Was That Tit or Tat?

Two truths and a lie:

  • We don’t control what happens in the world
  • We get to choose how we respond to things that happen
  • Some people know how to push our buttons and they make us angry or force us to respond negatively

The last one is a lie. No one can make you feel any emotion. Our emotions are our own response to what is happening inside us.

Harsh, but true.

When how we feel depends on what happens around us, it can lead to dangerous outcomes. We get caught up in what is happening to us, how people are hurting us, how those around us are making us feel, that we respond with raw emotion and anger in an attempt to hurt the person back.

The trouble is we don’t see that we are doing exactly what we are getting upset about. We only see what is happening to us and not the impact our actions are having on, which is probably how someone hurt us in the first place – they were dishing out the pain they have received on to others. Hurting people hurt people.

Similarly, there is a slippery slope of justifying questionable behaviour. I have seen it firsthand; when a person has perceived that something bad has happened to them, they will then do something unethical, (lie/steal/slander) to make up for it, because ‘someone did something bad to me, so I can behave like this’.

When you think about retribution and justice there a probable a few phrases that come to mind, like

“An eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth”

Which for the longest time I considered to be barbarian, but I discovered that this Old Testament Law came at a time in history when it was common place for acts of violence to escalate so quickly that an innocuous knock of a tooth could turn into all out war and hatred. (Some would consider that we still live in that time).

Martin Luther King Jnr. was talking about this exact issue when he said “Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence…we must meet the forces of hate with the power of love”.

Jesus gave an example of what love looks like in this situation, and took the eye for an eye concept further:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get  us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”

Generosity is outrageous. It humbles the ego, looks to the other person, sees their pain and willingly submits to physical, emotional and social brutality. At the same time it takes all the power away from the instigator. Non-violence is the most powerful, subversive act.

Generosity, by looking past someone’s actions to their intentions and motivations, will not fix all our immediate problems, it just removes the future ones. The ones that we create for ourselves.

You’ve Been Owned.

There is something about completely owning someone. To be the victor in a challenge or sporting event feels great and is an amazing boost to the ego. You can look down your nose at those you have overcome and know that you are better than them. You are the winner and they are the loser.

Winner…

Loser…

That’s what it is to ‘own’ someone. It’s young person lingo to describe you as a winner and someone else a loser. They are trampled underfoot and you are the victor dancing on their grave.

I guess it’s not too much of an issue in the context of a game, but I am seeing the culture of ‘owning’ someone become common place in political engagement and social media. The goal no longer appears to be to create dialogue, uncover each opinion and seek to change someone’s mind. Instead the goal looks like finding the most cutting one liner that is both clever and true – a zinger perhaps, one that is so amazing that it removes the need for any further conversation. The person delivering the line then walks away in full knowledge that the other side was ‘owned’ whilst onlookers can only think ‘Well, there’s nothing more to be said. I am well and truly convinced by that pithy statement ausguy_645 said’.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, that’s not how communication works. What we end up seeing instead is dozens of people jump in with their one liner in an attempt to cut down someone else with a different opinion. They all speak at the same time and use whatever language necessary to be heard over the others and it does not have the desired impact of silencing anyone. It only creates more angst and anger, and more one liners. Finally, the only way to be heard is to say the most outrageous, malicious statement as loud and as violently as you can so that the conversation stops, therefore winning the argument and ‘owning’ the other side.

Here’s the thing. It’s lazy. It’s bad communication. There is no generosity there. Anyone can say something cutting and seemingly interesting in 280 characters. Anyone can drop a comment on a post and bring in to question the credibility of someone else. Sure, some people do it better than others, but the real work comes from the second 280 characters, and the 280 characters after that. And the curiosity about someone else’s opinion. And the suggested way forward after that. That’s where the skill lay.

That’s generosity. It comes along side someone and invites them into a thoughtful dialogue, and if the invitation is refused, generosity walks away without malice and frustration.

Now is the time

Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today” – Tim Fargo

Building muscle is hard. Especially if it’s not a muscle that you naturally use every day.

If you want to build the muscles that don’t get a lot of use, you need to intentionally exercise them, put them under stress, so they grow and strengthen. This requires discipline, time, and money. It becomes more of a challenge if you suffer an injury to that muscle because then it’s not just a question of building it, but of repair and healing, then building. It’s painful to rehabilitate but it’s also painful to do nothing. Either way, pain is forced on to you, but you get to chose which pain you experience.

Generosity is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it doesn’t grow. And through challenging financial times, it can feel as if it is a muscle that has suffered an injury. It hurts to use it. But if you want to see the muscle grow over time, and to become a more generous person tomorrow, what you do today is paramount.

Now is the best time to start working your generosity muscle. To give some money away. Start small, make it consistent and keep it going. Sure, it may hurt, but it will heal and repair over time, then it can grow, and you become who you want to be tomorrow.

If you want to be generous when you have much money, start when you have little.

As Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Don’t waste this challenging financial time. Begin acting generously.

Feeling lonely? Try this.

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.

Generosity Without Money

“Over the years I’ve learned that investing in other people’s success doesn’t just make them more likely to enjoy working with me, it also improves my own chances of survival and success”

Chris Hadfield, Astronaut

I am often asked ‘What can I do to do be generous? What practical step can I take?’

Giving money is always great, and I talk a lot about that.

But there are other ways too. Things that we can do which can be incredible gifts to those around us, just by the way we turn up or listen or give space to someone. At the same time, they can have amazing, unintended consequences that give something back to us.

One way to do this is to help someone else succeed.

This is an act of generosity because it costs us something. We choose to give it away to someone else, something that is so precious and finite: our time.

It takes time to train, teach and mentor someone else, to intentionally invest in them and see how you can help them become who they want to become. It can be taxing to bring brutal honesty and constructive criticism, even if the person is willing to hear it. Over time, it is for their benefit as they become a better person.

A better person becomes a better employee, a greater contributor, a better boss and a more involved community member.

So, helping someone else succeed improves their own personal ability, but it also makes their team better, their organisation, city, and world better. Which is also your world, which directly impacts you, making your environment better and ultimately creates a better version of you. Helping others succeed makes you better at whatever you are doing.

I’ll Give More

I’ve seen my fair share of generous acts. The one’s that stand out most are those that are initiated out of trying circumstances. There is something special about witnessing an act of strength out of a place of weakness. That’s what I would consider a generous act to be – one of strength.

I spoke to an Opportunity International Australia supporter recently, just to check in and see how he was going in the current climate, hoping that he and his family were safe and healthy, which they were.

During the conversation, his concern turned to the people that Opportunity works with. Those living in poverty in India and Indonesia and how this global pandemic is affecting them, and what it could look like in the next few months. The truth is, we really haven’t seen anything close to what the impact the Coronavirus will have on developing countries, and these two specifically. My sense is that it will get a great deal worse before we see any light at the end of the tunnel which will have drastic implications on millions of people.

This supporter shared my concerns and agreed with this dire possibility. He said, ‘I like what Opportunity does and how you go about it. I will give again this year, and I will give more than I have before’.

I was blown away. We are still living with a great deal of uncertainty in Australia. No one really knows when things will turn around economically for us, but here was someone who was committing to an act of strength when surrounded by weakness. This type of generosity is so powerful that it impacts everyone it touches. I was inspired, and I know that what he will give will also inspire those living in poverty who will be on the receiving end.

“How Can They Do That?”

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.

Schadenfreude

I am often confronted by my shadow. Not the shape on the ground made by my body blocking the sun, but the ‘dark side’ of my personality. It’s confronting because the shadow “consists chiefly of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.” We all have a shadow but it requires some work to see it, to truly get to know yourself and understand what is happening within you. It’s not easy and I don’t think it’s a journey with an end point.

What is easy, however, is seeing the shadow in other people. We can spot it in those around us in a split second, but this is not about them. This is about you and me. So, instead of thinking “this is so valid for my spouse/friend/colleague”, let’s take a look at ourselves.

It is within my shadow that I find schadenfreude. A German word which sounds like a sneeze but means deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. Here are some examples:

  • Laughing at someone who trips over
  • Smiling when a team that you hate loses
  • Feeling good when someone you know fails

Ever done anything like that? Yeah, me neither…*cough*

Is schadenfreude good or bad?

Some people suggest that it is to our benefit to experience schadenfreude because it that experience helps motivate us to achieve success. It keeps us going as others around us fall away. Which seems to be like a pretty lonely way to experience life and sounds like the opposite of what I would consider success.

So it must be bad then. Surely if I feel good about something bad happening to something else, it can’t be too long before I consider initiating something bad to someone else for my own pleasure? From considering to doing doesn’t take too long either, so schadenfreude has to be bad.

The truth is that, by itself, it is neither good or bad. It is part of the human emotional experience but what we do with that can create positive or negative outcomes. How we process our emotions when we experience them makes all the difference. Just as with any element of our shadow, when you experience it, just notice it. See it for what it is, an emotional response, and move on. Schadenfreude, and other emotions from the shadow, are heavily weighted towards isolation, which is unhealthy for us. I would suggest moving towards relationship at every possible moment.

So, don’t seek to avoid schadenfreude (gesundheit!), notice it when it happens and move towards relationship. When you feel good about someone else failing, that’s okay but don’t stay in that space. Move towards the person, even in your thoughts, which will help you begin to understand how they could be feeling in that challenging situation. Now comes the opportunity to be generous with them, but also with yourself if you struggle to do that.

We’re all in this together…

One of the greatest things that we can offer humanity is empathy; a sense of understanding and share the feelings of someone else. Often empathy can be a challenge as many of our human experiences differ from each other, depending on our gender, age, ethnicity and life experiences. All this means that for many, we simply cannot begin to understand how other people experience the world.

Among many other terrible things, the Coronavirus has brought us a sense that we are all in it together. Its effect is not just on one country, people group or race, the effect on all of us is the same. Suddenly, empathy is not that difficult. I can understand what you are going through because I am going through the same thing, or a very similar thing.

How we choose to respond to that is vital. In this moment I can do very little to help those suffering in Italy, or in other states of even other suburbs. But I can help my street.

We live in a small cul-de-sac with 7 houses, so earlier this week my wife took it upon herself to connect with each of our neighbours to see how they are. We don’t usually see much of them – it is typical suburbia, protected by our roller doors on the garage, but we got thinking if we are finding this time challenging, how is everyone in our street going. What if we have a surplus of something that they desperately need but can’t get hold of? So, she went door to door, met everyone – got over the embarrassment of not doing so 18 months ago when we moved in, and collected all their contact details. She then distributed the list to everyone so we can all stay in contact. Not a lot has changed since then, but I have to tell you, I don’t feel so alone. I know that if we get stuck without something urgent, I can reach out to those around us. I also know that those closest to us won’t be suffering in silence. We are all going through the same experience.  

Empathy is the birthplace of generosity. When we can understand what other people go through, we can bring the best that humanity has to offer, a generous act.

There is Never Just One

I’m not a bug person. I hate them all.

They are on a spectrum though, some I hate less than others, but all are hated nonetheless. Spiders are the worst and ants aren’t too far behind them. At moment we have ants at our house. Not as invited guests, but more like a weird neighbour that comes over, even if you aren’t there and eats your food. Kind of like Kramer from Seinfeld, except without the crazy hair and humour.

A few weeks back I hadn’t seen any for a while and I thought we were rid of them. Not long after, I saw one, solo ant. I wasn’t bothered by that because it is was not near the kitchen and it was by itself. How much damage could it do?

But then I remembered, there is never just one ant. If you look hard enough you will find a second. Where there are two ants, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

I hate ants.

But I love the idea that things are happening all the time without us noticing in our world, because it is not just ants that we don’t notice. Bad news travels fast. It’s what we tend to focus on because we are psychologically wired to do so. We can often get so caught up in the terrible things in our world that we can’t see anything good.

But look for the ant. Look for one good thing, something positive that is happening in your world. When you find it, (and you will because you can’t get rid of good things…just like ants), you can be sure that there is never just one – you will find a second. Where there are two, you are guaranteed to find more, and a group is one step away from an infestation.

There is plenty to be thankful for, even in the tough times. The more we focus on the good, the more good we create and it infests the rest of the world.