Duel

Is it possible that you don’t have to pick sides? I hope so.

Can I care about people living in poverty in other countries and also those living in poverty in Australia? Are they really mutually exclusive?

I know of a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who gives money to support single mothers with children suffering from a disability…and that’s it. That is his focus. People will talk to him about cancer and other health charities, kids charities and even couples with children suffering from a disability, but he wont give to them because it doesn’t fall in line with his generosity focus. It doesn’t mean he has no heart. In fact he cares very deeply for all these issues but his choice is made.

I have discovered that there is a difference between being selective with the organisations that I support and not caring. My absolute desire is to end poverty, with a specific focus on developing countries and that is what I put all my energy towards. That doesn’t mean that I don’t care about finding a cure for cancer…and research suggests that you have more of an impact by giving greater amounts to a few charities rather than small amounts to many charities.

The true call of generosity is to open your heart to those that are hurting, suffering injustice, or are battling in the face of severe obstacles. To be able to sit in that space and connect with what their experience would be like. You don’t have to fix the situation, but just be willing to encounter it. Out of that experience, you may want to do something to help, or not, that’s okay, just ensure that you are giving back to something.

It is a risk to open yourself up to those who are in need, it can be painful, but if we can live our lives with that as a focus then generosity will be the outcome.

Mother’s Day is Complicated

Everyone had a mother. Doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, you had one. It’s kind of nice to know, that in an age of disruption, disconnection and division, every person on the planet was born of a woman. We all started out as helpless, fleshy blobs that were 100% reliant upon someone to care for us.

Not every mother is the same though. That’s quite an understatement. Each one has their own difficulties in life, past experiences which shape their present day expression, and insecurities. All this creates interesting environments for relationships to be formed. Some people have amazing relationships with their mother, some have great relationships, some good, some okay, some not so good, and some awful. That’s okay.

Some people lost their mother early, some later in life, some people have a ‘mum’ that’s not their mum. That’s okay too.

Whatever the case, whatever the status of relationship, we can categorically say that we have all had one, have one, miss one, need one and we take one day a year to celebrate that. Mother’s Day.

One universal theme that I come across for 99% of mothers is their desire to provide the best for their kids. Often, it is about providing a better life than they had experienced themselves. What a remarkable goal, outworked by thousands of acts of selflessness over years to give something so profound that most kids won’t understand or appreciate: opportunity.

I’ve seen it in the slums of Delhi. Mothers, who have never had the chance to go to school, standing proudly next to their young daughters in school uniform, glowing about how their girls love to learn.

I’ve seen it in the Philippines. Mothers living by a rubbish dump, doing everything possible to enable their small family to survive the day, somehow finding food to eat and keep a roof over their heads.

I see it in my wife. Navigating motherhood in a culture that highlights how amazing the lives of other mothers are, all the while running a small business and still coming to terms with some aspects of being a mum which don’t come naturally, but nailing mostly and sometimes not nailing it. I love that about her.

There is something to love about every mother, and probably a great many things to love about your mother. So, happy Mother’s Day to all the mums, mums wanting to be mums, kids of mums without a mum this year, and mums who have lost kids. One day isn’t really enough to capture all the meaning that is tied to this relationship, but it’s a nice way to spend a Sunday.

My Addiction

I am not the first person to be confronted by it and I won’t be the last, but it is still overwhelming. To discover that I have an addiction was quite a shock. There weren’t any tell-tale signs, or specific behaviour which would have given it away and it wasn’t until I sat thoughtfully and considered what motivated me in my decisions that I noticed it, staring me in the face.

I am addicted to feeling good. It might not sound like much but it is a sneaky little motivation that has robbed me of so much. It has kept me from being bold, trying new things, building strong relationships, having difficult but necessary conversations, and ultimately it has kept me from growing.

You see, as one of the motivating jets that can make my decisions on a sub-conscious level, feeling good has kept me inside my comfort zone, unchallenged and lacking integrity. Sure there are other things that can motivate our behaviour without us realising it, but for me feeling good is my kryptonite.

But, as with any addiction, the more you acknowledge it, talk about it and understand it, the less control it has. Over time, as I have noticed it playing out, I have been slowly replacing the urge to feel good with the desire to allow myself to feel uncomfortable. To sit the space of discomfort and realise that it won’t kill me, but in fact it could be the exact thing that I need to experience to get to where God is calling me to go.

Life After Poverty

We are nearly there you know. We have almost overcome extreme poverty. It’s not quite beaten as there are still hundreds of millions of people suffering in it but we have made some huge progress over the last 50 years and we will beat it in my lifetime. So I’ve been giving some thought to what life will look like for me ‘after poverty’.

It’s a strange thing to think about but the reality hit me the other day as I was contemplating my life and purpose. I have been working at overcoming poverty for such a long time now, and there are many more people who have been doing it for longer, so what would I do with life when there is no longer a need to rid the world of extreme poverty? How will my skills transfer? Not only that, how will my passions transfer.

This is the most exciting thought process that I have ever had – not because I am looking for another job but because at some point in the future, I will make myself obsolete and nothing could make me happier. I long for a world in which organisations like Opportunity International are no longer around because this means that people everywhere are able to make the most of their life, live up to their full potential, regardless of where they were born.

Surely this is the greatest succession plan. I am incredibly glad that of all the jobs that will become obsolete in the future, mine is one of them.

Now, join me in making that a reality.

Can’t Buy Me Love…But Maybe Happiness

We are discovering that money, whilst it can’t buy long term happiness, can in fact buy short term happiness (happiness blips), if we spend it on the right thing. Things like the right experience which can create a memory that last a lifetime, rather than a physical thing that depreciates and collects dust over a lifetime. Also, spending money on specific brands – you know, the ones that go out of their way to create a relationship with you which build a customer loyalty bordering on the fanatical. Or on those larger purchases that we have been dreaming of for a long time – big screen TV, or the furniture we have been waiting so long for. These can all create some form of happiness.

But, to get the best form of happiness from money, and to discover the key to a meaningful life, is to spend money on someone else. Studies have suggested this for a while, that we can find happiness in a generous act, and that as our incomes increase the levels of happiness we experience do not correlate. Meaning that our level of happiness does not increase at the same rate as our level of income – there is a certain point when our income level has no impact on how happy we. Perhaps that is because we are not spending our money on things that will create happiness, or perhaps it’s what Dave Ramsay suggests,

“Money won’t make you happy. Money just makes you more of what you already are”.

To find happiness and real purpose with our money is to spend it on someone else, donate it to charity or otherwise give it away. This will dramatically increases our level of happiness. Doing it once might make you happy for a day, but making it a lifelong habit can make a lasting difference in your life, and the lives of others.

Generosity Makes You Live Longer

“You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” says Prof. Phillipe Tobler.

What is the secret to a long life? People love to search for that life hack that we can use which will magically make us live past 100. I’m sure you have seen the stories on the news of a person who has reached the amazing century and they all get asked what their secret is. There answers are usually anything from eating well, to getting enough sleep, or walking regularly, or never fighting with friends, or eating sushi everyday (to be honest, I think that last one was from a guy in Japan so it may not be relevant).

What if there was something else? What if we have been missing a key ingredient?

I think we have…and it is generosity.

Not only does generosity make you feel good and increase happiness, we now know that it can make you live longer. A recent study discovered that those who participated in acts of generosity (giving of time and money to others) had reduced stress levels which is a known risk factor for many diseases. But not a minor reduction in stress, their generosity had reduced their stress levels so much that it was no longer a factor in predicting their mortality. Meaning that for those people, stress had been taken off the list of things that could kill them. Their generosity reduced their mortality rate more than exercising four times a week and going to church regularly (which both improve mental health and longevity – so perhaps do all of the above).

So, if you are looking for a long, happy and healthy life, discover how you can be a little more generous.

Generosity is Good for Your Mental Health

It is something that studies have revealed frequently over the last decade, generosity is good for you. It feels good and it improves happiness.

It also turns out that the specific type of generous act can have an impact as well. A study was done to see what happens to the brain when people act generously. People were given the opportunity to give money to someone that they knew (someone they had been introduced to in the study) who needed it, a charity or to themselves. Now it is no surprise that when the study participants chose to give money to someone they knew who needed it, or to a charity, they felt good – better than when they gave it to themselves. The areas of the brain that ‘lit up’ where those that are linked to the reward system, providing a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. This is a common finding in a number of studies.

What was surprising is that when the participants chose to give money to someone that they knew, this action, which is called targeted support, was associated with diminished activity in the amygdala. The amygdala gets a great deal of attention nowadays because it is the section of the brain which is connected to emotions, the fight or flight response, anxiety, phobias and post traumatic stress disorder. This diminished activity leads to less anxiety and other mental health issues. Generosity is good for your mental health.

But it must be heartfelt rather than begrudgingly done. To get the true benefits of generosity for your mental health it is best to be generous on purpose. Be intentional with who and what you are giving to.

I am Selfish

People will generally talk about and teach on the topic they struggle with the most. Because in that struggle comes the wisdom and learning, it doesn’t mean that the person has overcome the struggle completely, it just means they are wrestling with it.

It’s interesting to note that I talk most about being generous and how that is good for you. What that really means that I am naturally a selfish person. In just about all areas of my life I am a person who is wrestling with self-centeredness but striving for generosity.

It is tough and has been ongoing for as long as I can remember.

The reason I find it a struggle is that generosity is difficult, costly, time consuming and is about other people. I find it hard to think of others when I am so conscious of my own needs and wants, but not theirs. It is natural for me to only see the world through my own eyes, because they are the only eyes I have.

So, I immerse myself in the idea of giving because I know that giving is better than receiving, those who are generous will be blessed and will be a blessing – basically giving is good for you and the world.

Jesus lived a most generous life. He saw the hearts and the hurts of those around Him. He walked with them, laughed with them, cried with them, healed them, prayed for them and then died for them. His compassion for people is something I want to emulate.

So I talk about generosity a lot – not because I have mastered it but because I am still wrestling.

Handling Rejection

I hear no quite a bit.

I work for a charity and I ask people to give generously to that charity. If I am doing my job then people will say ‘no’ to me on a regular basis, to either meeting with me, coming to an event, or being generous financially. I get ‘no’ on a much more regular basis than I get a ‘yes’, and it can hurt. It can create doubt and fear and a sense of rejection. To not go crazy, I choose to approach this ‘rejection’ with a particular mindset.

A while ago I spent some time working in radio and at the time (things may have shifted a little now) the adage was that someone needed to hear an advertisement 7 times before they decided to engage with it. Essentially, on average, it takes time for people to get comfortable with a message or product before they start to build trust and get to the point where they look at buying or connecting.

I now take the same approach with every conversation I have with someone or when I speak at an event. I talk proudly about Opportunity International and how we are ending poverty but at the same time I recognise that it could be the first time that someone has heard of the organisation and what we do, or the first time they have heard about giving to charity. I can’t expect them to jump on board straight away, but this is the first important step. It could also be the third or fourth time, or it could be the seventh time and they say yes and support generously. It just depends on the person and their journey.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had people tell me that they have heard me speak a few times before and now they are ready to support.

If people say no to me, that’s okay, it’s not the ‘seventh’ time for them yet. My job is to keep the relationship going so they can get to that point.

I also know that some people will never come around, that’s okay too. They are on their own journey and whilst I believe being generous is good for everyone, we all have to come to that place in our own time and on our own terms.

Bad and Better

There is no doubt that if you look around at the world today it can make you very sad. Death, destruction, poverty, hatred and ignorance.

Sure things are bad but they are not as bad as we think. Not even close. In fact the entire world appears to be ignorant of just how great things are in comparison to how they were.

I have written about some of this before, highlighting child mortality has dropped by 70% since 1970, even though the global population has grown by 30% in that time. 2 billion more people, 16 million less deaths of children under the age of 5. Phenomenal.

But that just scratches the surface. Over the last 100 years global incomes per person have sky rocketed and the average life span across the world has improved over the last 50 years. The average lifespan globally today is 70. Almost everything is better including the amount of people who own guitars and this is what I wanted to focus on.

There are a number of different ways to measure improvement, through income levels, life expectancy, population growth, babies born per women and culture. The last one is a little complex to measure, but music is a good place to start.

Hans Rosling (my new hero) has data on playable guitars per capita (who thinks of these things?), and back in 1962 there was 200 playable guitars for every 1 million people, in 2014 that had grown to 11,000 playable guitars for every 1 million people. The increase in income globally has allowed more people to engage in cultural activities like music, being a sign that things are improving.

Things are bad in our world, but they are a heck of a lot better than they used to be, they continue to get better, and we are not finished yet.

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