I am not great at buying presents. I have a real challenge every time a birthday, anniversary or other celebratory event comes around…as the Generosity Guy, this is a little embarrassing to admit.
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.
I took a flight from Sydney to Perth and about an hour in, I began to feel a unwell. It was such a strange onset – I was feeling great before I boarded, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. The flight had some turbulence, so I thought maybe that was the reason and things would settle down.
Just over half way through the flight the worst happened. My recently eaten dinner came back to visit. I would love to have told you that it was fine and that I made it to the bathroom in time, but I did not. Someone was in the bathroom and the best I could do a large plastic bag being used as a bin.
I was very apologetic to the crew, but they were so understanding telling me it “happened all the time”, and that I had “done quite well to minimise the collateral damage” (I’m not sure I could do their job – imagine the things they would have seen). They expressed concern for me and how unpleasant an experience it must have been. That was sweet.
The truth is, there is nothing I could have done to change the situation. I was trapped on a plane thousands of feet in the air. I just had to accept it, embrace the public embarrassment, and find a way forward. And it was embarrassing. I was afraid to look stupid in front of other people, but I had no control over that moment. My internal system forced my hand. (Or stomach as the case may be).
There are things we fear that we have absolutely no control over. We get to choose whether the things we don’t control stop us from living our lives, from exploring, trying something new or even stepping outside of our comfort zone.
Fear cripples. Being willing to look stupid in front of others not only lessens the embarrassment after projectile vomiting on a plane but also allows you to walk in the freedom of trying something new and not being good at it yet.
I am amazed by the sheer amount of people that are alive in this moment. Over 7.5 billion people is impossible to imagine. It is extraordinary, and overwhelming and humbling.
Out of that 7.5 billion, how many people will know me? Dunbar’s number suggests that we don’t really have the capacity to have more than 150 meaningful relationships.
Out of that 150, how many will really do life with me? Jim Rohn said that you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with.
So, not many.
How many will remember me?
Of the people who lived 100 years ago, (less than 2 billion of them), I have heard of, maybe, a handful. A dozen at most, and probably the same names that you may know. The rest of them, well they might have influenced how I live but I don’t know their names or their story.
So, logic would suggest that in 100 years no one will remember me, and no one will remember you. (Sorry).
I will fade.
However, what I do will have a lasting effect. Every act will create an impact.
Specifically, generous acts multiply. They grow over time as they encourage others to be generous and create ripple effects to people that you will never know in places that you will never travel to. Generosity will not fade. It will last forever.
Leave a legacy. Be generous.
You may have heard the question, when is the best time to plant a tree?
The answer is ‘20 years ago’.
The second best time to plant a tree? Right now.
There is a cost to spending time doing something.
Time spent at school could have been time spent at work.
Time spent at work could have been time spent with the family.
Time spent playing sport could have been time spent studying.
Time spent learning an instrument could have been time spent playing sport.
Time spent playing a video game could have been time spent doing anything else.
In the moment it doesn’t really matter. But over time these decisions add up, and lost time is gone forever. It’s a tree never planted. You get no shade. You get no air. You get no beauty from a tree that doesn’t exist.
It is never too late, though. You can always start now. You can always do something for the first time today, to become the type of person that you want to become – and little by little, over time, it can build up to be a new skill, a new passion, a new job. A new tree.
Generosity is just like that. I have failed many times to be generous when given the opportunity. I have written people off. Not given when the chance arose and not cared when someone was in need. But that doesn’t mean I have to live like that always. I can begin again today by being generous with my time, my care and my forgiveness.
In 20 years’ time, the small decisions I make today will grow into something that will bring beauty to all who see it.
I’m not the only one who thinks that the world is structured unfairly. The rich seem to find it easier to keep making money, and those who are living in poverty are the most vulnerable to life shocks which push them further into poverty.
How would you re-design things if you could? Who would have the wealth? Who would have the power? How would you shape society so that it served all who were a part of it?
John Rawls came up with the concept of the Veil of Ignorance. It’s a way to test ideas for fairness, whether it’s a new tax law to re-creating society as we know it. All you have to do is to imagine that you have no idea what position you would end up in on the other side of that decision. You could have your taxes cut, stay the same, or even increased. You could end up with all the power or none of the power. With that in mind, would you still be comfortable making the decision?
It’s a theoretical experiment of course, but the exercise is important to help create the kind of communities that all members want to be part of.
If you were to create a place where you would be happy in any role that you were given; any gender, any race, any social status, any level of education, any physical ability, what kind of place would you create?
Thinking of your life now, if you were born a different gender or race, or differently abled, or in a different country or social class, would you still be comfortable with the social inequalities of our world? I know I wouldn’t be.
I don’t think a utopia is possible, but I do think there are simple things we can do to begin to shift those social inequalities towards fairness. It starts with generosity.
How you treat those that have less power than you will shape the world we live in.
One of my favourite TV show memories was Supermarket Sweep. I was pretty young when watching it, but what I remember is that contestants got a short period of time to run around a supermarket with a trolley, grabbing as much stuff as they could and the winner was the person who had the highest value in their trolley.
I remember getting stressed out just watching it, but the idea of spending someone else’s money to get free stuff seemed like the coolest thing in my mind.
I came across a similar concept recently. Call it the most extreme supermarket sweep ever. A website where you have 30 seconds to spend as much as possible on selected items, in an attempt to use up all the allocated money. The twist is that the total figure is the net worth of Elon Musk. $166 Billion of it. Check it out here – https://www.leasingoptions.co.uk/spend-elons-money/index.html
It stresses me out as I run out of time trying to buy all the stuff with all the money. One time I spent over $17 Billion which is quite impressive in 30 seconds, but that was mostly because I bought 345 Falcon 9 Launches at $50 million a piece, which still left Elon with over $145 Billion. I think if I had longer than half a minute I could make more of a dent in the phenomenal net worth that he has, but I doubt I could spend it all in my lifetime.
What could you possibly do with that much money? What is the point of that much wealth?
We know that happiness does not increase after you earn a certain level of income, in Australia that’s about $175,000pa (we are one of the most expensive countries in the world for happiness). Without earning another cent, Elon could be happy for 948,571 years.
Don’t get me started on Jeff Bezos.
Those Billionaires will have some questions to answer about what they have done with what they have been given.
Then I turn around.
And I look at everyone in the world who earns less than I do.
All 97% of them.
Looking at me, thinking that about what I could possibly do with all that money. What is the point of so much wealth? And that I will have some questions to answer about what I have done with what I have been given.
Being generous is considered to be a ‘good’ thing…generally. But what if you want to achieve greatness, or do difficult things, or have hard conversations? There must be a time to put generosity aside to live in the real world, right?
How do you avoid getting pushed around and becoming a doormat for people because you are generous?
To start with, generosity is borne from a love of people. Here’s part of what that looks like:
Generosity Creates Boundaries
There is a time when simply giving something to someone, be that money, time, freedom, will cause that person harm. It can enable them to continue down a destructive path, or to hurt themselves or others. It is a special act of generosity to create boundaries which protect others and yourself from harm. Just because someone asks you for something it doesn’t mean you have to say yes.
Saying yes to something means saying no to something else. Be intentional about what you say yes to.
Generosity Has Challenging Conversations
Being generous to people means calling them out and inviting them into growth opportunities. It drives someone to embrace the discomfort of a challenging conversation because, by doing that, it has the ability to help someone else grow.
“I love you too much to not see you grow in your humanity” Derwin Gray, former NFL Player, Pastor at Transformation Church.
Generosity creates opportunities for people to grow, develop and improve their lives. It encourages people to change, giving them options.
It is not generous to keep people trapped in a cycle of need, dependence and ignorance.
Generosity doesn’t make you a doormat. Generosity empowers you to empower others on their own journey.