Share Your Gift

“Go on, sing”.

That was the encouragement from the three friendly faces that stared back at me as I sat there, tentatively playing some chords on my guitar. It had been a while since I had sung in front of people who were not my small children, who would normally end up sitting on my lap to ‘help’ me play, demanding Encanto, then the Wiggles and then falling asleep on me. I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen in this setting, so I decided to obey.

I wouldn’t call it an extraordinary gift, but it was a vulnerable part of myself that I risked sharing with them that night and they ‘seemed’ to appreciate it – nobody walked out, and they said nice things afterwards. (I have trouble taking and believing complements – that’s a whole other thing).

It got me thinking about what we share with the people around us. Often, the things that seem the scariest to share with others are the very things that they appreciate. Having someone give something of themselves with you feels good. Be that a musical talent, some writing they are working on, or a creative thought they are mulling over. It says that they trust you, care about you and that you are valuable to them. And most times it has a positive impact on how you feel and your time together.

Even if I made that night a tiny bit better with what I shared, it was worth the risk.

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.

You Can Only Love After Being Loved

“You cannot be what you cannot see.” I don’t totally agree. Sure, it’s easier to become something that you can see or have experienced before, but I think you can create something that you haven’t seen, you can create a career path, or a passion project, or a way of thinking. Some people are wired that way. They are not limited by what is and can conceive of what previously has not been possible.

But, when it comes to love and generosity we cannot express what we have not received. If you have never been fully loved, or if you have never been on the receiving end of an act of generosity, you will not be able to love from a healthy place, or to be generous. Not fully anyway. You might be able to manufacture something that looks like it but it will be a poor imitation and will not last the test of time.

Maybe that is why some people in your life don’t seem to be able to express love or gratitude in a way that you think they should. Your love and generosity towards them could be the thing they need so they can learn it and then begin to act it out.

Temper your bragging, ask for details of others’ success

It works for those suffering from depression. Dr. Catherine Chambliss has been studying it for years, and has created a word for it – Freudenfreude.

You might already know of its evil cousin, schadenfreude, which is the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune. It’s that sense of glee you feel when someone you know of fails, or falls over or who’s life implodes.

Freudenfreude is the opposite – it’s the joy you feel when someone you know shares their success with you. It’s shared joy. Shoy. If you are able create shoy in your life it will decrease depressive symptoms and increase your mood.

But how do you do that?

Dr. Chambliss maps it out like this:

  • Notice – Go out of your way to notice when someone brings you a story of success
  • Respond positively to that story
  • Ask for all the details, let them tell you all about it

Do those three things and you will set yourself up for some shoy.

Plus, when you are sharing your story of success (bragging), package it with layers of gratitude which removes the sense of competition, changing your headspace but also making it easier for those listening to find shoy in your success.

There is something deeply generous about freudenfreude. And like generosity, it benefits everyone, not just the one who receives 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.

It Looks Beautiful, But It’s Dead

You probably know it as the place where the human body floats, but nothing can survive in it, which is why they call it what they do. Yep, the Dead Sea has neither fish nor vegetation. It is a ‘wasteland’ of water because it has too much salt, meaning that people float in it.

Compare it to the Sea of Galilee, just to the north, which is full of abundance. It is teeming with fish and rich, colourful plant life, which is weird because both bodies of water come from the same source, the River Jordan.

So, why the difference between the two?

It turns out that the Dead Sea is dead because it is stingy, and the Sea of Galilee is full of life because it is generous.

Generous because the Sea of Galilee takes in water from the River Jordan, and then it flows out. The constant movement of receiving and then giving brings abundant life to it and everything thrives.

The Dead Sea does not do that. It has no outlet for water to be distributed. It just takes in water, and the only way water disappears is through evaporation leaving the salt behind, which is toxic to fish and plants, making it a people-floating place of non-life. Mind you, it looks beautiful but it’s dead.

We are like bodies of water (heck, aren’t we made up mostly of water?). If we continue to take in more and more in life without a way to pass it on and be generous, we become toxic, and life disappears. (It may look beautiful but it’s dead.)

To bring life and colour and fullness, when we receive what is available to us (be that money, love, respect or knowledge) we must find as many outlets as possible to give it away again.

Life is about giving. The more you give, the more life it brings, to you and the people you give to.

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.

Thief

Don’t compare yourself to other people. You never know who is taking steroids. You never know who is drowning in debt. You never know who is a liar.Ryan Holiday

Who are you in competition with? Why? Do they even know?

For me is it other fundraisers, other staff, other parents from my kids’ school, other people on the internet?

I wonder if they walk around thinking, “I am winning!” or are they so focussed on doing the best they can that they don’t even notice or care about me.

In a zero-sum game world, someone else winning would mean that I am losing. But what if we are not in competition with everyone else? What if we are all on the same team and we are only in competition with who we used to be?

If comparison with other people is the thief of joy, then personal progress is the thief of comparison.

This is my journey. This is my race. Success is whatever I want it to be. Survival of the fittest is a sham. We don’t live in a zero-sum game world. When you grow and progress then so do I.

Unintended Consequences

I recently found out something weird about jellyfish.

If you have one jellyfish and cut it in half, instead of having no jellyfish because it is dead, now you have two. Jellyfish regenerate. If it wasn’t so terrifying it would be amazing. Now I have nightmares about jellyfish rising up and taking over the world because they are the undead. Paranoia aside, it does speak to me about unintended consequences.

Life can be like trying to kill a jellyfish (metaphorically). We try to overcome obstacles and, in the process, create other obstacles that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the action we just took.

For example, we recently had the joy of moving our 2 year old from a cot to a ‘big girl’ bed. She was having trouble going to sleep at night and we thought this move would help. No longer is she trapped when she has a sleep, she can get in and out as she pleases. Like when she drops her stuffed animals on the floor, she can hop out, get them and get back in to bed. She loves it and she was ready for it. Sleep time should become easier.

But instead, not only does she still struggle some nights to go to sleep, now, any time she wants, she can get out of bed and annoy her brother in the next room. The only time she is happy to stay in bed is when she drops her stuffed animals on the floor. Instead of hopping out to get them and jumping back in to bed, she calls out until someone does it for her. Unintended consequences.

In our world, unintended consequences are everywhere. I buy a coffee in Perth, it impacts the local café, their staff and families, the dairy farmers who provide the milk, the truck drivers who ship the milk, the distributors of said milk, as well as the whole coffee bean production line, from grower right through to roasters, wherever they may be in the world. A lot of things need to happen for me to have my morning pick me up.

If things work well, then people are positively impacted. If they don’t, people get pushed aside.

Generosity also has unintended consequences, both bad and good. Sometimes by doing something that you think is the best thing in that moment, may do some good, but also creates another problem/jellyfish. It doesn’t mean that we stop being generous. Instead, we grow in wisdom as we give so we can learn how to create the best possible outcomes with the least jellyfish. It takes time and experience, and humility to acknowledge we don’t know everything yet.

Give, Get More

“Like all the best things in life, the more you give, the more you have. That’s true of trust and friendship and it’s true of peace.” Rutger Bregman

I often talk about the riskiness of generosity. It’s like any other investment, there is never a guarantee that if you put money into something that you will get it back or get it back with interest. It’s the same when you give of yourself, your time, or your trust or your friendship. You never know if it will be received or reciprocated. It’s a risk.

It can be daunting when you hear about the bad things that happen in the world, and the seemingly endless supply of bad people. So, if you don’t trust anyone you can never be taken advantage of or hurt or swindled. You are safe from that.

But, on the flip side, if you have never been taken advantage of or hurt or swindled it means that you are not trusting anyone and missing out on the relationships and benefits that giving trust can bring. There is a cost to not trust people.

When you give trust, or friendship, or peace (non-violence), it is possible that it won’t be received or reciprocated, but the vast majority of time, it will be which creates more of what you have given. Leaving you richer than before.

Just because you may have had a bad experience where someone did the wrong thing to you, don’t write off all people (of that type, race, gender, persuasion). You are hurting yourself by doing that, and robbing the world of what your trust could bring.