I’m not the only one who thinks that the world is structured unfairly. The rich seem to find it easier to keep making money, and those who are living in poverty are the most vulnerable to life shocks which push them further into poverty.
How would you re-design things if you could? Who would have the wealth? Who would have the power? How would you shape society so that it served all who were a part of it?
John Rawls came up with the concept of the Veil of Ignorance. It’s a way to test ideas for fairness, whether it’s a new tax law to re-creating society as we know it. All you have to do is to imagine that you have no idea what position you would end up in on the other side of that decision. You could have your taxes cut, stay the same, or even increased. You could end up with all the power or none of the power. With that in mind, would you still be comfortable making the decision?
It’s a theoretical experiment of course, but the exercise is important to help create the kind of communities that all members want to be part of.
If you were to create a place where you would be happy in any role that you were given; any gender, any race, any social status, any level of education, any physical ability, what kind of place would you create?
Thinking of your life now, if you were born a different gender or race, or differently abled, or in a different country or social class, would you still be comfortable with the social inequalities of our world? I know I wouldn’t be.
I don’t think a utopia is possible, but I do think there are simple things we can do to begin to shift those social inequalities towards fairness. It starts with generosity.
How you treat those that have less power than you will shape the world we live in.
“Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”
Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet is credited as saying this. And it’s true. You will never be disappointed by anyone if you have no expectations. It’s also a very sad way to live. Because often we get what we expect to get. So when we expect nothing from someone we get exactly that.
If we expect the worst from people, it is surprising (or maybe not as surprising) how often we receive the worst from people.
Is the guarantee of never being disappointed worth missing out on getting the best from someone? If you expect great things from a person, you will be let down at some stage, but you will also see great things from them.
Take how we think about big business for example. The general population now expects big, faceless companies to do the wrong thing. To monopolise the market, tear down the little guy, and rip people off so they can pay their shareholders more in profits. When that happens, it is just business as usual. We expect it.
But what about the hundreds of businesses that have signed up to become a B Corp – a company that balances purpose and profit for the good of our world? What if our expectations shifted and we began to expect businesses to focus on sustainability and community? Some would disappoint us, yes, but it would be worth it to see those that would live up to, or even exceed our expectations.
Expect great things and you will be disappointed sometimes, but it’s a small price to pay to see the great things that people are capable of.
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
– Frederick Douglass
It is generous to help those living in poverty, but not the way that you think.
Outside of the positive impact it creates in overcoming poverty (and the fact that it is the right thing to do), it’s generous to you.
But it’s more than how it makes you feel. It’s more than the health benefits, be they physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual (and it is all those things). It is about the world. Your world.
We are fortunate that there are so many benefits for us when we give. What makes it more extraordinary is that an act of generosity towards a just cause shifts the balance, one step at a time, from oppression towards freedom. It helps to remove the foot of injustice off the neck of those living in poverty, so that they can not only breathe but create a life that provides for their family and improves our world in the process.
We cannot be content with our progress and success at any level when there are those who are unable to meet their basic needs. Until we are able to fix that, ‘neither persons nor property will be safe’. If you want to overcome the problems we have in society, help lift those living in poverty out of that man-made cycle.
What do we do from here?
Make a stand for those suffering injustice. In whatever way that looks for you. Be it donating to an organisation that helps people work their way out of poverty, or finding your way to restore justice so that we can all be safe.
Telephobia is real. It has research to back it up and everything. Essentially it is a fear of making phone calls, or of Teletubbies, perhaps both because they can both be terrifying. But about two thirds of people have experienced fear when answering a phone call, and about 20% say they feel it all the time. Perhaps you have experienced it at some level.
So we text. We avoid. And we put making a call off until later, when we feel like it.
The unfortunate part about that is we are hurting ourselves and others.
As we try to stay connected during this time of isolation and working from home, people are realising that digital conversations are just not cutting it. They are not meeting the need we have to be part of a community.
But making a phone call can. It’s the next best thing to meeting in person because hearing someone’s voice helps us feel connected and gives the sense that we belong, much more so than digital conversations.
Which makes sense because there is something powerful about our voice. It’s not just the words that we say, but the emotion, state of mind and sincerity that are communicated through the tone. In fact, hearing someone’s voice provides a more accurate insight into their emotional state than their body language.
If you are wondering about what you can do to help those around you during this global pandemic, an act of generosity is as easy as making a phone call. Reaching out to someone so they can hear your voice, talk about how they are going, and help them feel part of a community, can do wonders for them. And us. It is the antidote to loneliness. It may cause some anxiety for you to make the call but bringing joy to someone is worth the discomfort.
It’s a question I have heard often over the last few weeks as we have seen people buying up big in preparation for the end of the world brought about by coronavirus. I must admit that it has been a bit confusing to watch people race for, and fill trolleys with, toilet paper and other inane items that 4 weeks ago were annoying necessities. What drives people to behave in such a way?
Apart from those that are purely taking advantage of this situation and profiteering (which I am choosing to assume is a very small percentage) people that are hoarding are doing so out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not having enough. Fear of scarcity. Fear of poverty. I can understand this fear. The word for 2020 so far is ‘unprecedented’. We have never experienced anything like this…in the developed world. (Millions of people go through upheavals of life regularly, but that is a conversation for another time). So, fear of not enough is understandable. But fear breeds more fear. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Scarcity subtracts.
To overcome the fear of hoarding requires acts of generosity. To look outside of our immediate needs and see those around us. Instead of acting as a single family unit we connect with those in our community and work as a larger entity. Together everyone achieves more (corny acrostic of T.E.A.M but has the added benefit of being true). When we act as a community, both locally and globally, it creates a generous mindset within us. Generosity comes from a hope that we can achieve things together that we are not capable of as individuals. Generosity breeds more generosity. Generosity multiplies.
When faced with the fear of scarcity, choose to act in generosity and it will have a positive, long lasting impact on our world.
No matter who you are or where you live, every person has the same needs in life. Regardless of if you are living in the slums of Delhi in India, in rural Indonesia or a capital city in Australia, there are three keys, which are essentials of happiness.
Firstly, we require something to do. A job for us to put our hands to and to keep busy with – in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes Solomon says that it is good for us to find satisfaction in what we do, the vocation that we dedicate our lives to.
Secondly, we need something to love – a family, a group of friends, a community to be part of. This is what we call social capital – which is a measurement of cultural and social networks we have access to, that are built on trust, cooperation and connection. Being well connected to a community has been proven to reduce the probability of being poor – both financially and emotionally.
Thirdly, we desire something to hope for – be it a better future for us and our family, or a hope in a loving God.
This third one is incredibly significant. There is something about our journey in hope which is intrinsically connected to our happiness. If we have something to hope for, then we have access to joy.