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.

How to Ruin Your Whole Day

“Don’t read the comments.” It’s something I say frequently to my wife, especially when reading an article online on a topic that she cares about. Even just a short amount of scrolling through the comments is enough to ruin your whole day. People can be incredibly mean-spirited about any issue and are quick to come up with witty remarks to discredit and embarrass. It’s just easier and less taxing to not engage in it.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my own advice and it just about did ruin my whole day. I was reading an article about Andrew Forrest and how he made the largest philanthropic donation in Australian history. $400 million. Unbelievable. To a number of different causes which is ultimately going to impact thousands, if not millions of people. This was a day to celebrate with joy and laughter. But then I read the comments.

Andrew was accused of many things and hatred was heaped on him about issues of tax evasion right through to grandstanding. All I felt was sadness. Now Andrew is a big boy, he can look after himself and I don’t think comments on the internet will have an effect on him, but my sadness was more about the state of our culture and how we respond to people doing good things. Again we see the pervasive tall poppy syndrome rearing its ugly head, as attempts are made to tear down anyone who shows any sign of leadership or a desire change the world. I hate that part of our culture. We complain about a shortage of strong leaders in politics and business, but we kill them off before they have a chance to develop. Surely there is a way we can foster an environment where we can develop strong leaders without expecting perfection or begrudging them when they are doing well.

No living person in the history of Australia has done anything like this. It is without precedence. But at the same time it is not an isolated event. There are a number of wealthy Australians who give consistently and generously, but they like to fly under the radar. We wish that they wouldn’t. Generosity is something that we should celebrate. The more we know about it the more we can celebrate it and normalise it. The hope is that because Andrew and Nicola Forrest have opened up about what they are choosing to give away, others will begin to do the same. The more we can normalise generosity, the more generous we will become and that is how we change the world.