongst the violence. It’s the same for how we relate to people within our community.
The most generous thing we can do is to intentionally foster peace. Leave room for consequences, and see them, not as a stick to punish, but as a helping hand to heal. To overcome bullying, we must protect the vulnerable and heal the bullies.
There aren’t a whole lot of people spruiking the benefits of generosity. There are some books on it, a network or two, but no one else that I can find who makes it their main point of interest.
Katrina Lake, Founder and CEO of Stitch Fix, notes that “When you are doing something nobody else is doing you are either the smartest or the stupidest person in the room”.
I’m not sure what this says about me, there doesn’t seem to be too much room to move – it’s either one of the other. Although it could be both. The jury is out on that though.
Here is what I know:
Every good thing comes from generosity.
If you have a good thing in your life I have no doubt that it is born out something that you have done for someone else. The people that you love, those that you serve, the generous mindset that you have.
Generosity is the overflow of what is happening internally.
Generosity is not born in a vacuum. It doesn’t just magically appear in your actions without first appearing in your internal life. First there is a generous thought and then there is a generous action.
Generosity is the cure all.
Not matter what is happening for you, be it the most tragic of circumstances that you can experience, you will be helped by being generous to someone else. It won’t remove all pain and suffering but it will provide you with the strength and motivation to take the next step and that is all anyone can ask of you.
Don’t take my word for it. Get on the generosity train, have a generous thought, let it lead to a generous action and see what change comes in your life.
Here are some things that I have learned about happiness…
I cannot make anyone happy. However hard I try. It is just not possible for me to do that. They chose whether they are happy or not with me in their life. This doesn’t give me permission to be a jerk, but it does take the stress away when I acknowledge that I’m not in charge of their happiness. It’s not my job to make people happy.
If you are not happy where you are, do something. It’s simple but not easy because you only have two options, you can change your situation or you can change your perspective of your situation. Eckart Tolle said that if you are not happy then “change the situation by taking action…leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness”
Either way, you are in charge of your own happiness.
In light of the above two, this one is key. The happiest people on the planet are generous. Generosity is the quickest, sure-fire way to get to a happy place. People are generous because they are grateful. Gratitude does not come from happiness. Happiness comes from gratitude.
“Happiness does not lead to gratitude. Gratitude leads to happiness.” Monk David Steindl-Rast
I find happiness to be elusive. One minute I will feel happy, the next minute the coffee I was drinking is finished, or the weather changed, or one of the kids is loud, or the series I was binging has finished.
This sort of happiness seems so fickle because it is entirely dependent upon what is happening to me and my focus is only on what I am consuming. I hate that. I want to be someone that is always happy, no matter what is going on around them.
Bob Dylan said that happy is a ‘yuppie word’. It’s a word that gets used by people who are so fortunate in their life that they have time to think about whether they are happy or not. He went on to say that ‘it’s not happiness or unhappiness, it’s either blessed or unblessed.’
I don’t know what unblessed looks like, but I know that if I have air in my lungs, enough food to eat, a roof over my head and people in my life that love me, then I am blessed – and that makes me happy.
Every year in February there is the Random Acts of Kindness Day, during which we are encouraged to show small acts of kindness to strangers that we encounter, to make kindness the norm. I love this idea and am encouraged by the movement. As with all parts of generosity, the science behind it proves that it is good for everyone involved, so get on it.
The challenge that I am putting to people (mostly me) this year is, alongside your random acts of kindness to total strangers on February 17, find small random kind things that you can do to your own household.
For some reason, when thinking about participating in random acts of kindness I automatically assume that it will be for someone I have never met before because that’s exciting. To imagine their surprise and delight when I gift them with something makes me happy. I find it harder to think of creating the same experience for those in my family. Perhaps I’m just a terrible person, but it seems to be a more challenging project.
Maybe the difference is the expectation. If I do a random thing once a year to someone I don’t know, then on February 18 no one is waiting expectantly to be surprised and delighted. It’s a ‘no pressure’ type of kindness. Kind of like the ‘one night stand’ version.
If I create a kindness experience for my family, those that I see every day, that see me every day and know me the best, if I have a bad day when I am ‘not as kind’, then they can rightfully ask where my kindness went. I’m not sure if I want to face that sort of scrutiny. Which is crazy because I know that if I can be kind at random intervals to them then it will serve my family well and deepen our love for each other.
So here’s to random acts of kindness everywhere but also in my household on February 17, and hopefully more to come after as it becomes the norm.
“Power over others is weakness disguised as strength.” Eckart Tolle
It’s obvious when it happens to other people. I can see it as clear as day, and I can’t figure out why they can’t.
A negative comment, a harsh opinion, and quite frankly, offensive words, from someone that is unknown to the individual. Someone that hasn’t earned the right to have any opinion that carries weight, but still it upsets. In that moment they are allowing this anonymous person to have power over them, and that anonymous person is stepping into that position of power by taking on a role of ‘expert’.
The truth is this: anything that is said or done, especially from someone whom you do not know, has nothing to do with you or your behaviour, and is all about the other person and their issues. Their pain and insecurity is overflowing and manifesting as judgement and outrage.
It is easy to see when it is happening to others, but when it happens to you, when someone judges you for something you say or do or write, it is a lot more challenging to not be swayed by ‘public opinion’. It can be difficult to not give someone power over how we feel.
It is even harder to spot when you are the perpetrator of that ‘public opinion’. When you are tearing someone down because of their ‘awful’ behaviour sometimes it is almost impossible to see that your pain and insecurity is overflowing on to others. That feeling of power and influence is intoxicating.
Power is an illusion. We seek it and wield it because it can help us feel strong, but ‘power over others is weakness disguised as strength’.
True strength comes from humility. It comes from generosity. It comes from lifting others up. It takes great strength to not be swayed by ‘public opinion’ and secure in your own identity.
If you are in a position of power, or a seeking a position of power, perhaps take a moment and discover what area of weakness you are trying to cover up.
People often like to hear about the work that I do, and say things like,
‘It must be nice to have a purpose in what you do every day’, or
‘You must find it very rewarding’, or the almost condescending,
‘Is that your full-time role?’
The answer is ‘yes’ to all of those.
I see the longing in their eyes as they think about how amazing it would be to work in the not-for-profit world. Whilst I love it and I wouldn’t change it, here is my encouragement to you if you think that…
Don’t do it.
Not because charitable organisations are challenging places to work (which they can be), or because charitable organisations can be limited with funding to pay staff (which they can also be), but because not everyone should do it.
Here’s why you shouldn’t work for a charity. Whilst we could do with more great people who work for charities that are doing good, it is more important for the world to have more people creating amazing businesses and organisations – making as much money as they can, so they can give away as much as they can, to do the most good that they can.
Instead of working for a charity, create businesses people want to work at, that are known for their amazing culture and incredible generosity, and I guarantee that not only will you make a significant impact in the world, people will also say the same three things to you that they say to me.
In saying all of that, volunteer for a charity as much as you want.
It is exhausting. Keeping tabs on people, making sure they are behaving themselves and not doing something that they shouldn’t be.
I’m not talking about parenting. I’m talking about monitoring the behaviour of your friends and family. Because if you aren’t there looking over their shoulder to keep them on the straight and narrow, then who will?
It may sound ridiculous, but it is easy enough to find ourselves in that space, even if it is just for a little while. We watch other people’s lives as spectators, seeing where and how they fall short, and not living up to what they hoped for. When they don’t reach their dreams or achieve their goals, failing in the process, we secretly (or not so secretly) judge them from the safety of the sidelines.
Judging other people’s behaviour can feel good in the moment, but it is exhausting. Partly because you have to keep track of them, but also you need to ensure that you don’t act in the same way so that when you judge, you can feel ‘morally superior’.
I’m encouraging you to give yourself a break from that. Take some time away from it, because here is what I have discovered…
We judge because we are afraid. The mistakes that we fear making are the areas in which we are the most judgemental of others. This leads to inaction and stagnation.
So, lay off other people and face your fear. Try that thing you have been afraid to say out loud. It is such a better use of time and energy, and it may just lead to something amazing.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
– Frederick Douglass
It is generous to help those living in poverty, but not the way that you think.
Outside of the positive impact it creates in overcoming poverty (and the fact that it is the right thing to do), it’s generous to you.
But it’s more than how it makes you feel. It’s more than the health benefits, be they physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual (and it is all those things). It is about the world. Your world.
We are fortunate that there are so many benefits for us when we give. What makes it more extraordinary is that an act of generosity towards a just cause shifts the balance, one step at a time, from oppression towards freedom. It helps to remove the foot of injustice off the neck of those living in poverty, so that they can not only breathe but create a life that provides for their family and improves our world in the process.
We cannot be content with our progress and success at any level when there are those who are unable to meet their basic needs. Until we are able to fix that, ‘neither persons nor property will be safe’. If you want to overcome the problems we have in society, help lift those living in poverty out of that man-made cycle.
What do we do from here?
Make a stand for those suffering injustice. In whatever way that looks for you. Be it donating to an organisation that helps people work their way out of poverty, or finding your way to restore justice so that we can all be safe.