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 actually 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 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 six 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.

Words Matter

What we say matters. How we say it also matters. There is something powerful about the words we use and how we choose to use them. What we speak over our children has a significant impact on their lives. What we speak over ourselves does also (which can sometimes be an echo of the words that were spoken over us by a parent or care giver).

How we respond to someone else’s words is entirely up to us. We choose to take offence or not, we choose to react or not.

I have often said that a great act of generosity is assuming the best of someone, no matter how their words or actions might appear to us. I find it is also one of the hardest acts of generosity to participate in.

To physically harm someone because they have offended us is wrong. Most would agree on that straight up. But our viewing preferences would suggest otherwise…

90% of the top grossing Hollywood films each year over the last decade are violence based (although I don’t think “Frozen” is entirely in the clear). Either a war, or something is being avenged or some sort of ‘man’ is fighting an evil oppressor to become the victor…with physical violence.

The world was offended when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face at the Oscars. Then we all sat down, grabbed our popcorn and waited for The Batman to beat up the Riddler.

It’s not so easy to rid ourselves of violence.

Give First

One of the earliest Jewish teachings was about giving. The Jews were instructed to give 10% of what they had to the priests as an offering to God. It wasn’t the last 10%, or 10% from somewhere in the middle, it was the very first 10%, or first fruits to be set aside from their latest crop or produce they had harvested.

Religious doctrine aside, this is a great practical process, because it ensures that whatever happens, you are generous first before consuming what is left over. If you were to wait and see what was left after you had used up all that you needed, there wouldn’t be anything left to give away. Generally, people will spend and use what is available to them.

This is one thing that I struggle to do but it is one of the best disciplines to have. Being intentional about giving means knowing how much you want to give away, and to whom, then putting that amount aside before it gets used on other things.

Give first, then live. It will help keep your priorities straight and loosen the grip that the love of money can have on you.

Which One?

I recently saw a list of those who make significant political donations and I was a little surprised that there were a number who gave to both major parties in Australia. I guess it makes sense if you are looking to hedge your bets, so you don’t back the wrong horse, but it reminded me of how most people give money to charity.

It is very rare to come across someone who donates to only one charity. Instead, I often hear that people give to a few different ones, sometimes to two that are working in a similar space because, whilst they may be different organisations with slightly different approaches, the supporter likes them both. So why not?

It’s a portfolio style of giving, where you choose a selection of charities to support across a few different areas. Some will be similar, others will be doing something completely different so that you can diversify your portfolio. Over time you become more engaged and connected with the charities you support which leads to greater fulfilment in your giving, as you learn more about the difference that your generosity is having.

When You Win

Why does it seem that those with money seem to attract more money? Is it something supernatural, are they using “the Secret” or are they just very smart with handling their money already, so that when they get more it adds to what they already have?

There is a long list of people who have won the lottery and changed their financial lives dramatically, only to spend it all and end up back where they started from a few years later.

It makes sense when you think about it, because money doesn’t change you, it just makes you more of who you already are. How you are today will be how you are tomorrow regardless of what material changes happen for you.

If you are greedy already, if you are stingy already, if you are generous already, then getting a lump sum of money will only make you more of that thing. Once you get a lump sum of money it is too late to become something else. You may be able to fool yourself and others for a bit, and act generously temporarily but that will fade and your true nature will come out. The work needs to happen before you get it.

So, if you are waiting until you win the lottery to learn how to be generous you are fooling yourself and setting yourself up for a long and lonely life of being stingy.

Don’t wait. Do the work now and start your journey of generosity.

Why I Hate Economics

It’s more than a class that I barely passed in high school with a teacher who was as boring as a brown sweater vest. My problem with it is economists seem to think people behave rationally, without emotion. Models, legislature, and entire countries are based on that theory.

Take inflation for example. One of its main drivers is the fear that people have about inflation, who then behave in a manner that drives up inflation. Stick with me here –

The fear of rising prices causes people to buy more items now, because the price will rise in the next few weeks or months. This pushes up demand for the products, which then become more expensive because there are less products around, and scarcity creates a willingness for people to pay higher prices – causing inflation. Emotional.

Also, I have an issue with the simple construct of supply and demand. It suggests that if you can make a cheaper version of an existing product, then people will rationally buy the cheaper product, because why would you pay more money for something when you can get it cheaper elsewhere? This completely misses the connection that some have with certain brands, for which they are willing to pay more money, even though the product is the same. Emotional. We all have those traits. We all pay more money for something than we have to, because of an affiliation with a brand, or some other emotional connection.

You see, economics is filled with simple models and diagrams explaining one of the most complicated elements of our world, the market. Many are happy to rely on the market to fix all of society’s problems. As if the market is an all knowing, all powerful and altogether good being which, if left to its own devices, will take care of us all. But it is just a thing. It’s a system that we created and use for our own benefit, and hopefully the benefit of others. As with anything, it’s the users which dictate how much good or ill comes from a system. And it’s the emotions which drive the users’ decisions. So, it’s emotion which rules our market, not logic.

Or as Seth Godin puts it,

“We like to think we make complicated decisions based on rational analysis, but most of the time, we actually make an emotional decision and then invent a rational analysis to justify it.”

Mostly though, it’s the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any space for generosity within economics. It doesn’t appear to be logical, or good business, or benefit the market at all – but it is and does all those things. There just isn’t a simple diagram for it.

The Most Underpaid Team Member

The most valuable person in my team is underpaid. In fact, she earns nothing.

The most valuable person in my team is Lorraine.

She volunteers her time each week to make phone calls. Not a cold-call, scam type of phone calls. But in a ‘thank you for donating and making a difference’ type of way.

Each week, she gives up her time to go through the list of people who gave over the last 7 days and calls them simply to say ‘thanks’. That’s it.

And the response?

People love it. They truly value being thanked for doing something great. I have had many people let me know that they got a call from her and they really enjoyed it. I have had people give more often after getting a call from her. Maybe they felt so good about being thanked that they gave again. Maybe they just wanted to speak to Lorraine again. Whatever the reason, I know that Lorraine is the most valuable part of my team because she is at the forefront of caring for those who are using their generosity to end poverty, one family and one community at a time through the work of Opportunity.

No doubt, she needs a pay rise.

I’m Not Asking for Your Money

I work for a charity and meet with people who donate significant amounts, but I don’t ask them to give money.

I used to do that, and it felt wrong. I felt like I was apologising every time I wanted to meet with them and that they thought I only wanted something from them…which was kind of true – their money.

I got tired of that feeling and of asking people to give money, so I decided to try something else.

Instead of asking people to give, I now invite people to fulfil their purpose through generosity. By giving money to Opportunity, an organisation that they are passionate about, our supporters are finding a way to fulfil their purpose.

They are bringing dignity to those living in poverty.

They are giving back some of what they have received.

They are living out their values.

They are showing care and concern for their fellow human beings.

They are releasing the hold that money can have on those who have it.

They are being generous and reaping the rewards that generosity bring.

So I don’t ask for money. I offer a pathway to purpose.

Why People Give

“When you give to charities, what outcome are you looking to achieve?”

This is the most common question I get to ask people who support Opportunity. It’s important to find out what motivates them to give, mostly so that we can achieve the kind if impact they are looking for.

Often, the answer I get is “I want to make a positive difference”, and after further discussion they tell me about how someone helped them early in their life. So, they give to pass it on and help someone work their way out of poverty.

For many Opportunity supporters they see creating businesses as a great way to help people help themselves. A small loan gets given to kick start their journey out of poverty, by creating a small business which provides them an income. They can then put food on the table, send their kids to school, pay the loan back and leave poverty behind.

The types of business the small loans create in places like India and Indonesia are not what you normally think of. There are no ABN’s, no offices, no IT set up, no convoluted distribution channels. It’s more simple than that. You buy items at one price, take it to a market or the side of the road and sell it for a little bit more. You get a loan in the morning and can create an income to buy food that evening.

Whilst it takes time for loan recipients to fully leave poverty behind, a small loan is the injection they need to start that journey.

That’s what making a positive difference looks like.

$160 is enough to help create a small loan – donate here.