“How Can They Do That?”

It’s a question I have heard often over the last few weeks as we have seen people buying up big in preparation for the end of the world brought about by coronavirus. I must admit that it has been a bit confusing to watch people race for, and fill trolleys with, toilet paper and other inane items that 4 weeks ago were annoying necessities. What drives people to behave in such a way?

Apart from those that are purely taking advantage of this situation and profiteering (which I am choosing to assume is a very small percentage) people that are hoarding are doing so out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having enough. Fear of scarcity. Fear of poverty. I can understand this fear. The word for 2020 so far is ‘unprecedented’. We have never experienced anything like this…in the developed world. (Millions of people go through upheavals of life regularly, but that is a conversation for another time). So, fear of not enough is understandable. But fear breeds more fear. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Scarcity subtracts.

To overcome the fear of hoarding requires acts of generosity. To look outside of our immediate needs and see those around us. Instead of acting as a single family unit we connect with those in our community and work as a larger entity. Together everyone achieves more (corny acrostic of T.E.A.M but has the added benefit of being true). When we act as a community, both locally and globally, it creates a generous mindset within us. Generosity comes from a hope that we can achieve things together that we are not capable of as individuals. Generosity breeds more generosity. Generosity multiplies.

When faced with the fear of scarcity, choose to act in generosity and it will have a positive, long lasting impact on our world.

Schadenfreude

I am often confronted by my shadow. Not the shape on the ground made by body blocking the sun, but the ‘dark side’ of my personality. It’s confronting because the shadow “consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.” We all have a shadow but it requires some work to see it, to truly get to know yourself and understand what is happening within you. It’s not easy and I don’t think it’s a journey with an end point.

What is easy, however, is seeing the shadow in other people. We can spot it in those around us in a split second, but this is not about them. This is about you and me. So, instead of thinking “this is so valid for my spouse/friend/colleague”, let’s take a look at ourselves.

It is within my shadow that I find schadenfreude. A German word which sounds like a sneeze but means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Here are some examples:

  • Laughing at someone who trips over
  • Smiling when a team that you hate loses
  • Feeling good when someone you know fails

Ever done anything like that? Yeah, me neither…*cough*

Is schadenfreude good or bad?

Some people suggest that it is to our benefit to experience schadenfreude because it that experience helps motivate us to achieve success. It keeps us going as others around us fall away. Which seems to be like a pretty lonely way to experience life and sounds like the opposite of what I would consider success.

So it must be bad then. Surely if I feel good about something bad happening to something else, it can’t be too long before I consider initiating something bad to someone else for my own pleasure? From considering to doing doesn’t take too long either, so schadenfreude has to be bad.

The truth is that, by itself, it is neither good or bad. It is part of the human emotional experience but what we do with that can create positive or negative outcomes. How we process our emotions when we experience them makes all the difference. Just as with any element of our shadow, when you experience it, just notice it. See it for what it is, an emotional response, and move on. Schadenfreude, and other emotions from the shadow, are heavily weighted towards isolation, which is unhealthy for us. I would suggest moving towards relationship at every possible moment.

So, don’t seek to avoid schadenfreude (gesundheit!), notice it when it happens and move towards relationship. When you feel good about someone else failing, that’s okay but don’t stay in that space. Move towards the person, even in your thoughts, which will help you begin to understand how they could be feeling in that challenging situation. Now comes the opportunity to be generous with them, but also with yourself if you struggle to do that.

We’re all in this together…

One of the greatest things that we can offer humanity is empathy; a sense of understanding and share the feelings of someone else. Often empathy can be a challenge as many of our human experiences differ from each other, depending on our gender, age, ethnicity and life experiences. All this means that for many, we simply cannot begin to understand how other people experience the world.

Among many other terrible things, the Coronavirus has brought us a sense that we are all in it together. Its effect is not just on one country, people group or race, the effect on all of us is the same. Suddenly, empathy is not that difficult. I can understand what you are going through because I am going through the same thing, or a very similar thing.

How we choose to respond to that is vital. In this moment I can do very little to help those suffering in Italy, or in other states of even other suburbs. But I can help my street.

We live in a small cul-de-sac with 7 houses, so earlier this week my wife took it upon herself to connect with each of our neighbours to see how they are. We don’t usually see much of them – it is typical suburbia, protected by our roller doors on the garage, but we got thinking if we are finding this time challenging, how is everyone in our street going. What if we have a surplus of something that they desperately need but can’t get hold of? So, she went door to door, met everyone – got over the embarrassment of not doing so 18 months ago when we moved in, and collected all their contact details. She then distributed the list to everyone so we can all stay in contact. Not a lot has changed since then, but I have to tell you, I don’t feel so alone. I know that if we get stuck without something urgent, I can reach out to those around us. I also know that those closest to us won’t be suffering in silence. We are all going through the same experience.  

Empathy is the birthplace of generosity. When we can understand what other people go through, we can bring the best that humanity has to offer, a generous act.

There is Never Just One

I’m not a bug person. I hate them all.

They are on a spectrum though, some I hate less than others, but all are hated nonetheless. Spiders are the worst and ants aren’t too far behind them. At moment we have ants at our house. Not as invited guests, but more like a weird neighbour that comes over, even if you aren’t there and eats your food. Kind of like Kramer from Seinfeld, except without the crazy hair and humour.

A few weeks back I hadn’t seen any for a while and I thought we were rid of them. Not long after, I saw one, solo ant. I wasn’t bothered by that because it is was not near the kitchen and it was by itself. How much damage could it do?

But then I remembered, there is never just one ant. If you look hard enough you will find a second. Where there are two ants, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

I hate ants.

But I love the idea that things are happening all the time without us noticing in our world, because it is not just ants that we don’t notice. Bad news travels fast. It’s what we tend to focus on because we are psychologically wired to do so. We can often get so caught up in the terrible things in our world that we can’t see anything good.

But look for the ant. Look for one good thing, something positive that is happening in your world. When you find it, (and you will because you can’t get rid of good things…just like ants), you can be sure that there is never just one – you will find a second. Where there are two, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

There is plenty to be thankful for, even in the tough times. The more we focus on the good, the more good we create and it infests the rest of the world.

Oh, That Hurt.

I recently hurt my back. You may have heard about it if you have seen me; it seems that I can talk about nothing else.

I didn’t do anything specific to cause the injury, just a combination of a newborn baby, lifting things and a minor history or back complaints. Every couple of years or so something like this happens, but this one was worse than normal. If you have ever experienced back pain, you will know what I am talking about because you use your back to do everything. I couldn’t put socks, shoes or pants on, I couldn’t sit in chairs, or find a comfortable way to stand and sneezing was a nightmare.

My effectiveness at work plummeted. If you can sit or stand, you can’t email, or plan, or meet or pretty much do anything that a job requires. But the worst thing was the threat of a sudden burst of pain at any given moment. It was all I could think about because one false move would conjure significant pain.

It gave me a glimpse of what it is like for someone who constantly lives with pain, where it permeates every area of your life, it wears you down and changes the way you think. It gets to a point where you cannot imagine life without pain, and it is terrifying. Things that were previously possible are no longer possible because of your pain. That is the cruel psychological effect that it has.

Not unlike the effect of poverty. I have often referred to the psychological effects that poverty has on people, because not having enough to feed your family becomes all that you think about, it permeates every area of your life. Things that were previously possible or may seem possible to someone on the outside looking in, are not possible because of poverty. You cannot imagine a life without it, and it is terrifying. Unless…

Unless someone does something to overcome it. Unless something changes.

Now, I can see a specialist and do my rehab exercises and work to improve my back. That’s up to me, no one else can do it for me.

Poverty doesn’t work the same way. It is a trap that no person can work their way out of by themselves. It requires someone to step in, make a donation and take what seems impossible and make it possible. That is what ending poverty looks like.

The Kindness Movement

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible – Dalai Lama

Our strongest memories growing up are connected to how we felt around people. Think back to your primary school years and I guarantee your main memories are from someone either encouraging you or discouraging you. Building you up or tearing you down.

I can remember one specific teacher calling me stupid, and another encouraging me to be better. The second one, I could sense that he could see more in me than what I was displaying at the time.  They are essentially the only two things that I remember from those years. A discouraging word from one and a generous act from another.

I am amazed by the teacher who encouraged me, because in the years that have passed since, I have noticed that it is so much easier to discourage. We almost have an in-built ability to tear someone down. But to lift someone up? Well that can be so rare that appears super-human. It doesn’t need to be this way though.

There is a movement to bring us back to one of the fundamental elements of being a person. Kindness. I would call in generosity. There is even a Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) week this month. With a RAK day on February 17.

Why? Because we need it. The people around you are crying out for some encouragement, a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a hand of friendship.

Also, it is so good for us. Being kind and generous makes our life so much better; science tells us this.

RAK day is an amazing idea. Sprinkling kindness and generosity on people as you go about your day is a great habit to form. It’s really simple to, there are RAK suggestions, from planting a tree, to writing positive sticky notes, complimenting someone on their parking skills or sending an encouraging email. It starts with one act on a particular day, but it can make a significant difference to those around us.

I get the sense we could all use some more kindness in our lives.

2 Selfish Reasons to Care about Developing Countries

Somewhere along the lines we decided that if we got something in return for being generous, then that wasn’t okay. For some reason it was thought that for an act to be a good thing to do then we should receive no benefit from it at all.

It’s an interesting thought and has led to hundreds of years of miserable generosity. So many people have been missing out experiencing the joy of giving purely because they thought it was wrong. There is a danger though. A danger of only doing a good thing for a completely selfish reason without concern for others at all. I think we can all admit that that behaviour feels wrong and we should probably avoid it.

In saying that, I consider some things too important to care about whether people are doing it for the right reason. Like ending poverty for example. Australia lives in amongst some of the poorest countries, they are our neighbours. Why should we care?

Well, here are two selfish reasons from Bill Gates:

  1. For Our Safety

It is to our benefit to see developing countries improve their income which improves education. Education equals stability, and less reason for radical idealisation and terrorism.

Also, and this is a big one, if we can overcome poverty in developing countries this will lead to improved healthcare and less disease because they will be able to diagnose and treat diseases more effectively (did someone say Coronavirus?). If we can equip all countries with the best medical care, it will literally save our lives down the track.

2. For Our Prosperity

This should be a no-brainer for us, living in a capitalist society and all. If we have more countries overcoming poverty, creating extra income, then all of a sudden we have hundreds of millions of new potential customers for our products. In short, history shows us that a richer Japan equals a richer world. What about a richer Indonesia, or India, or Pakistan? We are leaving money on the table.

There are other non-selfish reasons as well, but surely these two are pretty significant by themselves.

How we respond to tragedy shows who we are

When something touches our heart, we give. We respond to what creates an emotion. The greatest example of that has been the last few weeks when we have seen other Aussie families, people just like us, maybe someone that we know, or a friend of a friend, needing to evacuate because of an enormous fire or fires bearing down on their home. Many have lost their home; some have lost their lives. When this sort of tragedy happens to those that look like me, sound like me and, by sheer chance of choice of residence, could be me, it moves me to respond. So, we begin to imagine what it would be like if that was us – and if that did happen to me, I would really want someone to help.

The outpouring of generosity, volunteering, financial and emotional support, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Some have given out of their plenty, but many have given out of there little. People are working extra shifts and donating their pay for that day, business are donating their profits and entire communities are rallying together.

What does this tell me?

In the darkest of times it is generosity that shines the light. When we act for the benefit of someone else it brings out the best in us and our country, and it breaks down the harmful, artificial barriers that we put up between groups of Australians.

During times like these I am reminded that, no matter where we live, we are all one tragedy away from being forced from our homes, running for our lives and needing help from a stranger. It may not feel like that to you now, but I am sure 6 weeks ago thousands of Australians would never have imagined it either.

If we can take that attitude of humility with us into this next decade then Australia will continue to be a very generous nation indeed.

$$Happy New Year$$

Should we celebrate when people are suffering? We do it everyday so why should we stop now?

Last year the cost of putting the Sydney fireworks display was almost $6 million. That’s about $485,000 per minute, for a glorified light show. With so much need in the world, and now with so many people suffering through some of the worst bushfires we have had, should we be spending this much money on a consumable item?

I think yes. We should. We should celebrate together during the times of year when we normally celebrate as a culture. We should come together as Australians and stand shoulder to shoulder, facing 2020 stronger because we can celebrate and mourn at the same time.

Let’s look at what would happen if we cancelled the fireworks:

It would not bring homes back.

It would not bring lost ones back.

It would not restore the hectares that have been burnt.

It would not cause thousands of people to gather together for a single purpose.

It would save $6 million dollars. (But not really because the money has already been spent)

It would create a loss of $130 million for the city of Sydney. (That’s how much the event generates. Sometimes we get so caught up in the cost of something that we forget the cost of not spending the money).

Every day there are tragedies that take place all around us, but it is important to celebrate the good things, in spite of, or even because of, the tough things that happen.

Let us also participate in generosity during those times; we all have the ability to do something. It is not the sole responsibility of the governing bodies in Australia, we are each in charge of what kind of country we want to live in.

4 Ways to be Generous this Christmas

Whilst every day is filled with opportunities to be generous, Christmas is a time designed for people to participate in generous acts.

Here are 4 things that you can do to be part of it…

  1. Have a generous mindset.

It may sound simple, and it is, but it’s not easy. To approach people with a generous mindset is the start of all generous acts. Especially at this time of year people around us might say or do things that we think are quite stupid and we can write them off as unintelligent or unthoughtful. A generous mindset seeks to think of the best possible reason why someone would behave in a way that we don’t agree with. Maybe they are stressed, maybe they are rushed, or feeling unwell. There could be any number of reasons that we can’t see. We don’t have to agree with them or support their actions, but we can still see them as a person who worthy of grace.

2. Look Left and Right

I don’t know about you but I don’t see my neighbours that much. Our street is tiny, but I have little to no relationship with anyone who lives in our proximity. Christmas is a great time to change that, and an easy thing to do is to drop in on your neighbours with a small gift for them. There are many people who don’t have a great deal of family or friends around them at this time of year and it can be lonely. Drop in, say ‘Hi’ and be generous with your time.

3. Give a Gift on Behalf of Someone

We all have so much stuff, and the hardest question to answer at this time of year is “What do you want for Christmas?”

Instead of buying people more things, you can purchase a gift from a Charity Gift Catalogue for a family in a developing country, like a chicken or a duck, which helps them work their way out of poverty. You then receive a card which you can pass on to a family member or a friend, and tell them that their gift is helping end poverty. That is going to feel great, and it won’t clog up your house with more stuff. It doesn’t cost much at all.

4. Donate a Percentage

It doesn’t have to be much, but work out how much you have spent/will spend on Christmas presents this year and choose a percentage of that to give away to your favourite charity.

These are simple, yet effective, and they shift our focus beyond ourselves and the amount of presents under out tree, to how we can change people’s world through generous acts.

Merry Christmas!