I feel like it was a constant companion when I was little. This question of future possibilities. It was usually answered with ‘a policeman’, or ‘an astronaut’ or ‘a fire engine’. You know, the standard things kids want to be.
One of the greatest issues in our world, is the amount people living in extreme poverty.
One of the other great issues of our time is the impact of extreme wealth. They are two sides of the same coin.
People often talk about the great needs of the poor, but poverty has more than one definition.
There is such a thing as too much creating poverty. We call it the poverty of the non-poor.
This kind of poverty, where there is excess, creates greed, corruption, health issues from too much food, and slavery to the idea of a bigger and better house, a newer car, a faster boat.
Somewhere in the middle of nothing and excess there is a balance where we are neither a slave to survival nor a slave to possessions. The wisdom of Proverbs chapter 30 offers a prayer which says “Give me neither poverty nor riches, Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For if I grow rich, I may deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.”
Overcoming poverty of the non-poor requires generosity; learning to master the excess and become skilled at giving money away.
What gets you up in the morning?
The excitement of a new day filled with possibilities, the sound of children waking up and destroying things, or the desire for caffeine? Perhaps all of the above.
We all have at least one motivating factor that keeps us going day in and day out – and the most difficult time in life comes when we lose that connection with what motivates us. Which brings about a sense of hopelessness and can make everything we do seem mundane.
The key that I have discovered is to connect with a purpose that is bigger than just me. Something greater which reaches beyond what I am capable of and impacts the world positively.
I recently came across a guy who was working for a corporation for 25 years. Not long ago this business partnered with a group who were freeing slaves in Cambodia – now they are putting money in to making the world a better place, providing hope for people, and at the same time creating a purpose that is bigger than themselves.
The employee said,
“…for 25 years I never told anyone where I worked, now I will tell everyone, I am so proud of what we do.”
Finding purpose can take the mundane and transform it into a world changing event.
What is your purpose? What do you connect with that reaches beyond what you can do by yourself?
How much do you spend on administration?
You know the question, you have possibly asked it before. How much of a donation to a charity gets spent on the programs and how much gets spent on staff and other back end costs. It’s a question I hear frequently about the organisation I work for and for every other not for profit in existence. It’s an important question because we need to be open about this, but it can’t be the only question we ask.
A colleague of mine, many years ago would ask people if they were needing life saving surgery would the most important question to the surgeon be about how much they charged or would it be about their success rate? Of course the response was that the success rate was the main thing people are interested in.
There are many organisations that people donate to that are quite literally saving lives around the world and how often do we ask about the success rate they have?
There needs to be a balance between the two, naturally, but the success rate should be just as, if not more important, than the administration rate.
Effectiveness in the work a not for profit does is not just about keeping costs low, it’s about having the greatest positive impact on our world.
If it was easy anyone could do it. If it was easy, it would already be done wouldn’t it?
Certain things in life are difficult, usually because the problems that we face day to day are not easily fixed and are multifaceted. Be they relational, financial, spiritual, emotional, life is a complex combination of joys and difficulties. Stuff is tough. That’s okay.
This is just as true when it comes to poverty. It is a complicated, multifaceted issue, which is also man made. We have created this construct which puts many people into a place where they don’t have enough to survive.
Whilst we have made significant headway in the fight against poverty over the last 40 years, there is still a way to go until we have overcome it. And I have to admit, there are times when I get so frustrated at the sight of many people, mothers, fathers, children, still trying to survive. But just because it is difficult to overcome, doesn’t mean that we should avoid it. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should stop fighting. Because the people that we are fighting for are worth it. So we continue to take one step at a time.
Like the American author Mary Anne Radmacher says:
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow.‘
If you have ever given to a charity before, you will know that once you give they will ask you to give again. Sometimes it can become overwhelming as they seem to be like a dog with a bone, asking and asking and asking. Add to that, if you give to more than one charity then it gets multiplied to numerous asks. You can feel as if you are at the mercy of interrupting phone calls, excessive emails and piles of mail at your door step.
Everyone wants charities to spend their money wisely so that as much money as possible can go to the projects they run, and believe it or not, when they are asking you for money again, that is the wisest use of their finances.
It comes down to basic marketing. It is commonly known that if you ask someone who has never been a customer of a particular business before, to become a customer there is a 5-20% chance that they will. If you ask someone who is already a customer to become a repeat customer, there is a 60-70% chance that they will.
It’s the same with Charities. It is much more likely for someone to give to a charity if they have supported them before and much less likely for someone to give to a charity if they have never supported them before. Essentially, it is smarter and financially wise for charities to spend time and money engaging with existing supporters.
In saying that, you are in control of what you receive from them – if you don’t want them to send you mail, emails, or to phone, tell them that. It saves you and the charity time and money, which is an extra donation to them.
Once you stop learning, you start dying, according to Albert Einstein. Others would suggest that if you stop learning, you stop growing, or leading or teaching, or any number of things. Suffice to say, many people would consider that learning something new daily is as important as breathing. It is a natural part of life, to be curious and ask questions.
One thing that I have discovered is that the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know. Every time I finished a level of study, be it a University degree or a short course in something I always ended up with more questions than answers. The process would open up my eyes to more of what I didn’t know about. It’s one of life’s great contradictions, the more you learn the more you learn about how much you don’t know – but it doesn’t mean we stop.
For me, learning creates understanding and it is one of the best tools we have in the fight against poverty.
Once a mother in India, for example, learns that she has options, the ability to choose for herself what kind of business she can run or how many children to have, that she has the right to have an opinion or to learn a new skill, this initiates a social change and creates opportunity for her and her family to flourish. It changes her mindset and creates a whole new realm of what is possible.
It’s the ability to understand something today that you didn’t know existed yesterday which creates a place where people can begin to imagine what was previously unimaginable. That is the power of learning something new.
I recently found myself working from a cafe and when a large group of seniors came in. I was very politely approached by staff to see if I could shift tables to allow for the group to sit together. This was not a problem of course – I was more than happy to oblige…until I realised that the group of seniors didn’t seem to be that thankful. I felt they almost had an expectation that I should move for them. There was almost a sense of entitlement. I found myself wishing they were more thankful for my act of kindness and even feeling some regret for being so willing to help out. Very quickly, I am a little ashamed to say, my willingness to help out and do something for someone else turned into hostility, which all came about because of how I perceived that people were responding.
If we knew in advance whether or not someone was going to be thankful, or show gratitude to us in a manner that we would expect, I wonder how much that would impact our behaviour. It may make things easier but it could possibly create a world in which we would only do nice things to those who would offer thanks in return. It would take the risk out of generosity. Making it a kind of love your neighbour and hate your enemy situation.
But Jesus flipped this mentality on its head, He taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. It is an encouragement to act out of generosity to anyone you come across regardless of how they might respond to you. It’s a tough ask.
But it comes with an incredible strength. Someone whose behaviour does not depend on the response of those around them shows true character, especially if they are able to be generous is a hostile environment.
It’s much easier to repay people in kind, to offer animosity for animosity. Being generous is a life changer, for you and the people you are being generous to. You might not get a wave of thanks in return, but it’s worth the effort to bring a little bit of love into our world.
One of the greatest examples of generosity comes from the life of King David, in the Old Testament in the Bible.
He had made a mistake. His pride got the better of him and he insisted on knowing exactly how many fighting men he had under his command. Whilst it sounds innocuous enough, what it shows is his priority at the time. It showed what his ‘god’ was in that moment. He put his faith in numbers rather than in the strength of God – as a result his men paid the price as a plague devastated them.
A prophet came to David after the plague had passed, David felt incredibly guilty and ashamed that his actions had caused damage to his men, and the Prophet said, ‘it’s time to worship God now, go and build an altar on that land over there and worship.’
As David went to do that, the owner of the land approached him and offered to give him the land and the animals to use for free. Surely that’s one of the many benefits of being a king…
But his response showed his true heart – he said ‘I will not offer something to God that cost me nothing’. It would have been all to easy to go ahead and take advantage of the situation but David knew he needed to value what he was about to offer God.
That is an incredibly powerful message. As we think about giving and generosity may it be a helpful reminder, that giving without sacrifice is not generosity. If it costs us nothing to give then the gift is worth nothing.
It happens again and again. Every time that I travel to a developing country and connect with mothers who have taken a loan through Opportunity International, the same theme comes out. When we ask them what they are hoping for, it is always about providing their children with a better life than they have experienced themselves. The love of a parent for their child is strong and this is not only true in some of the poorest parts of Asia, I believe it is true world wide. It is a global phenomenon. Parents love their kids. We may show it in different ways, but it is love all the same.
We want the best for them and for them to have opportunities that we didn’t have. That’s part of being human.
The amazing thing in all this is that it actually shows me that there we have much more in common than we think. It is all too easy to focus on the differences between people groups, nationalities and ethnicity. Some cultural expressions of people differ greatly across the world, but when it comes down to it, we are all on the same planet trying to survive and if possible thrive. Whatever that looks like, but at the heart of it all is love. And our kids certainly have a way to bring that out in us – which is humanity at its best.
When was the last time you said I don’t know?
Perhaps you said just then when you answered that question.
But I don’t think we say it enough. There is something unsettling about that phrase – it creates uncertainty and ambiguity. Often that is the opposite of what we are looking for. We thrive where there is certainty in what we do and specific actionable items. This is helpful for us but can be dangerous when we are faced with a question we don’t know the answer to, or a new situation that has unknown outcomes.
If we approach these questions and situations with a need for absolute certainty in that moment we may not only be making an error in what we say and do, but we are missing out on the possibility that we may learn something we never dreamed of.
As people, we do not have all the answers and if we pretend that we do then we are lying to ourselves and to others. We will never reach a time when we finish learning and the irony is, I have discovered the more that I learn, it highlights the amount that I don’t know.
Saying I don’t know, rather than a sign of weakness and failure, actually comes from a place of strength and humility.