Gratitude Breeds Generosity

‘From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.’

Have you ever wondered how some people just seem to be so happy all the time? It can be quite disconcerting as you go about your day, struggling through your afternoon slump, stressing about your upcoming deadline, cursing how quickly your last coffee was consumed, and then Mr. or Mrs. Happy pop up and share their joy of life with you, offer you a helpful suggestion with your deadline and source another coffee for you. I mean, who do they think they are? Even if you can’t think of someone you know who is like this, believe me, they are out there.

The most amazing thing is that when you find out more about these people and hear their story, you usually discover that they have had to endure, and possibly still are enduring, some incredibly difficult life circumstances, tragedy and loss. It is most often unfair and sad, yet there they stand with a smile on their face. Not a fake one either (I thought that was their trick for a while, but it is real happiness).

It turns out that, whilst not everyone who goes through hardship surfaces with a happy demeanour, those that do manage to find something in life that they are grateful for. It is a conscious effort, every day to find the good things they have and over time, that sense of gratitude overflows into generosity towards others. Gratitude breeds generosity, in all areas of life. You cannot stop it.

All action that we take is motivated by something internal.

Equality…and cake.

Have you ever been given the responsibility of cutting a birthday cake for children?

The need to get each piece the exact same size has never been so great, and when you can’t do that, each child knows who has the biggest piece and who’s piece is smallest. Of course, in that situation the easiest thing to do is to take some from the biggest piece and give it to the child with the smallest piece, so things are equal.

But you know that things are not that simple. It doesn’t matter how much you explain it with logic, and even though each child gets the same amount, the saddest child in the room is always the one who has had something taken from them. They are unable to focus on anything else except for their cake – even if it ended up being distributed with equality, they can only see what they lost.

We know what inequality is; when people are oppressed, there is injustice, parts of the community are unable to reach their full potential, and society is at odds with itself. We notice it acutely when we feel it ourselves. When, for us as individuals, life is not fair, we are not getting what we deserve, what we have worked so hard for. Somebody has taken our cake.

But there is another side to inequality and that is privilege. If there was no privilege, then inequality would not exist. From a place of privilege, it is a little difficult to notice when someone else is oppressed. It requires a courageous ability to empathise with those who are different from us; different in the way they think and approach life – it is an act of generosity to assist those who are living in the oppressed side of inequality to bring about equality. It sounds great, but the difficulty when part of our community begins to move from inequality towards equality is it usually creates a disturbance. The power that those in privilege are used to experiencing, begins to shift. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression so moves towards equality are hindered by those in privilege, even if they want equality in theory.

We live in a world of inequality. More often than not in Australia, our experience of inequality is through privilege. We’ve been handed a very big piece of cake*. There is no one to take it off us and redistribute it to others who are oppressed so it is up to us to do that individually. But it is going to cost us. It will disrupt the power that we have.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to get started – a gift of $70 is enough to create a small loan for a mother living in poverty in Asia so she can start a business and begin the journey out of the poverty cycle. A small, but important step in the journey of equality – giving up some of our financial power to empower someone else.

*Metaphorical cake.

Too Many Options

In our home, Friday night is take out night. Usually when my wife asks me what I feel like for take out night, I say ‘I don’t know’. Then she say she doesn’t know either and then we enter this downward spiral of indecision that lasts until we get desperate and choose the first thing that comes to mind which can turn out to be something I didn’t want in the first place.

I have discovered that the reason that we find it hard to decide is that there are so many options available that it just seems impossible to choose one. What if I choose one that I’m not happy with and I’m faced with take out regret? It’s a tough life.

I was travelling in India speaking to an Opportunity International loan client about growing her business over a few years and working her way out of poverty. She had put her two eldest daughters through tertiary education. The youngest was about to complete high school and when she was asked what do you want to do when you finish? She said, ‘I don’t know’.

It sounds like a typical teenage response, but the real reason for that answer is profound.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. A young women, living in a slum in India, not only being in a position to complete her high school education, but then to be in a place with so many options available to her she had trouble picking just one. She didn’t need to think about finding the highest paying career to support her family, she could choose to do what she wanted. She could dream. Try something new. Create.

That is what empowerment looks like, to have a choice. It’s the catalyst to see people reaching their full, God given potential. It’s the catalyst that creates a better world.

Look How Far You Have Come!

Riding a bike is easy, once you know how. When you know how, it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to not be able to ride a bike. It’s something that you never forget how to do, it’s like, well, riding a bike.

It’s not until someone points out to you that there was a time that you didn’t know how, that you can stop and see just how far you have come.

It’s the same with anything in life. Each day we learn and grow and it’s not until someone creates a space for us to stop and reflect on where we have come from and what we have achieved that we begin to understand how far we really have come. I’m not the same person I was 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 10, or 5. I’m not the same person I was 12 months ago. My hope is that my life will always be like that as I continue to grow and learn.

If it’s true for me, it’s true for you and for our world. In relation to some of the big issues in our world we have come such a long way. Take poverty for example: since 1990 over 1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty, a larger percentage of girls are in school, about 50,000 less children under the age of 5 are dying every single day because of hunger and easily curable diseases. We have made some incredible progress.

The journey is far from over though, with much work to do (jump on board and help us out!), but we have great reason to hope and to take time to stop and say, look how far we have come.

What Does it Mean to Be Australian?

I don’t know. I seriously don’t know anymore.

I used to think we were a laidback country that gave everyone a fair go, supported the underdog, and were amazing at cricket that we watched on Channel 9.

It turns out that most of these things are not true, or are less true than they used to be. Aussie cricket and the channel swap fiasco aside, it certainly feels that as a country, we are not as laidback as we once were. In fact, we are becoming increasingly un-laidback, or stressed and anxious. I feel it myself, most days as I go about my general life, I sense that there is a communal angst. If you don’t believe me, head to Google and type in “Australian Outrage” and scroll through the results. Sure there are some links that are things that we should be genuinely outraged by but they are side by side with stories on sport, comedians saying un-funny things, and other subjective opinions.

Perhaps the problem is do to with the word “Outrage”. Maybe it is getting overused, or maybe we can make some changes to it to give differing levels of angst. Perhaps we can try (in order of severity):

Outannoyance

Outdisappointment

Outslightlyput

Outsocialmediaworthyanger

Outtempertantrum

Outfurioustodaybutnotcaringtomorrow

Outraging

Outofcontrol

OutAngryAnderson

But, if finding new words doesn’t solve the problem, then perhaps we can change some actions. Our journey from laidback into outrage requires that we find an enemy, someone that is truly against us and everything we do. Honestly, most of our “enemies” don’t live up to that definition and we have to fudge over those parts that we have in common to make it all the way to outrage. To overcome that and find our way back to being laidback requires an act of generosity. A conscious effort of listening to hear rather than listening to judge and condemn. It needs a wisdom that says “Agree to disagree”, meaning that we don’t have to agree with everything a person says or does to share a country of residence with them. It’s a knowledge that understands that we have more in common with people than we have differences and chooses to focus on the common ground. It is a life not borne out of fear. That is what generosity looks like and that is how we claim back our laidback mantle. Generosity overcomes outrage.

Happy Australia Day!

Tonight, I’ll Be Eating.

What happens when the extraordinary becomes normal?

Human history is littered with examples of people who have come into a large increase in income, won the lottery or had their life dramatically changed beyond what they could hope for, only to become so accustomed to this new life that it becomes normal. They then forget what life used to be like and take their extraordinary circumstances for granted.

Australia is a prime example of this en masse. The way we consume food has changed so significantly over the last 40 years that it beggar’s belief. Preparing family meals looks very different now, if it happens at all. Not only has the increase in the prominence of super markets changed how we access food, but the introduction of fast food restaurants has impacted how and where we consume it. Not to mention the ease in which we can access freshly prepared meals from a range of providers delivered to our door through the use of an app on our phone. We don’t even have to move off the lounge to organise dinner. Amazing – what a journey of food consumption.

As we become more and more accustomed to this new reality it is easy to forget that hunger is still the biggest killer on the planet. Whilst we can have food delivered at the tap of a smart phone, 10% of the global population are suffering from chronic hunger and for them the extraordinary is not about choice or ease of access but of finding a meal for their family. So next time your delivery takes a few extra minutes or the line at the fast food restaurant is slow stop and reflect on how things have changed, but also how things are for those living in poverty. Perhaps every time you eat out or order in, set aside some money to donate to making our world a better place.

In the Absence of Data…

I used to love writing stories when I was little. Tales about forest dwelling people and stories of weird animals, and bizarre worlds. I think I was quite a creative little guy. But I grew out of that, or so I thought. I discovered recently that I am still strongly involved in creating stories – about people mostly, and their motives and thinking.

Studies suggest that we spend up to 80% or our time each day in some form of communication. Only a small part of that is via speaking. Most of our communication is non-verbal and even when we do communicate verbally we can’t possibly say everything that is going on in our mind. So, for the majority of the time, people around us don’t actually have any idea what we are thinking or feeling.

Brene Brown, the well-known researcher and speaker, says that ‘in the absence of data, we always make up stories’. Meaning that if we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling about us, we create a story around that – we make up what they might be thinking or feeling. Most of the time what we make up is much worse than reality. But until we get the real story confirmed, we live in a make believe world where our made up version is non-fiction.

One of the greatest acts of generosity to ourselves and those around us is choosing to assume the best. Notice when we are making up stories about what others are thinking and feeling, and seek out the data. Seek to find out what the truth of the matter is. If we must make up a story because we don’t have the data, let’s make up positive ones.

Fa-la-la-la-la La-la-la-la-ing

I am not a Christmassy type of person. I don’t mind this time of year, the decorations are okay, although they don’t put me in a joyful mood like they do for some people, the food is good although it doesn’t excite me a great deal, and the carols I can leave – I certainly don’t get too involved in any fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la-ing.

What does excite me at this time of year is the idea of giving. We have a special season where we think about what others would like to receive. Now, that can be stressful, but we can also look at it as a great opportunity to put a smile on the face of someone we care about. The reason it is stressful, perhaps, is that if we don’t spend much time throughout the year thinking about what others would like, it is very difficult to switch that part of our brain on in December.

Often I hear people talking about becoming the best version of themselves, something that I am striving for also and I think that we go a long way to being the best version of ourselves when we are giving. When we are generous to others and giving back.

So, use this Christmas time to be the best version of you. Be generous to those around you, give great, well thought out gifts to friends, family and people you don’t know – like a chicken, for example.

Charity Case

Asking for help can be one of the most difficult things to do. It requires us to put our need out in the open and be vulnerable about a short coming we have.

In a world that seems to value independence, creating our own path and not needing anyone, asking for help is a sign of weakness and vulnerability is a dirty word. So those that do ask for help are seen as lazy, unable to help themselves or even called a charity case.

That’s an interesting term. In our language today it is a negative phrase that we use to put people down with, to write them off and not have to think too deeply about what is happening for them. But its true meaning is basically someone in need of help.

I am going to say, even at the very least, we all need the help of someone else once a year. It’s most likely much more often than that, once a month, once a week, probably at least once a day.

Why do we carry shame around that?

Shame is about fear and judgement based on the idea that being in need is weakness. But I see that asking for help is the most courageous act a person can be involved in.

I speak to many people who are generous to organisations that assist those in great need, not because they judge the recipients, but because they have been in a place of need themselves, or can at least imagine what it would be like, so they give.

Being in need is not a sign of weakness. Acknowledging need and asking for help is a sign of great strength.

Philanthropist

Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…

Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…

It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.

When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.

The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.

Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it. Really, if you care about people and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.