I feel like we have been in the Christmas season for two months. There is something about the Australian culture which seems to “wind things down” for the year from mid October.
I heard a story of a defensive driving instructor teaching people how to safely navigate obstacles on the road. He set up traffic cones on the roadway they were using and instructed each driver to drive straight towards them, then when they got to a certain point, brake and avoid hitting them.
Every single driver ran into the cones.
He then asked, ‘What are you looking at when you are braking?’
‘The cones’ they all said.
To which he replied, ‘Don’t look at the cones, look at where you want to go’.
Every driver was then able to navigate past the cones without hitting them.
Often, we can get so caught up in what we are trying to avoid that we focus all our attention on that one thing, and keep running into it.
Ending poverty can sometimes feel like that. We know that we want to avoid people suffering in poverty. We don’t want people to go hungry. We don’t want people to get sick and die from easily curable diseases. We don’t want people to fall into generational cycles which traps families in a vulnerable state.
We know what we don’t want, but what do we want instead?
Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO of Acumen nails it when she says, “The opposite of poverty is not income, it’s dignity.”
So we are not just aiming for everyone to have more dollars in their bank account, that would help, but it is only one part of the process of each human being having dignity. We are aiming for every human to be respected, belong to a community, receive justice and have the capacity to reach their full potential.
Take your eyes off the traffic cones and aim for where you want to go.
‘You are one in a million’ is not as good as it sounds. It’s definitely not as good as it used to be.
It means that there are 7,600 more of you around the world, which doesn’t make you feel as unique. It is possible to meet them.
‘You are one in a billion’ sounds better.
Although that still means there are 7 of you out there.
One in 7.6 billion is the best, although it’s a bit clunky and not as easy to say.
This is one of the downsides to population growth.
The global population in 1700 was about 600 million people.
By 1800 it had reached around 1 billion.
It had reached 1.6 billion by 1900, 2 billion by 1928, 5 billion by 1987 and 7.9 billion in 2021.
Since 1800 the global population has increased by 700%.
People used to freak out about this and worry about our impending doom as the sheer amount of people would surely overrun the planet, use everything and bring about the end of the world.
Why is no one worried about this now?
Because we have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. When that happens, families have less children because they can be confident that they will survive, they no longer need to think about who will look after them when they get older, and they become more educated about contraception. People’s generosity did this.
At this stage the global population should plateau at around 11 billion in 2100. Crisis just about averted.
Now, on to climate change.
“The poor you will always have with you” – Jesus
Jesus was talking to a room full of people after someone used an expensive item in an extravagant act of gratitude towards him. Some in the room criticised this act, and in their moral superiority suggested a better use of this gift would be to sell it and give the money to the poor. Jesus essentially said, “if God is in your living room, then shower Him with your best. Spend up big on him because it probably won’t happen again. Tomorrow, when God is no longer in your living room, give generously to those who are living in poverty.”
What we think it means…
We take this interaction and think that it means that we don’t need to worry about trying to end poverty, because you can’t. It’s a fool’s errand. People will always be poor; it’s just how thing are. Give up now and save yourself some heartache.
What it actually means…
Aside from the main point of giving your best to God if He is literally sitting right in front of you, Jesus was talking about situational poverty, which is a transitional time that people go through. Life has all sorts of ups and downs and sometimes the downs can put you into a place of poverty for a season, which is when you require generosity from others. Situational poverty is a short term experience.
This is stark contrast to systemic poverty, which is generational in nature and ensures that those who are poor today will also be poor tomorrow – you know, the kind if extreme poverty we see in the world today. Systemic poverty is man-made and exists in the structures we have put into place which, among other things, ensure that those who are vulnerable are the ones that earn less, suffer greater life shocks, and end up living without what they need to flourish. It doesn’t matter what they do, the system is stacked against them and they are unable to work their way out of it. Most are born into it, and some fall into it, but it doesn’t matter how it happened, it doesn’t need to exist and we can end it.
Poverty will always exist, people will fall into poverty through challenging life circumstances, but to think it will always be the same group of people, and their family for generations to come, or that some people should live their entire lives in poverty because of where they were born, is arrogant, ignorant, and wrong.
Fortunately, we have been making some pretty great headway with some smart structures and a bunch of generous people. We know that systemic poverty doesn’t need to exist and that we can end it, one family and one community at a time. We can’t do it without you though.
“When you have faith in others you give them an incredible gift.”
John Maxwell & Jim Dornan
I am not great at buying presents. I have a real challenge every time a birthday, anniversary or other celebratory event comes around. I find it difficult to think about what items or experiences people will enjoy and value, and I do have a fear of failure when it comes to buying a gift for someone. As the Generosity Guy, this is a little embarrassing to admit.
My wife, on the other hand, seems to have a superpower in present buying. I don’t know how she does it, but somehow, she just knows what people are missing in their life and will find the perfect gift for them.
I take solace in the fact that I am not the only person in the world who struggles with this and we all have different strengths when it comes to showing love and affection for each other.
One gift that you can give to anyone, no matter who they are, is your belief. We may think that we live in a world where there is too much positive reinforcement and encouragement, but I don’t think that is even possible. So many ideas are idle, so many plans are stagnant, so many abilities are untapped because the right person hasn’t come alongside and said “I think you should give this a go”. Knowing that another person has faith in you, even if you don’t have faith in yourself is the greatest gift.
Money is spent. Resources get used. Help creates a cycle of dependence. But if you can give someone faith, space for them to grow, develop and realise that they are capable of greater things than they have ever imagined, it puts them on the path to success. That is a gift that continues to have an impact.
Being ‘generous’ used to mean that you were from noble birth. The term was reserved only for those families (which was essentially those that had generational wealth – some would give some of that wealth away).
Over time it changed from ‘being of noble birth’ to ‘being of noble spirit’. Moving from something you were born into and becoming more about the good and moral individual qualities that someone had. It didn’t change who was considered generous because many thought that people of noble birth had those qualities.
It didn’t take too long though, for people to realise that just because you were born into nobility, it doesn’t mean that you were of ‘noble spirit’. So, generosity was no longer measured by your family tree, and became all about actions. Anyone could be generous, no matter who they belonged to or how much money they had.
Fast forward to today, generosity has the following attributes:
It is Giving – A gift that shifts from one person to another. Be it time, money, presence, gifts, mental space, ideas, energy or encouragement.
It is Thoughtful – An act or gesture that an individual has put great thought into what would benefit the receiver. Be it something they enjoy or something that will help them.
It is Considerate – An act or gesture that takes into account the feelings of someone else, whether or not it is appropriate for them even if it would help, or if it may cause embarrassment.
It is Caring – An act designed to bring out the best possible outcome for the recipient.
It is Slow and Fast – Usually as a gift of time or presence with someone, that allows space to sit with them in their journey but also responds quickly.
It is Sacrificial – it costs something to be generous. A gift without cost is platitude.
It is Intentional – Something done on purpose.
Here’s what it isn’t…
Self centred – For the sole purpose of making the one giving the gift feel better.
Accidental – Without generous intent. (A generous person may be accidentally generous to someone once, maybe twice, but if the only time someone is generous to others is by accident, that is not generosity).
Thoughtless – with no thought about the long-term impact that the ‘generous’ act could create.
Cunning – actions which are political in nature, which are premeditated to bring power to the giver.
Manipulative – used to force someone to do something for you.
Restrictive – actions that are designed to hold someone back and keep them in their current situation. A gift that disempowers.
A limited time only – running out after a certain period of time.
It may be that generosity is a little more complicated than we originally thought, and it takes a bit more effort to do a good job of. But, it has the potential to create significant positive outcomes for everyone involved if we can do it well.
There’s an old saying that love ‘keeps no records of wrongdoing’.
I find it comforting to know that mistakes that I have made won’t be used against me in the future. That in a healthy relationship, through a process of owning up, seeking forgiveness, and restoring trust, mistakes and failures can be let go.
Love chooses to forget the times we stuffed up and remember the times we nailed it. It thinks that the times we managed to support, encourage, be present for and take care of others, is more important to focus on that the times when we didn’t do that.
James Clear would put it like this, ‘praise the good, ignore the bad’.
I like that kind of love. It is outrageously generous.
But I don’t always see, experience, or show that kind of love. I can remember times, pretty clearly, when someone didn’t meet my expectations of love, and also many times when I didn’t meet my own expectations of what love looks like to them.
The opposite of love is fear. When I act in a way that directly contradicts what love is, I know that I am no longer acting in love, but in fear.
Fear does keep records of wrongdoing. Fear remembers them, keeps track of them and then drags them up to use as a weapon any time it feels threatened.
Fear destroys relationships. It is outrageously stingy.
To move away from fear and towards love means acknowledging the fear, perhaps even unpacking it, and choosing to put it aside so that you can experience all that love has to offer.
What do we do with people when they wrong us? How should we treat them? With justice, mercy or grace?
Justice is giving someone what they deserve. An eye for an eye would be considered justice. It’s a just punishment. Now, as a society, we have decided to use isolation in a prison, along with financial fines to be what we consider justice. You do the crime, you do the time…or pay the fine.
Mercy is giving someone what they do not deserve. This is a free pass. Freedom to keep going on their way. All charges have been dropped. Debt completely cleared. We would all be drawn to mercy if we are caught doing something wrong, but it is the most dangerous of the three, if it’s in isolation.
Grace is the hard work of restoration, in partnership with either justice or mercy. It is the intentional act of drawing someone in, acknowledging what they did, that it was wrong, that it caused damage and deserves justice, offering forgiveness and a fresh start. If mercy and grace are offered and not accepted and behaviour is not changed, then the appropriate response is justice and grace– not out of a desire for revenge or retribution, but as an opportunity to grow, develop and change.
All three are an act of generosity. The gifts of justice, mercy and grace. But it is grace that has the greatest power to bring healing and restoration to people and relationships. Grace is also the hardest one to give out.
“What causes a problem matters less than what maintains it” – Trevor Kashey
“Who did this?”
The question hung in the silence for what seemed like an eternity as two sets of eyes looked back at me in fear, eagerly waiting to see how they should respond to this emotional time, depending on how upset I was.
Another broken item in the home. Not an uncommon experience although it is one that drives me a little crazy.
My desire to get to the bottom of who, what, why and when of these sorts of situations can be helpful to figure out just what happened, but at the same time it can cause greater stress than the traumatic breaking of the breakfast bowl.
The result can leave kids being so afraid of breaking something that they get anxious about carrying a bowl from the kitchen to the table and in their anxiety, drop said bowl and break it. Creating more anxiety. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This can happen in any area of life. We can get so caught up in avoiding failure that we are afraid to act, and when something does inevitably go wrong, we can expend all this energy figuring out who or what caused it, getting stuck in the process of dealing out blame. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for accountability and being responsible for your actions, but if it’s just about discovering who to get angry at then we have missed the point. Anger doesn’t create solutions. Blame doesn’t create growth.
Instead of asking, “who did this?”, a better question is “what can we learn from this?”, or “how do we grow from this?” or “how can we improve this?”
Who or what causes a problem ‘matters less than what maintains it.’ It’s not about how we got here but it’s about where to from here.
I enjoy organisational charts.
They help me understand how things are structured strategically. Who reports to who, how people are connected and who is responsible for what is fascinating to me.
Sometimes the chart is made up of job titles. Sometimes the name of the person is next to the job title. Very rarely there will be a few words included to give a brief explanation of what that person does.
What happens when we view organisations like this is that if something is happening with a member of the team, how seriously we take that depends on where they sit in the chart and how many staff they manage.
So, if one staff member is struggling with workload, lockdowns, or any number of things, if they have many people reporting to them then this is a serious issue, but if they are a job title at the bottom of the chart then it’s not as big of a deal.
Here’s the problem…
No organisation functions like this. Well, no healthy organisation.
Employees don’t live and work in a vacuum. They communicate and engage with staff from other departments to do their job well. The standard organisational chart does not help create a full picture of the people and their influence.
An organisation works more like a web. Everything and everyone is connected. If one person is struggling emotionally then it will pull and shift the entire organisation, no matter the size. The opposite is also true, if one person is killing it across all areas of their life then that will pull and shift the entire organisation. But we can’t rely on the ‘rockstars’ to make an organisation great. John Mark Comer would say that “a system is only as healthy as its least emotionally healthy person”.
How we manage and support any staff member influences the entire culture, from CEO to volunteer. Being generous in supporting emotional health and wellbeing for an individual will have a disproportionate positive impact on the whole web.
Nostradamus is credited with predicting numerous events, from the French Revolution to the rise of Napoleon and Hitler, plus the assassination of JFK, the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 and now Coronavirus.
Not bad for a guy who lived in the 1500’s.
Although, his writings are frustratingly vague, without dates, written in rhyming verses and in a few different languages.
It is believed he did this to obscure the meaning of the prophecies to escape persecution from the Inquisition. (Which he couldn’t see coming…sorry, a cheap prophecy joke). This only makes it easier to align his words with many world events. He wrote a lot about natural disasters and cities and battles and grief, which there never seems to be a shortage of so at some stage it is likely something he has written will look like it relates to an event.
All that aside, no one has ever been able to connect his predictions with actual events until after they happened. His writings have never stopped anything from happening or changed how people have behaved.
Whether you believe in his predictions or not, we can all agree that the future is mostly unknown. We can hazard a guess at what might take place tomorrow. What’s in my calendar will most likely happen. What I plan to do will most likely come to pass.
Can I guarantee that? Absolutely not, but history has shown that most days roll on without too much disruption.
Until they don’t. Until there is something that upends your life, like a global pandemic, or a family illness or accident, or a job loss, or a bout of depression, or a relationship breakdown.
After experiencing something like this, it is possible to look back and see some warning signs and think that you should have been able to see it coming…maybe…but looking into tomorrow and predicting the outcome, especially when it ends up being a day that upends your world, is, at best, a shot in the dark with four lines that rhyme.
You cannot predict the future. You can only control what you do with this moment in preparation for that future. What you do with that moment will shape how you turn up tomorrow.