A German word which sounds like a sneeze but means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.
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.
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.
Somewhere along the lines we decided that if we got something in return for being generous, then that wasn’t okay. For some reason it was thought that for an act to be a good thing to do then we should receive no benefit from it at all.
It’s an interesting thought and has led to hundreds of years of miserable generosity. So many people have been missing out experiencing the joy of giving purely because they thought it was wrong. There is a danger though. A danger of only doing a good thing for a completely selfish reason without concern for others at all. I think we can all admit that that behaviour feels wrong and we should probably avoid it.
In saying that, I consider some things too important to care about whether people are doing it for the right reason. Like ending poverty for example. Australia lives in amongst some of the poorest countries, they are our neighbours. Why should we care?
Well, here are two selfish reasons from Bill Gates:
- For Our Safety
It is to our benefit to see developing countries improve their income which improves education. Education equals stability, and less reason for radical idealisation and terrorism.
Also, and this is a big one, if we can overcome poverty in developing countries this will lead to improved healthcare and less disease because they will be able to diagnose and treat diseases more effectively (did someone say Coronavirus?). If we can equip all countries with the best medical care, it will literally save our lives down the track.
2. For Our Prosperity
This should be a no-brainer for us, living in a capitalist society and all. If we have more countries overcoming poverty, creating extra income, then all of a sudden we have hundreds of millions of new potential customers for our products. In short, history shows us that a richer Japan equals a richer world. What about a richer Indonesia, or India, or Pakistan? We are leaving money on the table.
There are other non-selfish reasons as well, but surely these two are pretty significant by themselves.
When something touches our heart, we give. We respond to what creates an emotion. The greatest example of that has been the last few weeks when we have seen other Aussie families, people just like us, maybe someone that we know, or a friend of a friend, needing to evacuate because of an enormous fire or fires bearing down on their home. Many have lost their home; some have lost their lives. When this sort of tragedy happens to those that look like me, sound like me and, by sheer chance of choice of residence, could be me, it moves me to respond. So, we begin to imagine what it would be like if that was us – and if that did happen to me, I would really want someone to help.
The outpouring of generosity, volunteering, financial and emotional support, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Some have given out of their plenty, but many have given out of there little. People are working extra shifts and donating their pay for that day, business are donating their profits and entire communities are rallying together.
What does this tell me?
In the darkest of times it is generosity that shines the light. When we act for the benefit of someone else it brings out the best in us and our country, and it breaks down the harmful, artificial barriers that we put up between groups of Australians.
During times like these I am reminded that, no matter where we live, we are all one tragedy away from being forced from our homes, running for our lives and needing help from a stranger. It may not feel like that to you now, but I am sure 6 weeks ago thousands of Australians would never have imagined it either.
If we can take that attitude of humility with us into this next decade then Australia will continue to be a very generous nation indeed.
Should we celebrate when people are suffering? We do it everyday so why should we stop now?
Last year the cost of putting the Sydney fireworks display was almost $6 million. That’s about $485,000 per minute, for a glorified light show. With so much need in the world, and now with so many people suffering through some of the worst bushfires we have had, should we be spending this much money on a consumable item?
I think yes. We should. We should celebrate together during the times of year when we normally celebrate as a culture. We should come together as Australians and stand shoulder to shoulder, facing 2020 stronger because we can celebrate and mourn at the same time.
Let’s look at what would happen if we cancelled the fireworks:
It would not bring homes back.
It would not bring lost ones back.
It would not restore the hectares that have been burnt.
It would not cause thousands of people to gather together for a single purpose.
It would save $6 million dollars. (But not really because the money has already been spent)
It would create a loss of $130 million for the city of Sydney. (That’s how much the event generates. Sometimes we get so caught up in the cost of something that we forget the cost of not spending the money).
Every day there are tragedies that take place all around us, but it is important to celebrate the good things, in spite of, or even because of, the tough things that happen.
Let us also participate in generosity during those times; we all have the ability to do something. It is not the sole responsibility of the governing bodies in Australia, we are each in charge of what kind of country we want to live in.
Whilst every day is filled with opportunities to be generous, Christmas is a time designed for people to participate in generous acts.
Here are 4 things that you can do to be part of it…
- Have a generous mindset.
It may sound simple, and it is, but it’s not easy. To approach people with a generous mindset is the start of all generous acts. Especially at this time of year people around us might say or do things that we think are quite stupid and we can write them off as unintelligent or unthoughtful. A generous mindset seeks to think of the best possible reason why someone would behave in a way that we don’t agree with. Maybe they are stressed, maybe they are rushed, or feeling unwell. There could be any number of reasons that we can’t see. We don’t have to agree with them or support their actions, but we can still see them as a person who worthy of grace.
2. Look Left and Right
I don’t know about you but I don’t see my neighbours that much. Our street is tiny, but I have little to no relationship with anyone who lives in our proximity. Christmas is a great time to change that, and an easy thing to do is to drop in on your neighbours with a small gift for them. There are many people who don’t have a great deal of family or friends around them at this time of year and it can be lonely. Drop in, say ‘Hi’ and be generous with your time.
3. Give a Gift on Behalf of Someone
We all have so much stuff, and the hardest question to answer at this time of year is “What do you want for Christmas?”
Instead of buying people more things, you can purchase a gift from a Charity Gift Catalogue for a family in a developing country, like a chicken or a duck, which helps them work their way out of poverty. You then receive a card which you can pass on to a family member or a friend, and tell them that their gift is helping end poverty. That is going to feel great, and it won’t clog up your house with more stuff. It doesn’t cost much at all.
4. Donate a Percentage
It doesn’t have to be much, but work out how much you have spent/will spend on Christmas presents this year and choose a percentage of that to give away to your favourite charity.
These are simple, yet effective, and they shift our focus beyond ourselves and the amount of presents under out tree, to how we can change people’s world through generous acts.
At the start of this year I set myself a challenge. My ‘Must Read’ list of books kept growing and I really wasn’t making my way through the long list of amazing books people kept recommending to me. Not that I wasn’t reading, in fact I was making my way through quite a number of books, but they were not the type of books that were serving me and helping me shape who I wanted to become (you may see some of them in the list of random books below).
So, my challenge was to read 1 book a month from my list and after I finished it, I could read anything else I wanted, as long as at the start of the next month I was to begin the next book. It’s been a fun year, some amazing books, some were a bit of a waste of time…but I completed the task.
Here is my list:
January – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
Being a person that doesn’t swear a lot, I read this book, not because of the title, but because someone suggested it to me. I predicted that Mark Manson would calm down with the swearing after the first few chapters and actually got into the content. It is a book about self-responsibility, taking ownership and not being influenced by external factors. (This is one of quite a number of books that feature an *, or a ? or %#@! to hide a swearword, it has become quite a thing but has kind of lost its impact now).
February – All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
This was the only fiction book amongst my official list this year. By far and away the best fiction book that I have ever read (sorry Lee Child). An incredible story from different perspectives based during the build up to and through the impact of, World War 2.
March – Factfullness – Hans Rosling
The last book that Hans wrote before he died (I found that out as I finished it and I may have been a little bit emotional about that). Hans lists the 10 reasons we are wrong about the world and why things are better than we think. Need a pick me up? Get into this one.
April – Dark Emu – Bruce Pascoe
An insight into Australian Indigenous history, something that I think we should all read, and a good starting point for people who want to understand more about what happened in our past. I was astounded by the ingenuity and wisdom of the first Australians.
May – Creativity Inc. – Ed Catmul
Ed was the CEO of Pixar Animation Studios to see how he started out in life and then with this incredible culture, one of radical candour and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone. It was a bit of a dry read at times, but it was punctuated by some amazing stories about the movies they produce and some of the struggles that they went through.
June – The Sickness Unto Death – Soren Kirkergaard
As I got into the winter months I foolishly started reading some books that were quite intense and this was one of those. I had heard of Soren Kirkegaard before, I had heard people quote him and he sounded amazing, so I thought I’d grab one of his books and read it.
With this one, most of the time I was trying to figure out what he was talking about, piece the sentences together to make sense, which I assume is difficult because it’s been translated from Danish. I think the general theme of this book or the general understanding of it is that the sickness unto death is despair. That’s all I have.
July – Anti-Fragile – Nassim Taleb
Nassim Taleb seems to me to be like an incredible intelligent guy and Anti-Fragile is unpacking what the opposite of fragile is. Which is not something that is hard or strong but instead something that continues to grow stronger when it encounters shocks and tumult. Great concept, tough read for me.
August – Building a Story Brand – Donald Miller
I listen to the Building a Story Brand podcast with Donald Miller and I’ve heard him talk about this marketing concept a number of times so I thought I’d actually grab the book and read it. He unpacks a clear process to break down the elements of your company’s story and helps you communicate it very clearly. This is helpful for anyone in business, or marketing, or marketing businesses, or just about anything else.
September – Good to Great – Jim Collins
I think I cheated with this one, I listened to it as an audiobook, so I’m not sure how much I remember but in it Jim Collins goes through some of the greatest companies that were great for a long period of time, outperforming the market norm and discovered the things that made them great. Mostly it was to do with culture and leadership.
October – The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Charles Duhigg unpacks why we do the things we do, how we form habits, how the brain works in habit forming and how we can stop doing the things that we want to stop doing. He looks at Alcoholics Anonymous as a great example of this. Habits follow the pattern of cue-behaviour-reward, to change them is about shifting the behaviour and keeping the reward.
There is a great story about why child nutrition was poor in rural parts of the USA a few decades ago, and how a sole focus on safety turned one company around.
November -The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Perhaps I missed something with this one. It was a good read and a great philosophical insight into how people can succeed in the face of overwhelming adversity, but I found it lacked quality practical applications.
December – Indistractable – Nir Eyal
Nir examines the reality that humans have been easily distracted for our entire history. We like to blame technology but we really like to avoid uncomfortable feelings and will find anything to distract us from them. This book gives practical tips on how to notice when we are being distracted, figure out why and create a plan to overcome it. His tips are game changers.
Other random books read:
- Jack Reacher – Lee Child (x5 – Don’t judge me)
- Unpoverty – Mark Lutz – Rich Lessons from the Working Poor
- How We Love – Milan & Kay Yerkovich – Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage
- A World of Three Zero’s – Mohammad Yunas – The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment and Zero Carbon Emissions
- Weconomy – Craig Kielburger, Holly Branson, Marc Kielburger – You can Find Meaning, Make a Living and change the world
- Inspired – Rachel Held Evans
So, there you have it. I would love to hear your favourites from this year and what I can read in 2020!
“Show me you calendar and your bank statement and I will show you your priorities.”
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become” James Clear
“How you do anything is how you do everything” James Bryant
You can tell quite a bit about a person by where they spend their time and where they spend their money. It shows you what they care about the most, even more so that what they say their priorities are. Words are easy but behaviour tells the full story and what we say our priorities are may not line up with reality.
It works on a national level as well. Australia sees itself as a global leader in all things promoting democracy and development. We want the world, especially the Asian region, to do well and for everyone to live safe and health lives…or so we say.
Our finances tell a different story. The past decade has seen an embarrassing decrease in the amount of assistance given to our neighbouring countries, so much so, that we are currently investing the lowest amount money to foreign aid in the history of foreign aid. We promised to get to place where we gave 0.5% of our budget to foreign aid. That’s 50c in every $100 earned. But we are currently giving 0.21%, or 21c in every $100 and it is unlikely to change.
It’s embarrassing, because we are being exposed for who we actually are on a global scale. The real leaders in the world are showing us up in their generosity. Sweden gives 1.1% of their Gross National Income, the UK gives 0.7%, Netherlands are at 0.65% and Germany are giving 0.41%.
We say we care about these things, but we don’t. We aren’t leading, in fact we are hiding. We are avoiding the difficulty of poverty in our region (our own back yard, so to speak) and hoping it goes away. History shows us that never works.
We must face it, lead the world in development and generosity and see positive change come as a result.
The Australian Federal Government says that helping our neighbouring countries transition people out of poverty “will be important for Australia’s economy and security.”
Giving money for the purpose of aid, development and education is not just a nice thing to do, it’s not just about creating more customers who are able to buy more of our exports, but it makes the world a safer place.
We know that when there is a higher proportion of people living in poverty in developing countries, who have little to no opportunities to improve their lives, the region will become unstable, and young people will become “prone to radicalisation, and susceptible to the influence of countries and ideas at odds with Australia’s interests”.
So we must act, because if we don’t “create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of grinding poverty, instability will grow and people will continue to seek refuge from violence and economic hardship on our shores.”
It sounds blunt, and it’s not the only reason why Foreign Aid is important, but if we want to stop the rise of radicalisation, violence and refugees seeking asylum, giving aid to the countries around us will do that. In fact, we should be giving more.
There are parts of our community that continues to ask the following question:
Why are we giving away $4b in aid when our farmers are struggling?
At first glance it casts Australia’s Foreign Aid budget in a questionable light. But it is horribly short sighted.
Australia exports over $430 billion worth of goods to the rest of the world, and much of it goes to Asia. The majority of wheat grown in Australia is sold overseas, with the major markets in Asia and the Middle East. Annually, it brings in about $2.4b.
Imagine if every country in Asia had worked their way out of poverty and had the capacity to purchase more? Countries such as Thailand and South Korea were once aid recipients and are now among Australia’s 10 largest trade partners.
In short, there is a very good reason to look after your customers. Treat them well and they will become repeat customers. If you provide a way for them to improve their lives so they can buy more wheat and meat products from Australian farmers then that just makes good economic sense. That’s it.