Unintended Consequences

I recently found out something weird about jellyfish.

If you have one jellyfish and cut it in half, instead of having no jellyfish because it is dead, now you have two. Jellyfish regenerate. If it wasn’t so terrifying it would be amazing. Now I have nightmares about jellyfish rising up and taking over the world because they are the undead. Paranoia aside, it does speak to me about unintended consequences.

Life can be like trying to kill a jellyfish (metaphorically). We try to overcome obstacles and, in the process, create other obstacles that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the action we just took.

For example, we recently had the joy of moving our 2 year old from a cot to a ‘big girl’ bed. She was having trouble going to sleep at night and we thought this move would help. No longer is she trapped when she has a sleep, she can get in and out as she pleases. Like when she drops her stuffed animals on the floor, she can hop out, get them and get back in to bed. She loves it and she was ready for it. Sleep time should become easier.

But instead, not only does she still struggle some nights to go to sleep, now, any time she wants, she can get out of bed and annoy her brother in the next room. The only time she is happy to stay in bed is when she drops her stuffed animals on the floor. Instead of hopping out to get them and jumping back in to bed, she calls out until someone does it for her. Unintended consequences.

In our world, unintended consequences are everywhere. I buy a coffee in Perth, it impacts the local café, their staff and families, the dairy farmers who provide the milk, the truck drivers who ship the milk, the distributors of said milk, as well as the whole coffee bean production line, from grower right through to roasters, wherever they may be in the world. A lot of things need to happen for me to have my morning pick me up.

If things work well, then people are positively impacted. If they don’t, people get pushed aside.

Generosity also has unintended consequences, both bad and good. Sometimes by doing something that you think is the best thing in that moment, may do some good, but also creates another problem/jellyfish. It doesn’t mean that we stop being generous. Instead, we grow in wisdom as we give so we can learn how to create the best possible outcomes with the least jellyfish. It takes time and experience, and humility to acknowledge we don’t know everything yet.

Give, Get More

“Like all the best things in life, the more you give, the more you have. That’s true of trust and friendship and it’s true of peace.” Rutger Bregman

I often talk about the riskiness of generosity. It’s like any other investment, there is never a guarantee that if you put money into something that you will get it back or get it back with interest. It’s the same when you give of yourself, your time, or your trust or your friendship. You never know if it will be received or reciprocated. It’s a risk.

It can be daunting when you hear about the bad things that happen in the world, and the seemingly endless supply of bad people. So, if you don’t trust anyone you can never be taken advantage of or hurt or swindled. You are safe from that.

But, on the flip side, if you have never been taken advantage of or hurt or swindled it means that you are not trusting anyone and missing out on the relationships and benefits that giving trust can bring. There is a cost to not trust people.

When you give trust, or friendship, or peace (non-violence), it is possible that it won’t be received or reciprocated, but the vast majority of time, it will be which creates more of what you have given. Leaving you richer than before.

Just because you may have had a bad experience where someone did the wrong thing to you, don’t write off all people (of that type, race, gender, persuasion). You are hurting yourself by doing that, and robbing the world of what your trust could bring.

Your Money Chooses

“Apart from the ballot box, philanthropy presents the one opportunity the individual has to express their meaningful choice over the direction in which our society will progress” – George K Kirstein

There is nothing I can do about it now. I voted. The election is over and now I sit back and wait to see where the leaders take the country, until the next election in three years when they ask my opinion again. I have this tiny moment in time to add my voice to the millions of others, and if most people agree then we might get somewhere. It’s hard to see what kind of impact I really have though. One vote in millions doesn’t seem to carry any weight at all, so why bother? I am sure that I’m not the only one who has thought that too because in my electorate alone, the informal votes ranked higher than a number of the candidates. That means that more people didn’t fill out their ballot paper correctly than those who voted for some candidates on purpose. The Australian Electoral Commissions suggests that 5% of all votes are informal and can’t be officially counted.

It’s easy to see how people can end up there. And it’s easy to see how people can disengage from community life thinking that they are unable to change anything, so why bother.

But that’s not true. The impact an individual can have on our world is huge, and we don’t have to wait for an election to be called to do it. Every day we have money within our control and what we do with it creates the society we live in. The organisations we give to shift our culture. When we give money to charities it shows politicians what people actually care about, not what they say they care about. Money moves our culture. Money moves our values. Money is a tool we can use to create the society we want. We get to choose what we do with it. So, give generously to organisations as a vote to create the world you want.

Enough is enough…except for when it isn’t

Too much of a good thing can still ruin your day. My wife made the most amazing pasta the other night. It is one of my favourite meals and I ate a significant amount of it. Even as I was still eating I said,

“I have eaten too much”

Then I continued to shovel pasta into my mouth.

It was amazing. Until it wasn’t. And later, it wasn’t amazing at all when I felt ill. I ruined a good thing by overdoing it.

We are lucky with food though, because most of the time we know when we have had enough, and we can stop eating and enjoy what we have consumed.

There are other things in life that don’t give you that signal that you have had enough. Money is the main one. How much is enough? Do you have an answer to that question? Or are you just working for more?

It’s something that most of us just drift into. The process of desiring more and more money so that we will have enough to buy that house, pay off the house, buy that car, go on that holiday, buy that other house. It becomes a never ending cycle. We would be wise to make a conscious decision of when enough will be enough. How much do we actually need, and then what do we do with the excess (giving some of it away is always a good idea). It’s such an important process because if we are unable to figure out what our enough is, then we are at the whim of the mighty dollar, which is a very scary place to be.

You will never be happy when enough isn’t.  – Seneca

Nope.

There is a story, perhaps a myth, about the king of Siam (modern day Thailand) who would give a white elephant to those in his kingdom who displeased him. Not wanting to upset the king, everyone accepted this gift. Plus, it was such an honour to own such a rare animal and it signified that you had made it. It was the Ferrari 250 GTO of its day (look it up, super rare and expensive).

In doing so, it was the king’s hope that the cost of looking after the elephant would financially ruin the person and free the king of their presence. Pretty sneaky.

Then there is the time that the king of Siam offered two elephants to President Abraham Lincoln in the early 1860’s, because America had none, and obviously need some.

The catch was that Siam didn’t have the means to transport them there, so President Lincoln needed to send a ship full of hay and other food that the elephants could eat. Also, fresh water – tanks of it. Plus, special berths so that the elephants could stand up and lie down. Also, they wanted to do it a few times so it would be more than one trip. Once in America, they had to make sure the elephants kept warm and then they should just let them run around the country for a bit to multiply.

President Lincoln said no. Respectfully so. With wisdom. Essentially he said, “Nah, we don’t need ‘em. We have other machinery that we use.”

I don’t know what the political fall out from that was, but that’s probably the reason there are no elephants in North America. Also, it’s way too cold in America for elephants. They would have died pretty quickly. In saying no, it saved America a lot of time, money and hassle.

Sometimes it’s important to say no when someone tries to give you something.

Acceptance

“This is for you dad.”

You probably know the look very well. The large, expectant eyes of a small child, that is handing you, what can only be called a ‘picture’.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have been given drawings that were supposedly of me, or pieces of half-eaten food, or bits of paper with precious rubbish wrapped up in them by my kids, or other people’s kids as a precious gift. All of which I gratefully accepted, not because I wanted them, but because accepting the gift was an act of generosity. It gave my kids the chance to experience what is was like to give something away that they worked hard on, or meant a lot to them. They could learn about giving gifts that other people would actually want later, in that moment, it was more important for them to experience being generous.

Most people would agree with that. But it doesn’t just stop with kids learning how to give.

There have been other times in my life when someone has tried to be generous to me and I refused the gift. Not because I didn’t want it, but because it felt like too much. I felt insecure and inadequate, and like I would be a freeloader if I accepted it. So, I said no.

There is nothing wrong with saying no, but there are times when accepting a gift is an act of generosity because of what it gives the person who gives it. We know that there are many benefits when we give and it’s important not to rob people of that experience when they are trying to give to us.

In saying that, there are definite times to say ‘no’…(more to come on this)

You are really, really small

Looking through the tiny window on the plane, two thoughts came to mind. It was nice to be back in the air again, travelling around our amazing country. Also, people are small from up here. (It had been a while since I last flew – sometimes I forget things).

The further you get in the air, the harder it is to engage with what is happening on the ground. Not only does it get harder to see everything that is happening, but it is harder to comprehend the sheer enormity of life on our planet.

For example, in my head, at any given moment, there are at least three different conversations happening. One about the thing that I am doing right then. One about the things that I want to do next. And one about every single mistake that I have ever made in the past. (Mostly the last conversation focuses on times that I have been socially awkward).

Then, in my household, at any given moment, there are at least fifteen different conversations happening. Four internal conversations about what each person is doing right then. Four internal conversations about what each person wants to do next. Four internal conversations about what each person has done before. And three verbal conversations between the people in the household. Some of them are louder than others, because, well…kids.

In my street, at any given moment, there are at least ninety conversations happening. And I live on a small street.

You get where I am going with this. The more you take a step back and look at the world around you, the more complex the world can seem. It can be overwhelming.

The good news here, is that in the moments when I become all consumed by my challenges, my problems and my frustrations, the more I take a step back and expand my view and see those in my household, my street, community and world, the smaller my problems seem to get. Because we all have challenges and obstacles, and we are all trying our best to work through them, which means we are not alone in that.

To a plane flying overhead, I am really, really small. And so are my problems. I find comfort in that.

Stop Complaining and Do Something

There’s a guy who posts #noconversion on every Opportunity International Australia Facebook post that mentions India.

I don’t know why. I guess it is his way of taking a stand against Opportunity converting people in India. From what to what, I couldn’t tell you. If he would take a moment and look at what we do then he would realise that we convert people from poverty to not-poverty and if he is against that, well, he can bite me.

But, regardless of that, he still posts his protest.

I saw a picture of women in Indonesia recently who were working through the challenges of COVID and the obstacles that they faced, all whilst wearing t-shirts that said “Stop complaining and do something”. Immediately this made me think of the Facebook guy.

Social media is not the real world. It is not even a proper representation of the real world. It’s a façade, built around a ruse, pretending to be a thing. It can be useful but it is limited. To make actual change requires the courage to articulate what you are for (I care very little for what you are against), and to put your time and money into that. I would suggest that 99% of that activity would happen in person. Being on social media is not ‘doing something’.

Also, in case you were wondering, neither is complaining.

The World of the Generous

“I’ve done four lots of isolation”. My Uber driver was chatty. She was a lovely, grandmother type, who seemed to really enjoy driving strangers to the airport. As the discussion predictably turned to the pandemic and it’s impact on our lives, she casually mentioned that she had driven a handful of people who turned out to be COVID positive, and before close contact restrictions were changed, was required to isolate for 14 days, four times, in her room.

It struck me that for many, the world has shrunk in the last few years. For some, the world has been the size of a bedroom for periods of time.

“How did you make it through?” I asked.

“You just find a way”, she stoically replied.

“Not everyone does”, I thought.

My favourite quote at the moment is “no matter where you go, there you are”. This, seemingly pointless phrase, carries with it some profound weight. Because if you find yourself in isolation, or any challenging life situation, you will not be struck by new problems. It will just magnify things that you are struggling with already. If you are feeling lonely, or are lacking purpose, or are self medicating, isolation will make that worse. You can’t escape from you.

There is a way to get out of your own head. To help stop the rumination and downward spirals which seem to make your world feel smaller and smaller.

Generosity.

Yep. Being generous. An old proverb says ‘the world of the generous gets larger and larger whilst the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller’.

Being generous to those around you increases. Focusing only on yourself, being caught up in your own world, being self centred, leads to a small world.

Your world can grow even if you find yourself in isolation.

25% of Statistics are Made Up

25% of Statistics are Made up on the spot.

Is that statement true? Maybe, I could be part of the 25% I guess.

Numbers are great. They are logical and clinical.

They also lie, oversimplify and distract.

For example:

  • 1 in 10 people are colour blind
  • 90% of people can see colour just fine

Two messages from the same set of numbers which read very differently. (Neither of which is true by the way.)

We use numbers to draw attention to the significant issues in our world, and even if they are factually correct, it isn’t working. By themselves, numbers don’t work.

I could tell you that Opportunity International Australia is helping over 6.7 million families to work their way out of poverty through the power of a small loan, or I could tell you about Shoba…

Shoba, a wife and mother in India, was already living in poverty when her husband got sick.

They were unable to afford the medicine for her husband’s condition, so she borrowed from a money lender to get her husband the help he needed.

Sadly, he died.

In time, the money lender came to get what they were owed – which was now significantly more than the amount borrowed. Shoba did not have the money to pay.

The lender took both of her young sons to work off the debt by manual labour at a quarry.

Nobody should have to live like that, facing an impossible decision between critical healthcare and losing children to slave labour.

Shoba heard about the small loans available through Opportunity. She borrowed USD50 and bought some carving tools and supplies. Shoba hand carved wood into elephants which she sold by the roadside.

Using the money she earned to redeem her sons, Shoba was also able repay her Opportunity loan and build a better life for her family.

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes a lot of courage.

Making a donation is the easy part!

Opportunity has 6.7 million other stories like that. Stories that say more than statistics ever could, even if they aren’t made up.

Stories with true statistics will tell the whole story.