It Shows the World We Want to Lead…or not

“Show me you calendar and your bank statement and I will show you your priorities.”

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become” James Clear

“How you do anything is how you do everything” James Bryant

You can tell quite a bit about a person by where they spend their time and where they spend their money. It shows you what they care about the most, even more so that what they say their priorities are. Words are easy but behaviour tells the full story and what we say our priorities are may not line up with reality.

It works on a national level as well. Australia sees itself as a global leader in all things promoting democracy and development. We want the world, especially the Asian region, to do well and for everyone to live safe and health lives…or so we say.

Our finances tell a different story. The past decade has seen an embarrassing decrease in the amount of assistance given to our neighbouring countries, so much so, that we are currently investing the lowest amount money to foreign aid in the history of foreign aid. We promised to get to place where we gave 0.5% of our budget to foreign aid. That’s 50c in every $100 earned. But we are currently giving 0.21%, or 21c in every $100 and it is unlikely to change.

It’s embarrassing, because we are being exposed for who we actually are on a global scale. The real leaders in the world are showing us up in their generosity. Sweden gives 1.1% of their Gross National Income, the UK gives 0.7%, Netherlands are at 0.65% and Germany are giving 0.41%.

We say we care about these things, but we don’t. We aren’t leading, in fact we are hiding. We are avoiding the difficulty of poverty in our region (our own back yard, so to speak) and hoping it goes away. History shows us that never works.

We must face it, lead the world in development and generosity and see positive change come as a result.

It Made the News…

On one hand I’m surprised, but when I take the time to think about it, it doesn’t surprise me that much. I mean, weird things make the news.

This one was not so much weird, but almost unremarkable, comparatively.

A man in the north-west corner of the USA bought breakfast for himself and dozens of other people. He was eating alone and upon finishing his meal, on his way out he paid for his meal, and then the meal for every other person in the restaurant. He left before anyone found out.

It cost him a total of $200 and it impacted people so much that it made the local news. Whilst I am sure we would all agree that it was a wonderful act of generosity, was it newsworthy? Especially when we compare his gift of $200 to the millions that people give away each year – why is this a story and not something else?

Here is why I think that this act of generosity created such an impact.

It was breakfast. People love eating breakfast out, for me it is quite a treat. And if someone were to pay for that breakfast, then I would tell people about it.

It was random. People had no expectation that someone would pay for them. It is not a normal experience we encounter, especially a total stranger at another table eating breakfast.

It was immediate. The time between when the generous act was done and the financial impact on those in the restaurant was very close.

It was thoughtful. The recipients would have had many things they want to spend money on, and all of a sudden they have ‘extra’ money after not having to pay for their own breakfast. This experience would have felt like they actually made a profit.

It creates hope. Two types of hope; hope that maybe one day, someone will buy us breakfast too, but also hope that good people are still around, perhaps sitting at the table next to us without us knowing it.

I have done a similar thing before. After having dinner with a group of people, I paid for some of the meals of my friends as I left. To this day I don’t know if they know, or if the restaurant charged my friends after I left and got paid double. I do know that I feel weird about that memory, perhaps because I didn’t make it into the news.

My First Pay-Packet

I can remember receiving my first ever pay-packet. I was super excited to get it. It was back before it was all sent electronically; I was called into the cash office of the supermarket and was handed an envelope with actual cash in it. I still remember the feel of that small, windowless, locked office, and the smell of the envelope in my hand. There was no greater feeling.

I’m pretty sure I blew most of it on unnecessary stuff. But why not? It was my first one.

I’m sorry to say that my financial decisions didn’t really improve too quickly. I would buy clothes I didn’t need, eat out way too much and generally have nothing to show for myself after payday.

I’ve learned some hard lessons over time, most through necessity. I would like to think that I have a much better understanding on how to run my finances now, but occasionally I will buy something with no purpose or positive impact. I’m only human, right?

When we think about those who are living in poverty and how they spend their money, how would we feel if they spent what little they had on something wasteful.

There is the classic comedic line:

I didn’t want to give some money to the homeless person I walked past because they would just spend it on drugs and alcohol. Then I realised, that’s what I spend it on!

Why do we have greater expectations on people living in poverty than we would put on ourselves?

What is really difficult to stomach is the reality that many people living in poverty in Asia and Africa handle their money much better than most Australians. There have been numerous studies done which show that a cash injection to a family living in poverty, rather than being spent on alcohol, drugs and gambling, go towards education and health. Exactly what we would hope the money gets spent on.

And if the money can be in the form of a small loan to fund an entrepreneur who can start a business and work her way out of poverty, even better.

It is easy to forget that we can learn a great deal from other people, even if they are living in a slum somewhere in India, and even if it is about how to handle our finances.

Can’t Buy Me Love…But Maybe Happiness

We are discovering that money, whilst it can’t buy long term happiness, can in fact buy short term happiness (happiness blips), if we spend it on the right thing. Things like the right experience which can create a memory that last a lifetime, rather than a physical thing that depreciates and collects dust over a lifetime. Also, spending money on specific brands – you know, the ones that go out of their way to create a relationship with you which build a customer loyalty bordering on the fanatical. Or on those larger purchases that we have been dreaming of for a long time – big screen TV, or the furniture we have been waiting so long for. These can all create some form of happiness.

But, to get the best form of happiness from money, and to discover the key to a meaningful life, is to spend money on someone else. Studies have suggested this for a while, that we can find happiness in a generous act, and that as our incomes increase the levels of happiness we experience do not correlate. Meaning that our level of happiness does not increase at the same rate as our level of income – there is a certain point when our income level has no impact on how happy we. Perhaps that is because we are not spending our money on things that will create happiness, or perhaps it’s what Dave Ramsay suggests,

“Money won’t make you happy. Money just makes you more of what you already are”.

To find happiness and real purpose with our money is to spend it on someone else, donate it to charity or otherwise give it away. This will dramatically increases our level of happiness. Doing it once might make you happy for a day, but making it a lifelong habit can make a lasting difference in your life, and the lives of others.

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.

Philanthropist

Philanthropy is a strange word. It can be hard to say…

Philanthropy, Philanthropist, Philanthropic…

It also carries with it connotations of meaning which may not be accurate.

When we hear the word Philanthropist in can conjure up images of older (normally white) men who have made their millions and have now decided to give a tiny portion back. Most people don’t connect with that imagery, which is fair enough because it is not a true indication of what philanthropy is.

The true understanding of the term is that it is someone who has a strong desire to promote the welfare of others – usually through a generous donation of money to good causes.

Philanthropy has no gender, no specific cause and no specific amount tied to it; it looks very different to what we once thought. There is a growing movement of individuals, giving circles, companies and families that are making significant changes in our world, for the better. They are the new face of philanthropy making the idea so much more accessible.

Really, if you care about people, the environment or our world and give some money to charity, to see the closest philanthropist who is making a difference in the world take a look in the mirror. You are most likely one already.

Responsibility

I was born in a little town called Naracoorte, in the South-East of South Australia. Nothing I did had any bearing on where I was born, that is literally where I popped out.

Through no effort of my own, I was born within the borders of this country we call Australia. As a result of that I have managed to live the life that I have so far. I got an education, went to university, had a family, travelled, lived interstate, and created a life for myself and a future.

If I am honest, very little of this has come as a result of my intelligence. Sure, I have a debt to pay to my ancestral line, but if I was born in Indonesia, for example, where nearly half the population live in poverty, there is no doubt my life would have taken a very different trajectory.

Geography is destiny. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

For a while I felt guilty about this fact – but that didn’t help anyone, so I chose to feel pride about my country of birth and take with it a sense of responsibility. To use what I have been given to help others who haven’t had the same advantages as me, purely because of where they were born.

Geography is destiny, unless we act. Unless we use what we have been given to do what we can to create a better world.

Scrooge Effect

One of the most well known characters in literature is Ebenezer Scrooge. You know the one, the miserly old man who places all his value and effort into the riches he earns and doesn’t care for the people around him. Until one Christmas eve he is visited by the ghosts of past, present and future. It’s the final one, which forces him to face the fear of the unknown and to think of what life would look like for others after he died which changes his attitude. A thought provoking fiction and a standard movie to watch at Christmas.

There is such a thing as the Ebenezer Scrooge Effect, which has seen many people change their attitudes towards money and relationships as they get older and think about their mortality. The reality of death can be an incredibly positive thing.

People who have been miserly and greedy have become generous and thoughtful, and as a result their quality of life improves as does the quality of life of those around them.

The good news is that we don’t have to wait until a certain age to start being generous, we don’t have to wait until we are at death’s door  – we can save time and a lot of heartache and begin now, changing the way we think and behave.

It starts with small actions, giving some time, some kind words, some money to an organisation that you like. Doing these things consistently will create the generous quality of life that we are called to.

Why We Feel Guilty When We Splurge

Have you ever gone shopping and splurged a little bit, arriving back home with more items than you had originally planned, which brings about feelings of guilt and shame, even though it is your money and you can spend it however you want?

Ever been there?

It turns out you are not alone. It’s a global phenomenon. The feeling of guilt after a splurge comes because we feel like we are stealing from other important parts of our budget. Like the mortgage, or rent or food. But, studies tell us, if we set aside money in our budget specifically to splurge then the guilt disappears. Just like that, because that money is there to be spent however you want and it gives you the freedom to do that.

It’s the same with generosity and giving. Sometimes we feel guilt when we give because there are other important things that require our finance and it can feel like we are stealing from those parts when we are generous.

If we set aside money to give away, become intentional about being generous, that will overcome any guilt we may feel and make it easier for us to make a positive difference in the world.

Be generous on purpose.

Psychological Stress of Poverty

What happens when you stress about money?

There is a story about sugarcane farmers in India – a group of researchers tested their IQ after harvest when they had money, then again a few months later right before the harvest. The difference was that they scored nearly 10 points less when tested right before the harvest. They simply had less mental energy to focus on the test.

That is the impact of poverty and financial insecurity. It is mentally overwhelming. Poverty places a huge burden on each person’s finite mental bandwidth which creates tunnel vision as well as decreases cognitive function. All of this makes it harder to focus on anything beyond the current problem, to problem solve, resist impulses or think long-term.

It’s not that the sugarcane farmers lacked intelligence or became dumber, it was because of the circumstances they were in on the day they were tested.

This is a good reason we don’t talk about “poor families”, but instead “families living in poverty” – because their identity is not that they are poor, that is just their current context.

This phenomenon is the same everywhere in the world. Poverty has a crippling effect and stops people from reaching their full God given potential. It’s the reason that God’s heart is always for those trapped in the poverty cycle. We must keep working to overcome it.