One of the most well known characters in Literature is Ebenezer Scrooge…A thought provoking fiction and a standard movie to watch at Christmas
Have you ever gone shopping and splurged a little bit, arriving back home with more items than you had originally planned, which brings about feelings of guilt and shame, even though it is your money and you can spend it however you want?
Ever been there?
It turns out you are not alone. It’s a global phenomenon. The feeling of guilt after a splurge comes because we feel like we are stealing from other important parts of our budget. Like the mortgage, or rent or food. But, studies tell us, if we set aside money in our budget specifically to splurge then the guilt disappears. Just like that, because that money is there to be spent however you want and it gives you the freedom to do that.
It’s the same with generosity and giving. Sometimes we feel guilt when we give because there are other important things that require our finance and it can feel like we are stealing from those parts when we are generous.
If we set aside money to give away, become intentional about being generous, that will overcome any guilt we may feel and make it easier for us to make a positive difference in the world.
Be generous on purpose.
What happens when you stress about money?
There is a story about sugarcane farmers in India – a group of researchers tested their IQ after harvest when they had money, then again a few months later right before the harvest. The difference was that they scored nearly 10 points less when tested right before the harvest. They simply had less mental energy to focus on the test.
That is the impact of poverty and financial insecurity. It is mentally overwhelming. Poverty places a huge burden on each person’s finite mental bandwidth which creates tunnel vision as well as decreases cognitive function. All of this makes it harder to focus on anything beyond the current problem, to problem solve, resist impulses or think long-term.
It’s not that the sugarcane farmers lacked intelligence or became dumber, it was because of the circumstances they were in on the day they were tested.
This is a good reason we don’t talk about “poor families”, but instead “families living in poverty” – because their identity is not that they are poor, that is just their current context.
This phenomenon is the same everywhere in the world. Poverty has a crippling effect and stops people from reaching their full God given potential. It’s the reason that God’s heart is always for those trapped in the poverty cycle. We must keep working to overcome it.
I missed a concert recently. It was going to be amazing, the first date night with my wife for a while, a musician that we both loved, the first concert of their Australian tour. By all accounts a perfect night ahead…until
There are very few words that I can use to explain what happened and not gross you out, but just before we were about to leave our 18 month old was unwell, which required a clean up and a decision that we couldn’t leave him with babysitters like that, even if they were family. So we gave our tickets away and I was shattered. We both were. So much of a build up led to a giant let down and disappointment.
Most people around me at the time shared my disappointment, but a few encouraged me to be thankful for what I did have and for the fact that other people enjoyed the concert on my behalf. I hear that, but I wasn’t in the place, yet.
I think it’s important when we experience loss in life that we acknowledge it and experience it. Sure, this was just a concert but the principal is the same with any loss. For us it was a loss of an experience, a loss of what could have been, and in some way I needed to grieve that loss.
After a little while we got tickets to another concert. A different artist and venue, but this one we actually made it to, just, and we loved it. We probably loved it more because we missed out previously.
Loss breeds gratitude. If we let it, if we sit with the painful, difficult parts of life and grieve, that paves the way, over time, for joy to be experienced.
Often people will have a particular area in the developing world that they are passionate about. So when they give money they will allocate it to that country or region.
Others may not have that connection and they will request that their funds be assigned to where the greatest need is.
With so much need in the world, how can anyone possibly suggest that one area is a priority over another?
It’s a difficult call.
Low income is one factor when it comes to poverty, but so is a lack of access to basic services, like clean drinking water, toilets, health and education, and vulnerability shocks, like illness, death or even festivals.
Opportunity International targets rural or under-served areas where poverty is high but the overall economic and political environment are stable. We also look for signs of development such as roads or markets in those areas of need. There is a tension between recognising the great need and also being able to genuinely create a positive impact and measure success over time. It’s vital to track and feedback on the projects that are being funded.
The greatest need is constantly shifting in our world as new events take place that cause poverty related issues, but also as more and more families work their way out of poverty. That’s the good news – today’s areas of greatest need will not be the same in the future because of the work that is being done.
Another word that gets overused in the not-for-profit sector is development. Which is tough because it describes the work that many, including Opportunity International, are involved in. But this means it gets used frequently and loses its meaning along the way.
So what is development?
A key theme of development is this idea of cultivation, which means creating something. Not in a mass production type of process, but bringing something to life and growing it over time. Creating a space for something to flourish and develop. It is very much in line with building relationships and getting the best out of people.
But at the same time, it is bespoke, as individual and unique as the people we work with. Sure, there may be many similarities but development is not a copy and paste mentality which assumes that just because an idea has worked in one area of the world then it will work in another country. Sometimes the same idea doesn’t work in a neighbouring town.
True development is a complex process which works with what already exists and finds a way to enable growth of people, agriculture, infrastructure and community engagement.
That’s how I think development should look. Which is less about the specific actions and more about the environment and culture an organisation brings.
Do you ever just get sick of hearing about it? All the need in the world? The poverty, the incurable diseases, the ill-treatment of animals, the sadness?
Bad news has that impact. Just like the oceans waves wear down the rocks on the shore over time, bad news can wear us down to the point where we just don’t seem to have the capacity to deal with it any more – so we shut it out.
This is what some would call charity fatigue. Which is a little deceptive because the fatigue is not about the charities themselves, but the major issues these charities fight against. It’s more like, bad news fatigue. If we shut it all out and don’t face the bad news, then we can miss out on being involved in some great things that are happening in our world. The shadow proves the sunshine (according to Switchfoot)
How do we fight against charity, I mean bad news fatigue?
- Look for the good things that are happening all around us. There is always something good happening if we look hard enough.
- Recognise that you cannot save the world, but God calls you to play your part – this is His gift to us
- Find what you are passionate about – invest yourself whole-heartedly into that.
- Trust that God is at work, even when you are not. He will find others to invest themselves whole-heartedly into the areas that you are not passionate about.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Remember that question? 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.
I don’t ever remember being asked, what do you want to do when you grow up? It was always what do you want to be? It’s a little thing, but it speaks volumes about how our thinking changes as we grow.
‘Be’ elicits thoughts of a calling, of becoming something and creating something.
‘Do’ is just about doing things and actions.
I believe that we all have a desire to be something, to fulfil our calling, the reason why we are here on this planet. More often than not, I have discovered that peoples calling is about other people. Caring for them, helping them, finding fulfilment in watching others grow and develop and reach their full potential.
There is no doubt that we ‘do’ things in the process, but the doing serves the calling, not the other way around.
So what do you want to be when you grow up? There is something within each and every one of us which cries out to help other people – but whether we listen to that is up to us.
I don’t know if it happens at a specific time in life, or if it becomes a consistent interruption in thinking, but the desire to leave a lasting impact on our world is a strong motivation for many people. Some would call it a legacy.
Legacy is a heavy word with connotations of a long term, far off benefit for some unknown people. But in reality it doesn’t have to be like that.
We can all leave a legacy starting right now, through two easy steps.
Firstly, we can give money generously to causes that we care about. Our donations have long lasting impacts and will benefit our world from the moment we give.
Secondly, we can include our kids in the process of giving and generosity. We can start by having conversations with them about the organisations we support, show them the stories of lives being changed because of our giving, and invite them to participate through giving some of their pocket money, or birthday money and letting them suggest some organisations that we can give to.
These simple actions and conversations with our children will not only impact our world, but also our family for generations to come. Creating a culture of generosity with our kids will bring about gratitude and positivity within the family unit.
No matter who you are or where you live, every person has the same needs in life. Regardless of if you are living in the slums of Delhi in India, in rural Indonesia or a capital city in Australia, there are three keys, which are essentials of happiness.
Firstly, we require something to do. A job for us to put our hands to and to keep busy with – in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes Solomon says that it is good for us to find satisfaction in what we do, the vocation that we dedicate our lives to.
Secondly, we need something to love – a family, a group of friends, a community to be part of. This is what we call social capital – which is a measurement of cultural and social networks we have access to, that are built on trust, cooperation and connection. Being well connected to a community has been proven to reduce the probability of being poor – both financially and emotionally.
Thirdly, we desire something to hope for – be it a better future for us and our family, or a hope in a loving God.
This third one is incredibly significant. There is something about our journey in hope which is intrinsically connected to our happiness. If we have something to hope for, then we have access to joy.
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.