A Global Pandemic is like…Breast Milk

If you have kids, you will know about the blur that happens in the first few weeks/months/years of a child’s life. You’re not really sure what day it is, where you are or how you got here. You are kind of surviving on auto pilot. Kids can have that effect. You will also probably have an understanding on how challenging breast feeding can be. Now, I can’t speak of this firsthand, but I have witnessed it and have seen the brutality of the feeding, burping, sleeping, changing, expressing regime.

The most frustrating experience that a woman can face in that time is when breast milk has been spilled. All that effort and discomfort for nothing. What a waste. It’s a waste because breast milk is limited, you have to work hard to increase supply and it is valuable because it has the ability to bring growth if it’s used properly. 

It’s the same as a global pandemic. It is limited, you have to work hard to survive, but it is also valuable because it has the ability to bring growth if it is used properly.

The face of work has changed – thousands, maybe millions of people are working from home in Australia who have never had the chance to previously. Commutes have been slashed, down to just seconds as we walk from one room to another in our home, work attire is drastically different (sometimes pants are ‘optional’), and never before has the word ‘Zoom’ got so many mentions.

All that aside, we have a rare opportunity before us. One which encourages us to think creatively, embrace change, try new things and implement strategies that a few weeks ago seemed impossible. Everyone seems to be looking to find a way to do things differently, because at the moment, it is necessary to find other ways of doing business.

If we are lucky, we will soon begin to return to some form of normality, perhaps a new normal. Now is the time to think about what we want to change – what are the things that we used to do that are unnecessary? How can we create more stable industries, businesses and governments in light of this experience? What are new ways we can use to achieve results quicker? We have done the hard work of living through it, let’s not waste it and throw it away, we may never get this opportunity again.

Generosity Without Money

“Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me, it also improves my own chances of survival and success”

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut

I am often asked ‘What can I do to do be generous? What practical step can I take?’

Giving money is always great, and I talk often about that.

But there are other ways too. Things that we can do which can be incredible gifts to those around us, just by the way we turn up or listen or give space to someone. At the same time, they can have amazing, unintended consequences that give something back to us.

One way to do this is to help someone else succeed.

This is an act of generosity because it costs us something. We choose to give it away to someone else, something that is so precious and finite: our time.

It takes time to train, teach and mentor someone else, to intentionally invest in them and see how you can help them become who they want to become. It can be taxing to bring brutal honesty and constructive criticism, even if the person is willing to hear it. Over time, it is for their benefit as they become a better person.

A better person becomes a better employee, a greater contributor, a better boss and a more involved community member.

So, helping someone else succeed improves their own personal ability, but it also makes their team better, their organisation, city, and world better. Which is also your world, which directly impacts you, making your environment better and ultimately creates a better version of you. Helping others succeed makes you better at whatever you are doing.

I’ll Give More

I’ve seen my fair share of generous acts. The one’s that stand out most are those that are initiated out of trying circumstances. There is something special about witnessing an act of strength out of a place of weakness. That’s what I would consider a generous act to be – one of strength.

I spoke to an Opportunity International Australia supporter recently, just to check in and see how he was going in the current climate, hoping that he and his family were safe and healthy, which they were.

During the conversation, his concern turned to the people that Opportunity works with. Those living in poverty in India and Indonesia and how this global pandemic is affecting them, and what it could look like in the next few months. The truth is, we really haven’t seen anything close to what the impact the Coronavirus will have on developing countries, and these two specifically. My sense is that it will get a great deal worse before we see any light at the end of the tunnel which will have drastic implications on millions of people.

This supporter shared my concerns and agreed with this dire possibility. He said, ‘I like what Opportunity does and how you go about it. I will give again this year, and I will give more than I have before’.

I was blown away. We are still living with a great deal of uncertainty in Australia. No one really knows when things will turn around economically for us, but here was someone who was committing to an act of strength when surrounded by weakness. This type of generosity is so powerful that it impacts everyone it touches. I was inspired, and I know that what he will give will also inspire those living in poverty who will be on the receiving end.

I Want the Numbers!

I am a fan of the West Wing – the TV series that ran from 1999 to 2006 staring Martin Sheen as the President of the USA (wouldn’t we love him in the White House now?).

My favourite character is Josh Lyman. A witty, emotionally unstable, and hugely intelligent deputy chief of staff. There is one scene where he is waiting on polling numbers after the President gave a speech and there was delay after delay, even a blackout, pushing back the arrival of the data. To which he eventually yelled in growing frustration, to no one in particular, “I WANT THE NUMBERS!!!”. Did I mention emotionally unstable?

I have found myself saying the same thing every day over the last few weeks. Each afternoon I have patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, waited for the official announcement of the latest Covid-19 numbers. The new cases, total cases, the number of deaths and the number of people who have recovered. I have been hanging on every figure, every speech, every news article which might give me numbers, or at least some insight into what the numbers mean. Are we flattening the curve? Am I doing social distancing right? When can I get my hair cut?

Why? Why am I so invested?

I think it’s about progress. Getting somewhere. I have been looking for some indication of what we have been doing as a country over the last few weeks (has it really only been weeks? March was the longest decade ever), is actually making a difference. I long for a feeling of progress to make sense of the sacrifices we are all making. Tell me we are getting somewhere, and I will dig in and keep going. I will stay home longer. I will social distance. I will flatten that curve. But if I can’t see a point to it, or there is no sense of progress then you will have a hard time telling me to stay put.

Progress is vital in all areas of life. If we feel like we are moving towards something, then it is incredibly motivating, and we can take the next step. We can endure the most difficult and frustrating of circumstances if we feel like we are making progress.

So, keep the numbers coming!

“How Can They Do That?”

It’s a question I have heard often over the last few weeks as we have seen people buying up big in preparation for the end of the world brought about by coronavirus. I must admit that it has been a bit confusing to watch people race for, and fill trolleys with, toilet paper and other inane items that 4 weeks ago were annoying necessities. What drives people to behave in such a way?

Apart from those that are purely taking advantage of this situation and profiteering (which I am choosing to assume is a very small percentage) people that are hoarding are doing so out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having enough. Fear of scarcity. Fear of poverty. I can understand this fear. The word for 2020 so far is ‘unprecedented’. We have never experienced anything like this…in the developed world. (Millions of people go through upheavals of life regularly, but that is a conversation for another time). So, fear of not enough is understandable. But fear breeds more fear. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Scarcity subtracts.

To overcome the fear of hoarding requires acts of generosity. To look outside of our immediate needs and see those around us. Instead of acting as a single family unit we connect with those in our community and work as a larger entity. Together everyone achieves more (corny acrostic of T.E.A.M but has the added benefit of being true). When we act as a community, both locally and globally, it creates a generous mindset within us. Generosity comes from a hope that we can achieve things together that we are not capable of as individuals. Generosity breeds more generosity. Generosity multiplies.

When faced with the fear of scarcity, choose to act in generosity and it will have a positive, long lasting impact on our world.

Schadenfreude

I am often confronted by my shadow. Not the shape on the ground made by body blocking the sun, but the ‘dark side’ of my personality. It’s confronting because the shadow “consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.” We all have a shadow but it requires some work to see it, to truly get to know yourself and understand what is happening within you. It’s not easy and I don’t think it’s a journey with an end point.

What is easy, however, is seeing the shadow in other people. We can spot it in those around us in a split second, but this is not about them. This is about you and me. So, instead of thinking “this is so valid for my spouse/friend/colleague”, let’s take a look at ourselves.

It is within my shadow that I find schadenfreude. A German word which sounds like a sneeze but means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Here are some examples:

  • Laughing at someone who trips over
  • Smiling when a team that you hate loses
  • Feeling good when someone you know fails

Ever done anything like that? Yeah, me neither…*cough*

Is schadenfreude good or bad?

Some people suggest that it is to our benefit to experience schadenfreude because it that experience helps motivate us to achieve success. It keeps us going as others around us fall away. Which seems to be like a pretty lonely way to experience life and sounds like the opposite of what I would consider success.

So it must be bad then. Surely if I feel good about something bad happening to something else, it can’t be too long before I consider initiating something bad to someone else for my own pleasure? From considering to doing doesn’t take too long either, so schadenfreude has to be bad.

The truth is that, by itself, it is neither good or bad. It is part of the human emotional experience but what we do with that can create positive or negative outcomes. How we process our emotions when we experience them makes all the difference. Just as with any element of our shadow, when you experience it, just notice it. See it for what it is, an emotional response, and move on. Schadenfreude, and other emotions from the shadow, are heavily weighted towards isolation, which is unhealthy for us. I would suggest moving towards relationship at every possible moment.

So, don’t seek to avoid schadenfreude (gesundheit!), notice it when it happens and move towards relationship. When you feel good about someone else failing, that’s okay but don’t stay in that space. Move towards the person, even in your thoughts, which will help you begin to understand how they could be feeling in that challenging situation. Now comes the opportunity to be generous with them, but also with yourself if you struggle to do that.

We’re all in this together…

One of the greatest things that we can offer humanity is empathy; a sense of understanding and share the feelings of someone else. Often empathy can be a challenge as many of our human experiences differ from each other, depending on our gender, age, ethnicity and life experiences. All this means that for many, we simply cannot begin to understand how other people experience the world.

Among many other terrible things, the Coronavirus has brought us a sense that we are all in it together. Its effect is not just on one country, people group or race, the effect on all of us is the same. Suddenly, empathy is not that difficult. I can understand what you are going through because I am going through the same thing, or a very similar thing.

How we choose to respond to that is vital. In this moment I can do very little to help those suffering in Italy, or in other states of even other suburbs. But I can help my street.

We live in a small cul-de-sac with 7 houses, so earlier this week my wife took it upon herself to connect with each of our neighbours to see how they are. We don’t usually see much of them – it is typical suburbia, protected by our roller doors on the garage, but we got thinking if we are finding this time challenging, how is everyone in our street going. What if we have a surplus of something that they desperately need but can’t get hold of? So, she went door to door, met everyone – got over the embarrassment of not doing so 18 months ago when we moved in, and collected all their contact details. She then distributed the list to everyone so we can all stay in contact. Not a lot has changed since then, but I have to tell you, I don’t feel so alone. I know that if we get stuck without something urgent, I can reach out to those around us. I also know that those closest to us won’t be suffering in silence. We are all going through the same experience.  

Empathy is the birthplace of generosity. When we can understand what other people go through, we can bring the best that humanity has to offer, a generous act.

There is Never Just One

I’m not a bug person. I hate them all.

They are on a spectrum though, some I hate less than others, but all are hated nonetheless. Spiders are the worst and ants aren’t too far behind them. At moment we have ants at our house. Not as invited guests, but more like a weird neighbour that comes over, even if you aren’t there and eats your food. Kind of like Kramer from Seinfeld, except without the crazy hair and humour.

A few weeks back I hadn’t seen any for a while and I thought we were rid of them. Not long after, I saw one, solo ant. I wasn’t bothered by that because it is was not near the kitchen and it was by itself. How much damage could it do?

But then I remembered, there is never just one ant. If you look hard enough you will find a second. Where there are two ants, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

I hate ants.

But I love the idea that things are happening all the time without us noticing in our world, because it is not just ants that we don’t notice. Bad news travels fast. It’s what we tend to focus on because we are psychologically wired to do so. We can often get so caught up in the terrible things in our world that we can’t see anything good.

But look for the ant. Look for one good thing, something positive that is happening in your world. When you find it, (and you will because you can’t get rid of good things…just like ants), you can be sure that there is never just one – you will find a second. Where there are two, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

There is plenty to be thankful for, even in the tough times. The more we focus on the good, the more good we create and it infests the rest of the world.

Oh, That Hurt.

I recently hurt my back. You may have heard about it if you have seen me; it seems that I can talk about nothing else.

I didn’t do anything specific to cause the injury, just a combination of a newborn baby, lifting things and a minor history or back complaints. Every couple of years or so something like this happens, but this one was worse than normal. If you have ever experienced back pain, you will know what I am talking about because you use your back to do everything. I couldn’t put socks, shoes or pants on, I couldn’t sit in chairs, or find a comfortable way to stand and sneezing was a nightmare.

My effectiveness at work plummeted. If you can sit or stand, you can’t email, or plan, or meet or pretty much do anything that a job requires. But the worst thing was the threat of a sudden burst of pain at any given moment. It was all I could think about because one false move would conjure significant pain.

It gave me a glimpse of what it is like for someone who constantly lives with pain, where it permeates every area of your life, it wears you down and changes the way you think. It gets to a point where you cannot imagine life without pain, and it is terrifying. Things that were previously possible are no longer possible because of your pain. That is the cruel psychological effect that it has.

Not unlike the effect of poverty. I have often referred to the psychological effects that poverty has on people, because not having enough to feed your family becomes all that you think about, it permeates every area of your life. Things that were previously possible or may seem possible to someone on the outside looking in, are not possible because of poverty. You cannot imagine a life without it, and it is terrifying. Unless…

Unless someone does something to overcome it. Unless something changes.

Now, I can see a specialist and do my rehab exercises and work to improve my back. That’s up to me, no one else can do it for me.

Poverty doesn’t work the same way. It is a trap that no person can work their way out of by themselves. It requires someone to step in, make a donation and take what seems impossible and make it possible. That is what ending poverty looks like.

The Kindness Movement

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible – Dalai Lama

Our strongest memories growing up are connected to how we felt around people. Think back to your primary school years and I guarantee your main memories are from someone either encouraging you or discouraging you. Building you up or tearing you down.

I can remember one specific teacher calling me stupid, and another encouraging me to be better. The second one, I could sense that he could see more in me than what I was displaying at the time.  They are essentially the only two things that I remember from those years. A discouraging word from one and a generous act from another.

I am amazed by the teacher who encouraged me, because in the years that have passed since, I have noticed that it is so much easier to discourage. We almost have an in-built ability to tear someone down. But to lift someone up? Well that can be so rare that appears super-human. It doesn’t need to be this way though.

There is a movement to bring us back to one of the fundamental elements of being a person. Kindness. I would call in generosity. There is even a Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) week this month. With a RAK day on February 17.

Why? Because we need it. The people around you are crying out for some encouragement, a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a hand of friendship.

Also, it is so good for us. Being kind and generous makes our life so much better; science tells us this.

RAK day is an amazing idea. Sprinkling kindness and generosity on people as you go about your day is a great habit to form. It’s really simple to, there are RAK suggestions, from planting a tree, to writing positive sticky notes, complimenting someone on their parking skills or sending an encouraging email. It starts with one act on a particular day, but it can make a significant difference to those around us.

I get the sense we could all use some more kindness in our lives.