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.

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What Is This “Generosity”?

Being ‘generous’ used to mean that you were from noble birth. The term was reserved only for those families (which was essentially those that had generational wealth – some would give some of that wealth away).

Over time it changed from ‘being of noble birth’ to ‘being of noble spirit’. Moving from something you were born into and becoming more about the good and moral individual qualities that someone had. It didn’t change who was considered generous because many thought that people of noble birth had those qualities.

It didn’t take too long though, for people to realise that just because you were born into nobility, it doesn’t mean that you were of ‘noble spirit’. So, generosity was no longer measured by your family tree, and became all about actions. Anyone could be generous, no matter who they belonged to or how much money they had.

Fast forward to today, generosity has the following attributes:

It is Giving – A gift that shifts from one person to another. Be it time, money, presence, gifts, mental space, ideas, energy or encouragement.

It is Thoughtful – An act or gesture that an individual has put great thought into what would benefit the receiver. Be it something they enjoy or something that will help them.

It is Considerate – An act or gesture that takes into account the feelings of someone else, whether or not it is appropriate for them even if it would help, or if it may cause embarrassment.

It is Caring – An act designed to bring out the best possible outcome for the recipient.

It is Slow and Fast – Usually as a gift of time or presence with someone, that allows space to sit with them in their journey but also responds quickly.

It is Sacrificial – it costs something to be generous. A gift without cost is platitude.

It is Intentional – Something done on purpose.

Here’s what it isn’t…

Self centred –  For the sole purpose of making the one giving the gift feel better.

Accidental – Without generous intent. (A generous person may be accidentally generous to someone once, maybe twice, but if the only time someone is generous to others is by accident, that is not generosity).

Thoughtless – with no thought about the long-term impact that the ‘generous’ act could create.

Cunning – actions which are political in nature, which are premeditated to bring power to the giver.

Manipulative – used to force someone to do something for you.

Restrictive – actions that are designed to hold someone back and keep them in their current situation. A gift that disempowers.

A limited time only – running out after a certain period of time.

It may be that generosity is a little more complicated than we originally thought, and it takes a bit more effort to do a good job of. But, it has the potential to create significant positive outcomes for everyone involved if we can do it well.

Fade

I am amazed by the sheer amount of people that are alive in this moment. Over 7.9 billion people is impossible to imagine. It is extraordinary, and overwhelming and humbling.

Out of that 7.9 billion, how many people will know me? Dunbar’s number suggests that we don’t really have the capacity to have more than 150 meaningful relationships.

Out of that 150, how many will really do life with me? Jim Rohn said that you are the average of the 5 people that you spend the most time with.

So, not many.

How many will remember me?

Of the people who lived 100 years ago, (about 2 billion of them), I have heard of, maybe, a handful. A dozen at most, and probably the same names that you may know. The rest of them, well they might have influenced how I live but I don’t know their names or their story.

So, logic would suggest that in 100 years no one will remember me, and no one will remember you. (Sorry).

I will fade.

That’s okay.

However, what I do will have a lasting effect. Every act will create an impact.

Specifically, generous acts multiply. They grow over time as they encourage others to be generous and create ripple effects to people that you will never know in places that you will never travel to. Generosity will not fade. It will last forever.

Leave a legacy. Be generous.

It’s Never Too Late

You may have heard the question, when is the best time to plant a tree?

The answer is ‘20 years ago’.

The second best time to plant a tree? Right now.

There is a cost to spending time doing something.

Time spent at school could have been time spent at work.

Time spent at work could have been time spent with the family.

Time spent playing sport could have been time spent studying.

Time spent learning an instrument could have been time spent playing sport.

Time spent playing a video game could have been time spent doing anything else.

In the moment it doesn’t really matter. But over time these decisions add up, and lost time is gone forever. It’s a tree never planted. You get no shade. You get no air. You get no beauty from a tree that doesn’t exist.

It is never too late, though. You can always start now. You can always do something for the first time today, to become the type of person that you want to become – and little by little, over time, it can build up to be a new skill, a new passion, a new job. A new tree.

Generosity is just like that. I have failed many times to be generous when given the opportunity. I have written people off. Not given when the chance arose and not cared when someone was in need. But that doesn’t mean I have to live like that always. I can begin again today by being generous with my time, my care and my forgiveness.

In 20 years’ time, the small decisions I make today will grow into something that will bring beauty to all who see it.

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.

Handling Rejection

I hear no quite a bit.

I work for a charity and I ask people to give generously to that charity. If I am doing my job then people will say ‘no’ to me on a regular basis, to either meeting with me, coming to an event, or being generous financially. I get ‘no’ on a much more regular basis than I get a ‘yes’, and it can hurt. It can create doubt and fear and a sense of rejection. To not go crazy, I choose to approach this ‘rejection’ with a particular mindset.

A while ago I spent some time working in radio and at the time (things may have shifted a little now) the adage was that someone needed to hear an advertisement 7 times before they decided to engage with it. Essentially, on average, it takes time for people to get comfortable with a message or product before they start to build trust and get to the point where they look at buying or connecting.

I now take the same approach with every conversation I have with someone or when I speak at an event. I talk proudly about Opportunity International and how we are ending poverty but at the same time I recognise that it could be the first time that someone has heard of the organisation and what we do, or the first time they have heard about giving to charity. I can’t expect them to jump on board straight away, but this is the first important step. It could also be the third or fourth time, or it could be the seventh time and they say yes and support generously. It just depends on the person and their journey.

I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had people tell me that they have heard me speak a few times before and now they are ready to support.

If people say no to me, that’s okay, it’s not the ‘seventh’ time for them yet. My job is to keep the relationship going so they can get to that point.

I also know that some people will never come around, that’s okay too. They are on their own journey and whilst I believe being generous is good for everyone, we all have to come to that place in our own time and on our own terms.

Equality…and cake.

Have you ever been given the responsibility of cutting a birthday cake for children?

The need to get each piece the exact same size has never been so great, and when you can’t do that, each child knows who has the biggest piece and who’s piece is smallest. Of course, in that situation the easiest thing to do is to take some from the biggest piece and give it to the child with the smallest piece, so things are equal.

But you know that things are not that simple. It doesn’t matter how much you explain it with logic, and even though each child gets the same amount, the saddest child in the room is always the one who has had something taken from them. They are unable to focus on anything else except for their cake – even if it ended up being distributed with equality, they can only see what they lost.

We know what inequality is; when people are oppressed, there is injustice, parts of the community are unable to reach their full potential, and society is at odds with itself. We notice it acutely when we feel it ourselves. When, for us as individuals, life is not fair, we are not getting what we deserve, what we have worked so hard for. Somebody has taken our cake.

But there is another side to inequality and that is privilege. If there was no privilege, then inequality would not exist. From a place of privilege, it is a little difficult to notice when someone else is oppressed. It requires a courageous ability to empathise with those who are different from us; different in the way they think and approach life – it is an act of generosity to assist those who are living in the oppressed side of inequality to bring about equality. It sounds great, but the difficulty when part of our community begins to move from inequality towards equality is it usually creates a disturbance. The power that those in privilege are used to experiencing, begins to shift. When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression so moves towards equality are hindered by those in privilege, even if they want equality in theory.

We live in a world of inequality. More often than not in Australia, our experience of inequality is through privilege. We’ve been handed a very big piece of cake*. There is no one to take it off us and redistribute it to others who are oppressed so it is up to us to do that individually. But it is going to cost us. It will disrupt the power that we have.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much to get started – a gift of $100 is enough to create a small loan for a mother living in poverty in Asia so she can start a business and begin the journey out of the poverty cycle. A small, but important step in the journey of equality – giving up some of our financial power to empower someone else.

*Metaphorical cake.

Too Many Options

In our home, Friday night is take out night. Usually when my wife asks me what I feel like for take out night, I say ‘I don’t know’. Then she says she doesn’t know either and then we enter this downward spiral of indecision that lasts until we get desperate and choose the first thing that comes to mind which can turn out to be something I didn’t want in the first place.

I have discovered that the reason that we find it hard to decide is that there are so many options available that it just seems impossible to choose one. What if I choose one that I’m not happy with and I’m faced with take out regret? It’s a tough life.

I was travelling in India speaking to an Opportunity International loan client about growing her business over a few years and working her way out of poverty. She had put her two eldest daughters through tertiary education. The youngest was about to complete high school and when she was asked ‘What do you want to do when you finish?’ She said, ‘I don’t know’.

It sounds like a typical teenage response, but the real reason for that answer is profound.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. A young women, living in a slum in India, not only being in a position to complete her high school education, but then to be in a place with so many options available to her she had trouble picking just one. She didn’t need to think about finding the highest paying career to support her family, she could choose to do what she wanted. She could dream. Try something new. Create.

That is what empowerment looks like, to have a choice. It’s the catalyst to see people reaching their full, God given potential. It’s the catalyst that creates a better world.

Fa-la-la-la-la La-la-la-la-ing

I am not a Christmassy type of person. I don’t mind this time of year, the decorations are okay, although they don’t put me in a joyful mood like they do for some people, the food is good although it doesn’t excite me a great deal, and the carols I can leave – I certainly don’t get too involved in any fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la-ing.

What does excite me at this time of year is the idea of giving. We have a special season where we think about what others would like to receive. Now, that can be stressful, but we can also look at it as a great opportunity to put a smile on the face of someone we care about. The reason it is stressful, perhaps, is that if we don’t spend much time throughout the year thinking about what others would like, it is very difficult to switch that part of our brain on in December.

Often I hear people talking about becoming the best version of themselves, something that I am striving for also and I think that we go a long way to being the best version of ourselves when we are giving. When we are generous to others and giving back.

So, use this Christmas time to be the best version of you. Be generous to those around you, give great, well thought out gifts to friends, family and people you don’t know – like a chicken, for example.

Get the Kids

I don’t know if it happens at a specific time in life, or if it becomes a consistent interruption in thinking, but the desire to leave a lasting impact on our world is a strong motivation for many people. Some would call it a legacy.

Legacy is a heavy word with connotations of a long term, far off benefit for some unknown people. But in reality it doesn’t have to be like that.

We can all leave a legacy starting right now, through two easy steps.

Firstly, we can give money generously to causes that we care about. Our donations have long lasting impacts and will benefit our world from the moment we give.

Secondly, we can include our kids in the process of giving and generosity. We can start by having conversations with them about the organisations we support, show them the stories of lives being changed because of our giving, and invite them to participate through giving some of their pocket money, or birthday money and letting them suggest some organisations that we can give to.

These simple actions and conversations with our children will not only impact our world, but also our family for generations to come. Creating a culture of generosity with our kids will bring about gratitude and positivity within the family unit.