The Best and The Worst

It is commonly thought that an emergency situation brings out the best and the worst in people.

The worst seems to be obvious, when people take advantage or abuse someone who has lost everything. Examples of this include people looting homes after a fire or a flood has caused damage and evacuations. Or those who seek government assistance available to people who suffered loss, even though they didn’t suffer loss. They try to cheat the system, taking resources away from people who actually need it. Taking advantage of others fits into ‘the worst of people’.

So, on the other hand, the ‘best’ is when we see people coming together, being generous, supporting each other, taking care of those who have lost something or someone. Examples of this include when a community brings spare clothes, bedding and other necessities to help those who have lost everything, giving space in their homes, giving money to help, helping rebuild. We have seen this time and time again in Australia when fires or floods have torn people and places apart. It is one of the most inspirational things to see. It also happens far more than the ‘worst’ examples. Helping others fits into ‘the best of people’.

So, why wait for an emergency to take place to be the ‘best’. We can do this every day through our actions and words to those around us. We all know what the best is, let’s remember to do it.

The Only Donations that Count

We have spider webs in our garage. It’s starting to get to the point that I dodge around them to get to my car. Outside of that, they aren’t hurting anyone as that section of the garage is for the Christmas decorations which we won’t need for a couple of months.

Except for the fact that my feelings about spiders and their webs are very much in the negative sphere. Every time I see them, I think “This weekend, I am going to destroy those webs”, then I get into the car and drive off, or I walk into the house and completely forget that they exist until I enter the garage again and go through the exact same process. My inaction slowly makes things worse as the webs get bigger and more intense.

I have strong feelings about them, but nothing will change until I act on those feelings. Once I do that I know that I will feel better and it will create a better experience for everyone involved (except the spiders but I don’t care as much about them).

Donating to a charity can be like that. We can have the best intentions to give some money to make a difference in the world. We can have strong feelings about a situation and even share those feelings with other people, but until we act on those feelings and give some money away nothing will change. In fact, we probably make the world a little bit worse through our inaction as the problems slowly get bigger and more intense.

It can be challenging to find the ‘right’ organisation to give to. It can be overwhelming at the thought of sifting through many organisations to try and figure out what they all do. We all want to make wise decisions when donating money but as Oliver Burkeman put it, “The only donations that count are the ones you actually get around to making.”

Talking is nice, but giving is better.

Generosity Porn

“Who is filming that?”

It’s a question I often ask myself as I’m watching videos online. You know the ones, filmed so that you feel like a bystander watching as if this is normal life, and then something funny or embarrassing or heartfelt or outrageous happens. But I find myself thinking, why was someone filming at that exact moment? Did they just happen to be recording a video and accidentally catch something that turned out to be internet-worthy?

The number of times I have tried and failed to video my kids doing something funny/adorable in everyday life, tells me people must be either recording every moment of their life to accidentally catch something amazing…or, it is set up. Which, of course, most video content on the internet is.

You may be familiar with recent story about the women receiving flowers as a random act of kindness, which was filmed without her consent and became a viral TikTok video. Or the guy who was just trying to go to Coles for some food and became famous because someone sneakily paid for his groceries.

It’s been a trend for a while now, where a benevolent individual is generous to the unknowing and ‘sad’ public, so they can experience a glimpse of hope in their otherwise ‘depressing’ lives, all whilst being secretly filmed. The ‘joy’ that it brings is multiplied by the millions of views the video gets and we can all feel a little bit better about the good in the world, as the creator earns something from their kind act, be that money, followers, fame etc.

It begs the question, if an act of generosity isn’t filmed and posted, did it even happen?

But generosity is generosity, right? What does it matter that millions of people have consumed it?

Yeah, I’m not sure where I land on this. Is it okay or not?

Here’s why it could be okay:

  • It’s just a video of a young guy giving someone flowers, or a dude paying for someone’s food
  • It promotes generosity
  • Random acts of kindness are awesome
  • We should make generous people famous for what they do. Bad news travels fast, good news usually doesn’t – lets celebrate it when it does.

Here is why it is not okay:

  • Clearly, these videos are not about the recipient of the gift at all. Part of generosity is giving something that is helpful to the recipient, not an act that dehumanises them in the process as the video becomes viral distorts the real story of the individual
  • It reduces the recipient to a product that is consumed. That is not dignifying. Generosity builds people up, empowers them and provides dignity.
  • Like actual pornography, it’s a cheap knock off of the real thing, created only for the end viewer/customer at the cost of those involved.

In any act of generosity, the giver will always get something out of it, that is part of the beauty of it. But when it ends up that the giver gets more out of it than the person on the receiving end, be that likes, follows, views, attention, fame, or money, then it ceases to be a generous act and becomes manipulation for profit.

So, the safest way to be generous is to do in intentionally, thoughtfully and as often as you can, without uploading it to the internet.

Your Money Chooses

“Apart from the ballot box, philanthropy presents the one opportunity the individual has to express their meaningful choice over the direction in which our society will progress” – George K Kirstein

There is nothing I can do about it now. I voted. The election is over and now I sit back and wait to see where the leaders take the country, until the next election in three years when they ask my opinion again. I have this tiny moment in time to add my voice to the millions of others, and if most people agree then we might get somewhere. It’s hard to see what kind of impact I really have though. One vote in millions doesn’t seem to carry any weight at all, so why bother? I am sure that I’m not the only one who has thought that too because in my electorate alone, the informal votes ranked higher than a number of the candidates. That means that more people didn’t fill out their ballot paper correctly than those who voted for some candidates on purpose. The Australian Electoral Commissions suggests that 5% of all votes are informal and can’t be officially counted.

It’s easy to see how people can end up there. And it’s easy to see how people can disengage from community life thinking that they are unable to change anything, so why bother.

But that’s not true. The impact an individual can have on our world is huge, and we don’t have to wait for an election to be called to do it. Every day we have money within our control and what we do with it creates the society we live in. The organisations we give to shift our culture. When we give money to charities it shows politicians what people actually care about, not what they say they care about. Money moves our culture. Money moves our values. Money is a tool we can use to create the society we want. We get to choose what we do with it. So, give generously to organisations as a vote to create the world you want.

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.

2021 Reading List

Some new books and some re-reads. Some were worth the time, some were not.

NEW READS

Greenlights – Matthew McConaughey

This is a really interesting insight into the life and psyche of Matthew McConaughey. His upbringing was quite unusual.

My take aways from this book:

  • He approached his auditions with a sense of confidence. His mindset was that they needed him in their film rather than him needed a role (and coming across desperate).
  • He was also willing to say goodbye to his whole career to try and change the type of roles he was getting.
  • The story behind his most well-known line was brilliant.
  • The first chapter was a word salad.

The Power of Now – Echart Tolle

He has some solid truths sprinkled in amongst some shady fluff.

Doughnut Economics – Kate Raworth

Rethinking economics and the measurement of economic growth and the yardstick for a healthy economy. This is where we should be heading but it will take a major change in the way the world approaches economic theory.

Becoming a Person of Influence – John Maxwell and Jim Dornan

From back in the 90’s. Some quality content based on the character of the person seeking to influence.

Range – David Epstein

A brilliant read about how those that generalise in their endeavours will out-do those that specialise in one sphere…unless it is a kind environment, like golf.

Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer. A kind environment vs. a wicked environment.

Hint: Most of life in not lived in a kind environment.

Disappearing Church – Mark Sayers

Trouble in the Land of Giving – William De Maria

A scathing review of charities in Australia. William seems to be angry.

Think Again – Adam Grant

The power of knowing what you don’t know

Adam frames the different thinking styles that we use when we approach problems.

Preacher – “When we are in the preacher mode we are convinced we are right” and try to persuade others to agree with us.

Prosecutor – When we are trying to prove someone else wrong

Politician – When we are trying to win the approval of an audience

Scientist – Create a hypothesis and test it for reasons that you are wrong.

Obviously he thinks the scientist is the best method to use.

Beautiful Things – Hunter Biden

Hunter’s journey through loss, grief and addiction, and a presidential election or two. This is an amazing story with a bit of politics thrown in.

Values – Mark Carney

A book of over 500 pages of which I understood very little. Mark is the former Governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, and has guided the global financial system through the GFC and COVID. He is now on the UN special envoy for climate action and finance. This book is about the values which will serve us as we approach the challenges that lay ahead. I feel like it is everything that he has ever thought about these topics (but probably not because he seems like a super intelligent guy). Bono liked it. The parts that I understood were interesting and the rest is a blur.

The Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyun

A theological trip to the 1600’s. Once I had a handle on the language and the fact that there are no chapters, or breaks, or places where you can logically stop, it was a nice journey.

Jack Reacher – Better off DeadLee and Andrew Child

My annual wait for the Jack Reacher book was worth it and it was over very quickly. After a disappointing book last year, 2021 was a great improvement in the tale of Reacher. (Soon the become a TV series on Amazon Prime for those interested). Now to wait for October/November 2022.

RE-READS

The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

If/when I meet Ryan Holiday, I will apologise to him for underestimating this book. The first time I read it I thought it was a lightweight bit of inspiration, but I missed the point. It is a profound book which I will re-read every year from now on.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson

This book was exactly how I remember it. Shock and fluff to start with but some really interesting points along the way about not being swayed by what other people think and to live your life with confidence. The last chapter is a memorable one.

Incognito – David Eagleman

This is a random book that I found somewhere but one that I have loved because it unpacks the complexity of the brain. We are not one person, but many ‘persons’ – which may sound a little shady, but if you have ever found yourself having an internal debate on a topic it is important to ask, ‘who am I debating with?’.

I don’t agree where David lands with the final premise of the book which is essentially that we don’t have much control over most of what we do, therefore we can’t be held responsible for most of our actions, but the debate he creates is worthwhile.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelias

I made my way through this slower than I did last time. There is still much that I don’t grasp but the philosophy of life and death is extraordinary.

My favourite quote:

“Remember that to change course or accept correction leaves you just as free as you were. The action is your own, driven by your own impulse and judgement, indeed your own intelligence.”

Give & Take – Adam Grant

This is a book about how generosity breeds success, in all parties involved. Still my go-to generosity guide book.

I look forward to more quality reading in 2022. Any suggestions? What are your favourites?

Always Poor

“The poor you will always have with you” – Jesus

Jesus was talking to a room full of people after someone used an expensive item in an extravagant act of gratitude towards him. Some in the room criticised this act, and in their moral superiority suggested a better use of this gift would be to sell it and give the money to the poor. Jesus essentially said, “if God is in your living room, then shower Him with your best. Spend up big on him because it probably won’t happen again. Tomorrow, when God is no longer in your living room, give generously to those who are living in poverty.”

What we think it means…

We take this interaction and think that it means that we don’t need to worry about trying to end poverty, because you can’t. It’s a fool’s errand. People will always be poor; it’s just how thing are. Give up now and save yourself some heartache.

What it actually means…

Aside from the main point of giving your best to God if He is literally sitting right in front of you, Jesus was talking about situational poverty, which is a transitional time that people go through. Life has all sorts of ups and downs and sometimes the downs can put you into a place of poverty for a season, which is when you require generosity from others. Situational poverty is a short term experience.

This is stark contrast to systemic poverty, which is generational in nature and ensures that those who are poor today will also be poor tomorrow – you know, the kind if extreme poverty we see in the world today. Systemic poverty is man-made and exists in the structures we have put into place which, among other things, ensure that those who are vulnerable are the ones that earn less, suffer greater life shocks, and end up living without what they need to flourish. It doesn’t matter what they do, the system is stacked against them and they are unable to work their way out of it. Most are born into it, and some fall into it, but it doesn’t matter how it happened, it doesn’t need to exist and we can end it.

Poverty will always exist, people will fall into poverty through challenging life circumstances, but to think it will always be the same group of people, and their family for generations to come, or that some people should live their entire lives in poverty because of where they were born, is arrogant, ignorant, and wrong.

Fortunately, we have been making some pretty great headway with some smart structures and a bunch of generous people. We know that systemic poverty doesn’t need to exist and that we can end it, one family and one community at a time. We can’t do it without you though.

Donate here

Passion is Offensive

I have had some irate phone calls in my time. People who have called me just to tell me how upset they were to receive something in the post, or an email that I sent. I wonder what moves people to do that. What upsets them so much about being asked to donate money to a cause that they simply must call and give a piece of their mind. Often, I wasn’t the one who sent the offending piece of mail or email. But they are offended, and I am the person they know.

That’s okay. I understand that. Especially if someone receives many requests to give money. But I don’t think that’s the reason for everyone who calls. Some people’s reaction is disproportionate to the size of the offence. Their outrage over a letter asking them to support something amazing appears to be never ending. It must be something else.

Here’s what I think it is – they are offended by passion. Have you ever been around someone who is just so excited, so motivated, so passionate about what they are doing that they can’t seem to stop talking about it? The thing makes up much of their lives. It is the thing they are known for. Man, they are annoying. But only if you don’t share the same passion. If you love what they love then you can become best friends, but if you are not on board with their thing then their passion starts to wear thin pretty quickly.

Passion is offensive to those who don’t have it.

Partly because it reminds them that they don’t have it.

As you grow your passion about whatever you care about, know that some will be offended by it. Not because you are doing something evil, but because they are not willing to take the risk of caring deeply.

Don’t Work for a Charity

People often like to hear about the work that I do, and say things like,

‘It must be nice to have a purpose in what you do every day’, or

‘You must find it very rewarding’, or the almost condescending,

‘Is that your full-time role?’

The answer is ‘yes’ to all of those.

I see the longing in their eyes as they think about how amazing it would be to work in the not-for-profit world. Whilst I love it and I wouldn’t change it, here is my encouragement to you if you think that…

Don’t do it.

Not because charitable organisations are challenging places to work (which they can be), or because charitable organisations can be limited with funding to pay staff (which they can also be), but because not everyone should do it.

Here’s why you shouldn’t work for a charity. Whilst we could do with more great people who work for charities that are doing good, it is more important for the world to have more people creating amazing businesses and organisations – making as much money as they can, so they can give away as much as they can, to do the most good that they can.

Instead of working for a charity, create businesses people want to work at, that are known for their amazing culture and incredible generosity, and I guarantee that not only will you make a significant impact in the world, people will also say the same three things to you that they say to me.

In saying all of that, volunteer for a charity as much as you want.

Choosing a Charity

Most people who give to a charity will regularly give to a few of their favourites. There are common names that people will list off as they explain to me their giving regime.

But how do they choose which the organisations that make the list? How do you choose a charity?

On occasion someone has mentioned to me that a random charity once “cold called” them, they immediately donated over the phone and have been supporting them ever since. People who do this are few and far between, but generally have a difficult time saying no and will get sick of it after a while. This is more of an ad-hoc selection criteria.

Those that have a strategy behind their giving are more intentional about what they give to and are more thoughtful about who they support. They will take a bit longer to make a decision about donating but will also stay connected to those charities for a longer period of time.

These people look at their giving through a portfolio perspective. Within their charity portfolio, they will normally have a couple of domestic charities they support, an international charity, and maybe one other area. After defining the issues they want to focus on, they research the different charities that work in that space, see how they spend their money, meet with the staff and start giving at a relatively small level. As they grow more confident in how the charity works and the depth of their impact, they will increase their giving over time.

Like any good relationship, it is built at the speed of trust. The deeper the trust built, the longer the relationship will last.