Tunnel Vision

Do you remember the last time you were really hungry? Not just peckish, but actually ‘missed out on lunch, breakfast was small and now dinner is late’ type of hunger. It is painful, but probably the hardest thing is that the only thing that you can think about in that moment is food. You can smell it, taste it and imagine how it would feel just being close to a meal that is ready to eat. Sure, you try to distract yourself and think about something else, but when the image of the perfect hamburger pops up in your mind then it’s all over. It’s food and nothing else that has your attention.

If you have experienced that, or something like it, then you are not alone. It is the psychological phenomenon of scarcity. There was a study that was done on the impact on people when they live on a starvation diet. Over time they grew so weak and thin, as you would imagine, but the impact on the mind was what caught researchers by surprise. They discovered that all the participants could talk about was food. They memorised recipes, compared food prices and shared about their favourite meals. So they decided to distract them with a movie but all they could focus on was the meals that the characters in the movie were eating. They were so consumed by what they didn’t have, their lack, that they couldn’t focus on anything else. They couldn’t see the big picture.

Not having enough of what you need can become the only thing that matters to you.

That is why the work of Opportunity International is so powerful. Providing a small loan to mothers who can start a business and create an income overcomes the scarcity problem, allowing people to shift their focus to other important things and make wise decisions.

Heaping Coals

I grew up in a home of Christian faith, and I distinctly remember a part of the teaching about treating people who are against you; your enemy. It said,

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”

I remember reading as an adult too, and, you’ve got to admit, that is a pretty weird statement. The image that this created in my mind was that of an antagonist and that God was actually suggesting to people who have enemies, ‘treat them nicely so that they get really angry and fume, that will be pretty funny’. I could never work that out.

I recently discovered that there was an Egyptian custom in which a person who had made an error and was wanting to make an amends, would carry a pan of coals on their head as a sign of their remorse, and the above teaching is likely to be in reference to that practice.

That changed some things for me. It turned an antagonistic philosophy and transformed it into a message of returning good for evil in the hope that someone who was actively out to harm you would be in a restored relationship with you. Now, I don’t know that repentance and restoration is a guaranteed outcome of giving food and drink to someone who hates you. There is always a risk in any act of generosity, especially one as this counter-intuitive (eye for eye, remember? That’s a whole other conversation…). But the possibility that you could bring something amazing out of something awful is worth it. Even if it only means that you don’t have to live with an active resentment towards the person, because the act of generosity towards them can shift your perspective.

Death & Taxes

I don’t hear it much anymore, but it was colloquial for a long time – the only two certainties in life, being death and taxes. Both of which we still try to avoid.

We try to avoid one by hiring great accountants and we try to avoid the other by not talking about it…

The internet tells me that I am not alone when it comes to talking about death. It can be quite the scary and uncomfortable topic, and somewhat strange to discuss whilst we are still healthy.

There are numerous benefits to openly talking about a time when we will no longer be around, including gaining a greater perspective of life, what we value, what we have achieved and what we still wish to accomplish. It is such an important conversation as we will all die, although we can’t control how or when, we can control what impact we can have after we have died.

One of the greatest impacts we can have post-death, is to leave something to a charitable organisation in our will; a bequest. We are on the verge of the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in our history, so it makes sense to allocate some of that to the causes and charities that mean something to us.

It is very easy to do – as you arrange your affairs, mention to your lawyer that you would like to leave a certain amount or a certain percentage to a charity and they will take care of the rest. If you already have a will, you don’t have to re-do the whole thing, you can add a codicil which serves an amendment to your will, recording your wishes to leave a gift from your estate. Again, chat to your lawyer and they will help you out – also your favourite charity may have a copy of the codicil to get you on your way.

A bequest is a simple way to be generous when the terrible happens.

How To be Generous to Yourself (without letting yourself off the hook)

I love personal growth. I love consuming books, podcasts and videos about growth. I find it exhilarating. But I realised a little while ago, I must be exhausting to live with. I am always searching for the reasons why I do the things I do, how I can do life better, and how I can find the blind-spots that I have. Nobody wants to live with that, and to be honest, sometimes I am exhausted by it too. So I am slowly learning about what being generous to yourself. I have been reluctant because previously I have been very good at letting myself off the hook for something and calling it ‘generosity’. It was really just laziness and a lack of integrity.

But now, I have three sayings that I use which help keep things in check.

We are all a work in progress

This is helpful for me and for when I am dealing with others. Sometimes I can get frustrated with people who don’t seem to be trying to improve and this saying is a great reminder that I don’t know other people’s journey, and I certainly don’t know where they will end up. It helps keep me in check too, as I realise that I am a long way from where I want to be.

I am better than I was yesterday (but not as good as a I will be tomorrow)

To stop me slipping into the depths of despair and frustration when I make the same mistakes or fall into the same victim racket in my mind, I think of how far I have come and I can have confidence in my trajectory of growth. If I can keep doing to small things each day; reading, learning, keeping fit, then I know I am moving forward. Progress is slow, but it is still progress.

In this moment, I am enough

With all that said and done, I can know that right here, right now, I am everything that I need to be for this moment. I can’t do anything about any work or preparation that hasn’t been done because it is too late to change it, so I can own who I am and what I am doing.

What are your best sayings?

This is Why We Need Generosity

We need generosity.

In a world with increased connections but decreased relationships, now more than ever, we need it. Because it is generosity that breaks down the barriers that we put up, even the subconscious ones, to bring about quality relationships and positive change.

We need it because it is good for us. I talk often about the health benefits, physically, emotionally and psychologically, that generosity has. It is so good for us.

We need it because kids in the developed world are growing up in an unprecedented time of wealth. In Australia, over the next 10 or so years, we will see the largest transfer of wealth from one generation to another as the older generation dies. Never before have we had so much wealth. One of the problems this creates is that children are growing up experiencing large houses, latest technology, private schools, frequent holidays and access to anything they want, thinking that is normal. But the majority of the world does not live like this.

We need it because we are becoming more divided than ever. Taking sides is the new black. We seem to lack the ability to try to understand those we disagree with and just write them off as a ‘nut-job’.

Generosity makes us healthier. Generosity takes our focus off ourselves and shifts it on to others, allowing us to notice that people live in poverty all over the world and we can do something about it. Generosity brings us together through one of the kindest acts of seeking to understand the people we don’t agree with and realising we have much more in common that we think.

We need generosity.

The Worst Thing We Ever Built

The greatest thing that I made with own two hands (apart from my children, but I was really a bystander in all of that) was a table that I built in Woodwork when I was 15. It wasn’t a masterpiece and I think I accidentally stole part of it from another student, but it was mine (mostly) and it maintained its structural integrity when I put something on it. It was amazing, because I made it.

We often feel that way about something that we create, but sometimes what we create isn’t amazing, and can even cause significant damage to people. That’s a little difficult to talk about though.

One of the man-made creations which has torn our world apart is poverty. We have created it, and we maintain it, and it holds hundreds of millions of people captive every single day, taking the lives of millions each year. The ‘we’ that I refer to are the wealthy in our world. If you are reading this, then that is you.

You see, poverty has not been created by people living in poverty – Muhammad Yunos would say that poverty was created‘…by an economic system in which all the resources tend to keep surging up towards the top, creating and ever expanding mushroom head of wealth belonging to only 1 percent of people.’ An economic system created and cultivated by those whom it serves. Those with wealth. You and me.

It is not a natural disaster, it does not happen at random and it is not a necessary evil. It is a vile beast that we created, and we must kill. Because it is holding us as a human race back, and we are missing out on the beauty, creativity and intelligence of the majority of people who live on the planet.

Ending poverty is a lofty goal – but we are doing it, one small loan at a time.

The Government Can’t Help You Anymore

One of the toughest speaking gigs I have ever had was at a facility working with kids who had dropped out of a government high school in a lower socio-economic area of Adelaide. I was talking about global poverty and some of the difficulties that we face in this world and these students were convinced that whatever was happening was the Australian government’s fault. It didn’t seem to matter what I said or how many times I suggested there was something that we, as individuals, could do, their opinion didn’t change.

It’s safe to say that they were using the government as a scapegoat, as a cop out so that they didn’t have to contemplate the reality that they could take some responsibility for our world. This is not uncommon with disengaged students, but they are not the only people who have ever done that, I have discovered. To be honest, it is probably something that we have all done from time to time – asked the question, ‘Why doesn’t the government do something about it?’

But perhaps the time for us to ask that question is over. We have lived in a world where governments have held most of the power – some elected, some not, and this power seemed so far from our own reach that it can make us feel like we have no control over what happens. That may have never been totally true, but it certainly is not true anymore.

Out of the top 100 richest entities in our world, 69 of them are corporations, not governments. Not elected, but also not answerable to a nationality. Corporations who have the ability to impact our world simply by the way that they work and how they provide their products or services. Corporations filled with people, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons. People we know and people we have met. People like you and me. Individuals who have direct influence over the culture of their organisation and can steer things in such a way that if they wanted to fund some development work in a developing country, they could do it. If they wanted to provide free services to empower people living in poverty, they could do that. If they wanted to come up with a solution for homelessness, they could do that. If they wanted to hire newly arrived refugees, or the disabled, or the elderly, they could do that. People could insist on making a positive change in our world and by the sheer size of these corporations, these actions would echo throughout the entire world.

So, the government can’t help you anymore. But corporations can, and they might be a bit easier to influence to help create a better world, because they are filled with people who don’t need to seek re-election.

How to Deal with Stupid People

I come across them regularly, on the road, in the supermarket, walking on the footpath. People who behave in such a way that I can only assume that they are stupid. Sometimes I call them ‘jokers’, other times I have more colourful names for them, but in my mind they are categorised as ‘stupid people’.

I am sure you would know some people like this. People who don’t seem to understand your priorities or seem to care about your sense of urgency. They could be just about anyone, and as it turns out they are usually anyone who is not me.

I think my eldest son was about 7 or 8 when I first heard him call someone a ‘joker’ from the back seat of the car. I am so glad that he didn’t use something more colourful. This was a rude shock – when you hear your own judgement parroted back to you it can be startling. And how long until that word gets used to describe me? Are other people using that word to describe me? Am I someone else’s ‘stupid person’?

It is the easiest thing in the world to judge people, to create a story in our mind about how they are just stupid for not seeing the world as I see it and behave in a way that I would behave. It is the easiest thing in the world to be completely self-centred.

What I have discovered is that everything that everyone does makes sense to them, even if it is just at a subconscious level. They may not even be able to articulate why they do something but at some level their behaviour aligns with their values, or their world view.

If you don’t understand why someone does something then your path to understanding is through curiosity, asking more questions and making less judgements. That is generosity in relationships.

If you have stupid people in your life, then perhaps you’re not asking the right questions.

Crowd Funding

We love a good crowd fund. Something that goes viral, a story of overwhelming hardship, of incredible difficulty and of selfless commitment. It seems to be the way that fundraising is heading; giving money directly to the recipient who needs it without all the hassle and rigmarole of the charity organisation taking out their cut and slowing down the process. This way, 100% (minus the website fees of course) goes straight to the people who need it. Isn’t that what we all want?

But where does the 100% (minus the website fee of course) actually go to? Who is making sure that there is a real need for this request? Who is working out if there is a better way to meet the need or not? Who is tracking how the money is spent, if it really gets spent on what people were giving to? Who is monitoring the outcomes of this whole process? In the long run, is this process helping or is it causing more damage? Does that matter to people when they donate? Should it?

There is something to be said for a report. It doesn’t sound sexy, but finding out if you are making a difference when you donate money is surely the greatest return on your gift, rather than just assuming that you are making a difference.

Tim Costello, previous Chief Advocate for World Vision Australia, would tell the story of when someone wanted to give a large amount of money to the organisation but only if 100% of it went to the programs in Africa. Tim said ‘Sure. You hand me a cheque and I will post it to Africa for you. What happens to it when it gets there? I don’t know. But at least we will know that 100% of it went there’.

There is nothing wrong with crowd funding to help people, in fact it can be amazing, but let’s not confuse it with sustainable development and long-term growth. It costs money to work out what people’s needs are. It costs money to figure out the best way to meet those needs with respect, dignity and in a sustainable fashion. It costs money to ask the hard questions after a project has taken place to really discover if the desired outcomes have been met. All of this is not able to come from a crowd funding site…yet.

How to Measure a Human

A good set of data is exciting to some people. They love it. Their life is a spreadsheet. They are the type of people that will say, ‘I’ve got a spreadsheet for that’.

I have said that.

I am one of those people.

I love the way that information and data points can give you an understanding of so many parts of our world and, if you can measure something you can improve it. But most of all because numbers tell a story.

But numbers never tell the whole story. How can we measure how good someone’s life is going to be by using numbers? Well, the United Nations is giving it a go. They have released the Human Capital Index. This little number measures a bucket load of data points in the lives of individuals and then ranks countries on what their quality of life is. Things like adult survival rate, probability of survival at age 5, expected school years and harmonized test scores (which is a way to understand student achievement on a global scale and not, as I thought, students around the world taking tests via the medium of song).

What do we learn from these numbers? Well, not a great deal that we didn’t already know. Sub-Saharan Africa are not doing that well, with Chad coming dead last, Australia is in the top 10, sitting at number 7, behind Ireland but ahead of Sweden (I’m not sure what to make of that).

What is surprising is that in first place is Singapore, just ahead of Korea. Both of which have incredibly high Harmonized Test Scores which is the difference between them and the rest of the top 10.

But I guess, after all is added up and calculated we can see that whilst things are indeed getting better, the majority of humanity is not living up to its potential because of poverty. Imagine all the things that we are missing out on, the people, the personalities, the ideas and creativity, the families, the stories – all because of a construct we created. We must end it and we must end it now. It won’t be ended by governments or massive corporations, it is going to be ended by every person doing their bit, and it can start here.