Veil of Ignorance

I’m not the only one who thinks that the world is structured unfairly. The rich seem to find it easier to keep making money, and those who are living in poverty are the most vulnerable to life shocks which push them further into poverty.

How would you re-design things if you could? Who would have the wealth? Who would have the power? How would you shape society so that it served all who were a part of it?

John Rawls came up with the concept of the Veil of Ignorance. It’s a way to test ideas for fairness, whether it’s a new tax law to re-creating society as we know it. All you have to do is to imagine that you have no idea what position you would end up in on the other side of that decision. You could have your taxes cut, stay the same, or even increased. You could end up with all the power or none of the power. With that in mind, would you still be comfortable making the decision?

It’s a theoretical experiment of course, but the exercise is important to help create the kind of communities that all members want to be part of.

If you were to create a place where you would be happy in any role that you were given; any gender, any race, any social status, any level of education, any physical ability, what kind of place would you create?

Thinking of your life now, if you were born a different gender or race, or differently abled, or in a different country or social class, would you still be comfortable with the social inequalities of our world? I know I wouldn’t be.

I don’t think a utopia is possible, but I do think there are simple things we can do to begin to shift those social inequalities towards fairness. It starts with generosity.

How you treat those that have less power than you will shape the world we live in.

Spend Elon’s Money

One of my favourite TV show memories was Supermarket Sweep. I was pretty young when watching it, but what I remember is that contestants got a short period of time to run around a supermarket with a trolley, grabbing as much stuff as they could and the winner was the person who had the highest value in their trolley.

I remember getting stressed out just watching it, but the idea of spending someone else’s money to get free stuff seemed like the coolest thing in my mind.

I came across a similar concept recently. Call it the most extreme supermarket sweep ever. A website where you have 30 seconds to spend as much as possible on selected items, in an attempt to use up all the allocated money. The twist is that the total figure is the net worth of Elon Musk. $166 Billion of it. Check it out here – https://www.leasingoptions.co.uk/spend-elons-money/index.html

It stresses me out as I run out of time trying to buy all the stuff with all the money. One time I spent over $17 Billion which is quite impressive in 30 seconds, but that was mostly because I bought 345 Falcon 9 Launches at $50 million a piece, which still left Elon with over $145 Billion. I think if I had longer than half a minute I could make more of a dent in the phenomenal net worth that he has, but I doubt I could spend it all in my lifetime.

What could you possibly do with that much money? What is the point of that much wealth?

We know that happiness does not increase after you earn a certain level of income, in Australia that’s about $175,000pa (we are one of the most expensive countries in the world for happiness). Without earning another cent, Elon could be happy for 948,571 years.

Don’t get me started on Jeff Bezos.

Those Billionaires will have some questions to answer about what they have done with what they have been given.

Then I turn around.

And I look at everyone in the world who earns less than I do.

All 97% of them.

Looking at me, thinking that about what I could possibly do with all that money. What is the point of so much wealth? And that I will have some questions to answer about what I have done with what I have been given.

Doormat

Being generous is considered to be a ‘good’ thing…generally. But what if you want to achieve greatness, or do difficult things, or have hard conversations? There must be a time to put generosity aside to live in the real world, right?

How do you avoid getting pushed around and becoming a doormat for people because you are generous?

To start with, generosity is borne from a love of people. Here’s part of what that looks like:

Generosity Creates Boundaries

There is a time when simply giving something to someone, be that money, time, freedom, will cause that person harm. It can enable them to continue down a destructive path, or to hurt themselves or others. It is a special act of generosity to create boundaries which protect others and yourself from harm. Just because someone asks you for something it doesn’t mean you have to say yes.

Saying yes to something means saying no to something else. Be intentional about what you say yes to.

Generosity Has Challenging Conversations

Being generous to people means calling them out and inviting them into growth opportunities. It drives someone to embrace the discomfort of a challenging conversation because, by doing that, it has the ability to help someone else grow.

“I love you too much to not see you grow in your humanity” Derwin Gray, former NFL Player, Pastor at Transformation Church.

Generosity Trains

Generosity creates opportunities for people to grow, develop and improve their lives. It encourages people to change, giving them options.

It is not generous to keep people trapped in a cycle of need, dependence and ignorance.

Generosity doesn’t make you a doormat. Generosity empowers you to empower others on their own journey.

Unsolvable

Meet George*.

May or may not be George. Looks like a George. How do you know it’s not George?

George was a university student running late for a statistics class. Not wanting to interrupt when he arrived, he copied down the two problems that were put up on the board as homework.

It took him a bit longer to work through the problems as they were a little harder than usual, but he completed them, apologising to his professor for the delay in getting his homework completed.

But the two problems were not homework. They were famously unsolved statistical problems. George Dantzig had revolutionised the statistical world, solving the unsolvable. There is no doubt that he was incredibly intelligent, but it wasn’t just his intelligence that solved it but also how he approached the problems as something that could be solved. His search for an answer was not clouded by thoughts that people had already tried and failed.

How we think about problems and challenges in our lives directly impacts our ability to work them out.

Just because something doesn’t appear to have a solution, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t one. It just means it hasn’t been found it yet.

What is currently unsolvable to you? What if it could be? What would that look like?

That COVID ‘Cr@p’

Not everyone will agree with you.

I understand that. I experience that from time to time. Recently I have had a handful of conversations about the legitimacy of the pandemic, the vaccines, the governments response and the government itself. Normally I take it in my stride, recognise that nothing I am going to say to that person will change their mind and nothing they will say to me will get me closer to agreeing with them. So I hear them out, say thanks for sharing and finish the conversation.

A few weeks back I was talking with someone about donating money and their response was, if they donated, “I don’t want it to go to that Covid crap. I want it to help people not kill them.”

This comment stung and it made me so angry.

That covid crap which has killed millions worldwide.

Which has crippled economies and health care systems.

Which devastated India this year.

Which is currently ravaging through Indonesia.

Which has kept millions of families apart.

That covid crap?

We may have different opinions on this. Not everyone has had the same experience of it. But Opportunity International Australia has lost staff members in the field, family members of staff, and clients to this pandemic. Calling it covid crap is pretty rich as you sit in your ivory tower of Australia.

Somehow I managed to keep calm, thank them for their time and respond out of generosity. But some days this is harder than others.

Why should we care about Indonesia?

Most borders are arbitrary. They seem to do nothing. I have driven over them, walked through them and stood on them and you really can’t tell the difference between one State or another, or even one country or another. They are a man-made creation, making up a distinction between people from one place versus people from another, as if coming from somewhere hundreds of kilometres away increases or decreases the value of a person. If you have ever travelled into space and looked back at Planet Earth (I’m looking at you Billionaires), you won’t see any borders marked out on the land.

Islands are a little different though. They have a distinct start and finish, and we can tell easily what belongs to that Island and what doesn’t, but even then, to which country an island belongs is haphazard.

You may not know but Australia is made up of 8,222 islands.

Indonesia is also a country of thousands of islands, more than 17,500 of them.

The reason that Indonesian islands are not part of Australian is historical and chance. If one part of history had gone differently then Indonesia and Australia could have been the same country. But, that’s not how things are and there are strong borders in place. It does not mean the citizens of Indonesia have less value is citizens of Australia. We should care about Indonesia and Indonesians and here is why:

  1. They are our close neighbours. Indonesia is closer to Perth than Sydney is.
  2. They are an economic powerhouse and that will be good for the Australian economy.
  3. It’s the right thing to do. We are all people. Where you are born shouldn’t dictate how or if you live.

The people of Indonesia are going through the most challenging time with COVID-19 right now and it will only get worse. We must find a way to help them. We must do something to help our neighbours.

You can help by donating now at www.opportunity.org.au

Which Ladder?

If you think about, we do some weird things for money.

We put ourselves through years of gruelling study, after choosing a course, a university, specific subjects, work part time at the same time as writing assignments, actually writing assignments the night before they are due, find a job and then work in that job to make money.

Then we realise we don’t like that job and find another job that makes more money.

Then work more hours than necessary to progress our way up in the organisation to another job, that pays even more money with even longer hours.

This is a career. It could lead us to spend our entire working life climbing our way up the ladder only to discover that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.

But what if there is another way?

What if, instead of a career, we searched for a vocation, which is almost a calling, something that you can find significant fulfillment in. You can still climb the ladder, but it is leaning up against a more meaningful wall.

To tell the difference between a career and a vocation comes down to our motivation. If money is the main thing that you are aiming for then you could be happy with a career, but if a sense of purpose in your work is important then a vocation may be what you are after.

The real test to see if you are working in a career or a vocation is this…

If you didn’t need the salary anymore, would you still work in that job?

If so, then it is probably a vocation.

Sometimes the cost of a vocation is a lower wage, but if you are willing to sacrifice that then it is all worth it.

In all of this, I find myself wondering about how this philosophy works in developing countries. For someone living on less than $2.50 a day, is this even something that they have the opportunity to think about?

Gratitude Gives Us Hope

It is good to hope. We know that. Hope is much better than no hope. But how do we find hope?

I have experienced some dark days and in the depths of them I found it almost impossible to see how things could ever get better. I struggled to find hope. However, over time I noticed that the following day would be slightly better and then the day after that would be better again. Eventually I would find my way back to being hopeful – I never go stuck in despair. So I know that if I can make it through today, tomorrow will inevitably be better.

But what changes? How do we get to a place of hope if we currently have no hope?

BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, suggests that it’s gratitude that gives us hope. Simple.

Gratitude points us to the good things in our life, that have already happened or are happening now.

Gratitude is for the past.

Hope is for the future.

Because there have been good things before, I believe that good things will happen in the future and so I hope.

That makes gratitude the greatest tool in our kit. If we can put it to good use it will focus our thoughts on what we have been blessed with which has the power to bring a positive outlook for tomorrow.

Don’t wait for the dark days to come before you start using gratitude though. It’s much harder to think of those things then. Make note of things regularly that you are grateful for now, this makes it easier during the times when you are without hope, because then you can read what you have written previously.

If you are unable to find anything to be grateful for right now, think about how many times you have inhaled and exhaled whilst reading this. That is a great place to start…you are still breathing.

I got that wrong

I feel bad now. At the time I was annoyed and I spoke quite harshly to him. But he wasn’t doing what I thought he was doing and he was actually being a bit of a hero.

I can understand my response. It was two in the morning and he had woken me up with his barking. Strike 1.

I could immediately tell that he wasn’t where he should have been. Strike 2.

Plus he didn’t seem to be keen to go back to bed. Strike 3.

I had to physically pick him up and put him back in his pen, making sure he couldn’t get out again.

That was all well and good until a little while later exactly the same thing happened. What is the deal with this dog?

I was not happy and I told him that. In the morning things were a bit icy between us still.

I found out later that our neighbours had four people try to break into their home in the early hours of the morning. Now I think I know what the dog was up to.

I’m not annoyed at him anymore. I’m proud of him.

I’m annoyed at myself for not checking out my surroundings when I was putting him back to bed.

I’m annoyed that I didn’t give the dog the benefit of the doubt. I read the situation very wrong and it has completely changed my perspective of the event. Sorry Jake.

It was a solid reminder to check my perspective of all events that happen, in case there is another explanation for what I am seeing.

Idiot Generosity

There’s the story of a guy who started giving money to a religious organisation that promised him his life would be ‘blessed with wealth and riches’ if he just kept giving. So he did. Until he ran out of money. No wealth and riches came his way. Just hunger and poverty.

What do we do when our desire to help puts us in harm’s way?

What happens if acting generously is causing others harm?

How do we live a generous life without slipping into unhealthy generous acts, saying yes to everything and damaging our lives in the process? Simply put, when is it okay to not be generous?

In the Buddhist practice, there is the concept of Idiot Generosity. Here some examples of Idiot Generosity

  • When people do things with the sole purpose of creating pleasure for themselves by helping others
  • Giving someone something they want because you can’t bear to see them suffer (another name for this is enabling)
  • Showing compassion to someone whilst they are causing significant hurt to others (think perpetrators of sexual abuse being overlooked)
  • Giving of items or services which create more heartache (think donated clothes for developing countries that are not suitable, ruin the local market economy and become landfill)
  • An inability to say no (saying yes to everything removing your ability to live up to the commitments you have already made)

The opposite of this is Wise Generosity which takes into account the context of the situation, other people and long term effects, in order to give wisely. It puts up generous boundaries which helps keep you safe but also empowers others, providing a platform for them to help themselves. This takes longer to figure out and is innately more thoughtful, but worth the extra effort.

Don’t practice Idiot Generosity. Don’t be generous in a way which causes damage to you and those around you.

Practice Wise Generosity. Be generous on purpose. It will be harder to do but it will cause less damage.