Enough is enough…except for when it isn’t

Too much of a good thing can still ruin your day. My wife made the most amazing pasta the other night. It is one of my favourite meals and I ate a significant amount of it. Even as I was still eating I said,

“I have eaten too much”

Then I continued to shovel pasta into my mouth.

It was amazing. Until it wasn’t. And later, it wasn’t amazing at all when I felt ill. I ruined a good thing by overdoing it.

We are lucky with food though, because most of the time we know when we have had enough, and we can stop eating and enjoy what we have consumed.

There are other things in life that don’t give you that signal that you have had enough. Money is the main one. How much is enough? Do you have an answer to that question? Or are you just working for more?

It’s something that most of us just drift into. The process of desiring more and more money so that we will have enough to buy that house, pay off the house, buy that car, go on that holiday, buy that other house. It becomes a never ending cycle. We would be wise to make a conscious decision of when enough will be enough. How much do we actually need, and then what do we do with the excess (giving some of it away is always a good idea). It’s such an important process because if we are unable to figure out what our enough is, then we are at the whim of the mighty dollar, which is a very scary place to be.

You will never be happy when enough isn’t.  – Seneca

Nope.

There is a story, perhaps a myth, about the king of Siam (modern day Thailand) who would give a white elephant to those in his kingdom who displeased him. Not wanting to upset the king, everyone accepted this gift. Plus, it was such an honour to own such a rare animal and it signified that you had made it. It was the Ferrari 250 GTO of its day (look it up, super rare and expensive).

In doing so, it was the king’s hope that the cost of looking after the elephant would financially ruin the person and free the king of their presence. Pretty sneaky.

Then there is the time that the king of Siam offered two elephants to President Abraham Lincoln in the early 1860’s, because America had none, and obviously need some.

The catch was that Siam didn’t have the means to transport them there, so President Lincoln needed to send a ship full of hay and other food that the elephants could eat. Also, fresh water – tanks of it. Plus, special berths so that the elephants could stand up and lie down. Also, they wanted to do it a few times so it would be more than one trip. Once in America, they had to make sure the elephants kept warm and then they should just let them run around the country for a bit to multiply.

President Lincoln said no. Respectfully so. With wisdom. Essentially he said, “Nah, we don’t need ‘em. We have other machinery that we use.”

I don’t know what the political fall out from that was, but that’s probably the reason there are no elephants in North America. Also, it’s way too cold in America for elephants. They would have died pretty quickly. In saying no, it saved America a lot of time, money and hassle.

Sometimes it’s important to say no when someone tries to give you something.

Acceptance

“This is for you dad.”

You probably know the look very well. The large, expectant eyes of a small child, that is handing you, what can only be called a ‘picture’.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have been given drawings that were supposedly of me, or pieces of half-eaten food, or bits of paper with precious rubbish wrapped up in them by my kids, or other people’s kids as a precious gift. All of which I gratefully accepted, not because I wanted them, but because accepting the gift was an act of generosity. It gave my kids the chance to experience what is was like to give something away that they worked hard on, or meant a lot to them. They could learn about giving gifts that other people would actually want later, in that moment, it was more important for them to experience being generous.

Most people would agree with that. But it doesn’t just stop with kids learning how to give.

There have been other times in my life when someone has tried to be generous to me and I refused the gift. Not because I didn’t want it, but because it felt like too much. I felt insecure and inadequate, and like I would be a freeloader if I accepted it. So, I said no.

There is nothing wrong with saying no, but there are times when accepting a gift is an act of generosity because of what it gives the person who gives it. We know that there are many benefits when we give and it’s important not to rob people of that experience when they are trying to give to us.

In saying that, there are definite times to say ‘no’…(more to come on this)

You are really, really small

Looking through the tiny window on the plane, two thoughts came to mind. It was nice to be back in the air again, travelling around our amazing country. Also, people are small from up here. (It had been a while since I last flew – sometimes I forget things).

The further you get in the air, the harder it is to engage with what is happening on the ground. Not only does it get harder to see everything that is happening, but it is harder to comprehend the sheer enormity of life on our planet.

For example, in my head, at any given moment, there are at least three different conversations happening. One about the thing that I am doing right then. One about the things that I want to do next. And one about every single mistake that I have ever made in the past. (Mostly the last conversation focuses on times that I have been socially awkward).

Then, in my household, at any given moment, there are at least fifteen different conversations happening. Four internal conversations about what each person is doing right then. Four internal conversations about what each person wants to do next. Four internal conversations about what each person has done before. And three verbal conversations between the people in the household. Some of them are louder than others, because, well…kids.

In my street, at any given moment, there are at least ninety conversations happening. And I live on a small street.

You get where I am going with this. The more you take a step back and look at the world around you, the more complex the world can seem. It can be overwhelming.

The good news here, is that in the moments when I become all consumed by my challenges, my problems and my frustrations, the more I take a step back and expand my view and see those in my household, my street, community and world, the smaller my problems seem to get. Because we all have challenges and obstacles, and we are all trying our best to work through them, which means we are not alone in that.

To a plane flying overhead, I am really, really small. And so are my problems. I find comfort in that.

Stop Complaining and Do Something

There’s a guy who posts #noconversion on every Opportunity International Australia Facebook post that mentions India.

I don’t know why. I guess it is his way of taking a stand against Opportunity converting people in India. From what to what, I couldn’t tell you. If he would take a moment and look at what we do then he would realise that we convert people from poverty to not-poverty and if he is against that, well, he can bite me.

But, regardless of that, he still posts his protest.

I saw a picture of women in Indonesia recently who were working through the challenges of COVID and the obstacles that they faced, all whilst wearing t-shirts that said “Stop complaining and do something”. Immediately this made me think of the Facebook guy.

Social media is not the real world. It is not even a proper representation of the real world. It’s a façade, built around a ruse, pretending to be a thing. It can be useful but it is limited. To make actual change requires the courage to articulate what you are for (I care very little for what you are against), and to put your time and money into that. I would suggest that 99% of that activity would happen in person. Being on social media is not ‘doing something’.

Also, in case you were wondering, neither is complaining.

The World of the Generous

“I’ve done four lots of isolation”. My Uber driver was chatty. She was a lovely, grandmother type, who seemed to really enjoy driving strangers to the airport. As the discussion predictably turned to the pandemic and it’s impact on our lives, she casually mentioned that she had driven a handful of people who turned out to be COVID positive, and before close contact restrictions were changed, was required to isolate for 14 days, four times, in her room.

It struck me that for many, the world has shrunk in the last few years. For some, the world has been the size of a bedroom for periods of time.

“How did you make it through?” I asked.

“You just find a way”, she stoically replied.

“Not everyone does”, I thought.

My favourite quote at the moment is “no matter where you go, there you are”. This, seemingly pointless phrase, carries with it some profound weight. Because if you find yourself in isolation, or any challenging life situation, you will not be struck by new problems. It will just magnify things that you are struggling with already. If you are feeling lonely, or are lacking purpose, or are self medicating, isolation will make that worse. You can’t escape from you.

There is a way to get out of your own head. To help stop the rumination and downward spirals which seem to make your world feel smaller and smaller.

Generosity.

Yep. Being generous. An old proverb says ‘the world of the generous gets larger and larger whilst the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller’.

Being generous to those around you increases. Focusing only on yourself, being caught up in your own world, being self centred, leads to a small world.

Your world can grow even if you find yourself in isolation.

25% of Statistics are Made Up

25% of Statistics are Made up on the spot.

Is that statement true? Maybe, I could be part of the 25% I guess.

Numbers are great. They are logical and clinical.

They also lie, oversimplify and distract.

For example:

  • 1 in 10 people are colour blind
  • 90% of people can see colour just fine

Two messages from the same set of numbers which read very differently. (Neither of which is true by the way.)

We use numbers to draw attention to the significant issues in our world, and even if they are factually correct, it isn’t working. By themselves, numbers don’t work.

I could tell you that Opportunity International Australia is helping over 6.7 million families to work their way out of poverty through the power of a small loan, or I could tell you about Shoba…

Shoba, a wife and mother in India, was already living in poverty when her husband got sick.

They were unable to afford the medicine for her husband’s condition, so she borrowed from a money lender to get her husband the help he needed.

Sadly, he died.

In time, the money lender came to get what they were owed – which was now significantly more than the amount borrowed. Shoba did not have the money to pay.

The lender took both of her young sons to work off the debt by manual labour at a quarry.

Nobody should have to live like that, facing an impossible decision between critical healthcare and losing children to slave labour.

Shoba heard about the small loans available through Opportunity. She borrowed USD50 and bought some carving tools and supplies. Shoba hand carved wood into elephants which she sold by the roadside.

Using the money she earned to redeem her sons, Shoba was also able repay her Opportunity loan and build a better life for her family.

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes a lot of courage.

Making a donation is the easy part!

Opportunity has 6.7 million other stories like that. Stories that say more than statistics ever could, even if they aren’t made up.

Stories with true statistics will tell the whole story.

Words Matter

What we say matters. How we say it also matters. There is something powerful about the words we use and how we choose to use them. What we speak over our children has a significant impact on their lives. What we speak over ourselves does also (which can sometimes be an echo of the words that were spoken over us by a parent or care giver).

How we respond to someone else’s words is entirely up to us. We choose to take offence or not, we choose to react or not.

I have often said that a great act of generosity is assuming the best of someone, no matter how their words or actions might appear to us. I find it is also one of the hardest acts of generosity to participate in.

To physically harm someone because they have offended us is wrong. Most would agree on that straight up. But our viewing preferences would suggest otherwise…

90% of the top grossing Hollywood films each year over the last decade are violence based (although I don’t think “Frozen” is entirely in the clear). Either a war, or something is being avenged or some sort of ‘man’ is fighting an evil oppressor to become the victor…with physical violence.

The world was offended when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face at the Oscars. Then we all sat down, grabbed our popcorn and waited for The Batman to beat up the Riddler.

It’s not so easy to rid ourselves of violence.

Give First

One of the earliest Jewish teachings was about giving. The Jews were instructed to give 10% of what they had to the priests as an offering to God. It wasn’t the last 10%, or 10% from somewhere in the middle, it was the very first 10%, or first fruits to be set aside from their latest crop or produce they had harvested.

Religious doctrine aside, this is a great practical process, because it ensures that whatever happens, you are generous first before consuming what is left over. If you were to wait and see what was left after you had used up all that you needed, there wouldn’t be anything left to give away. Generally, people will spend and use what is available to them.

This is one thing that I struggle to do but it is one of the best disciplines to have. Being intentional about giving means knowing how much you want to give away, and to whom, then putting that amount aside before it gets used on other things.

Give first, then live. It will help keep your priorities straight and loosen the grip that the love of money can have on you.

Which One?

I recently saw a list of those who make significant political donations and I was a little surprised that there were a number who gave to both major parties in Australia. I guess it makes sense if you are looking to hedge your bets, so you don’t back the wrong horse, but it reminded me of how most people give money to charity.

It is very rare to come across someone who donates to only one charity. Instead, I often hear that people give to a few different ones, sometimes to two that are working in a similar space because, whilst they may be different organisations with slightly different approaches, the supporter likes them both. So why not?

It’s a portfolio style of giving, where you choose a selection of charities to support across a few different areas. Some will be similar, others will be doing something completely different so that you can diversify your portfolio. Over time you become more engaged and connected with the charities you support which leads to greater fulfilment in your giving, as you learn more about the difference that your generosity is having.