“You must put on your own mask first before assisting others.”
This makes sense in an emergency flight situation, because if you try to help someone put on their oxygen mask before you have yours on, it is likely you will pass out very quickly before you can finish helping them, leading to a dire situation for you, and them.
We have imported this pre-flight safety element into a life philosophy. It gets used when talking about our mental health. Another one is ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Basically, look after yourself before you try to look after others.
It seems to fit, but it’s wrong.
These ideas assume that your mental health is not connected to the people around you, and if you are struggling with areas of life, all you need to do is to take a break from the world or isolate yourself from everyone else, recharge, feel better and then come back into the world to care for people.
There may be times when that is necessary, but the wellbeing of an individual is deeply linked to being in contact with and even caring for other people.
If you can spend time helping someone else and you can see the difference you are making, it will energise you. It is not a case of putting on your own mask first or filling your own cup up and then giving of yourself, but as you help someone else “put their mask on”, or “fill their cup”, your mask will be put on and cup will be filled up. As you care for others you will care for yourself. (Unless you don’t have generous boundaries).
There is an old saying,
“Do not cast your pearls before swine.”
For the longest time I didn’t understand it, as I tried to imagine what pigs would do with a bunch of pearls. Until one day I opened up to someone about an emotional challenge that I had, and they threw it back in my face.
It was in that moment that I realised I had given someone one of the most precious things that I had, part of myself, and they treated it like scraps. They stomped all over it and eventually consumed it, spat it back out and then consumed it again (that’s what it felt like anyway). As I witnessed this take place, horrified, I realised that this person mistreated my treasure, not because they wanted to but because they couldn’t treat it any other way. They simply didn’t know how to. Just like pigs would treat pearls.
I quickly learned who I could trust with that which was most precious to me, and who I couldn’t.
Honesty and transparency can be gifts of great worth that we give to other people, but not everyone will treat them with the respect and care that they require. So we need to be cautious with who we give these gifts to, or be confident enough in ourselves and our own worth, that it won’t matter how people respond to being presented with this treasure.
Generosity is risky. It is dangerous. But the depth of relationship and intimacy that can be created through honesty and transparency are worth taking the risks and facing the dangers.
I am trying to figure out if I am especially untrusting, or if everyone has trouble believing someone when they say something nice about them. It’s probably just me, but whenever I get a hint that a person is not being honest with me then I struggle to take anything that they say as truthful.
Dishonesty, or a lack of transparency, ruins relationships. Both relationships that already exist and ones that are yet to.
On the flip side, honesty and transparency give relationships depth. When you are open with others around you it creates a foundation of trust. Trust that you are an honest person and therefore wont dupe or rip people off. That you are a safe person that they can be honest with too. That you will do what you say you will do. That you genuinely care.
When you are open and honest, you also let other people into your world so they can see behind the curtain to your inner workings. This is a gift and for those who are capable of treating this gift with respect, it makes them feel special and welcome. This sort of intimacy is rare but incredibly valuable as it builds strong, deep relationships which last.
Honesty it innately generous.
It does come with risks though…
Most people who give to a charity will regularly give to a few of their favourites. There are common names that people will list off as they explain to me their giving regime.
But how do they choose which the organisations that make the list? How do you choose a charity?
On occasion someone has mentioned to me that a random charity once “cold called” them, they immediately donated over the phone and have been supporting them ever since. People who do this are few and far between, but generally have a difficult time saying no and will get sick of it after a while. This is more of an ad-hoc selection criteria.
Those that have a strategy behind their giving are more intentional about what they give to and are more thoughtful about who they support. They will take a bit longer to make a decision about donating but will also stay connected to those charities for a longer period of time.
These people look at their giving through a portfolio perspective. Within their charity portfolio, they will normally have a couple of domestic charities they support, an international charity, and maybe one other area. After defining the issues they want to focus on, they research the different charities that work in that space, see how they spend their money, meet with the staff and start giving at a relatively small level. As they grow more confident in how the charity works and the depth of their impact, they will increase their giving over time.
Like any good relationship, it is built at the speed of trust. The deeper the trust built, the longer the relationship will last.
It is easy to call someone names. It is simple to see one thing that a person does and create a story about who they are – judge them on their behaviours. It is much harder to get to know the person, understand their journey to this point, and even empathise with them as to why they sometimes behave the way they do. But isn’t that what we all want? We can be so quick to judge people around us but expect everyone to see us for who we really are, as complex human beings, rather than as the sum of some of the stupid things we do.
There are grave dangers around what we can do to each other when we are not connected, we don’t know each other and the stories that make up our identity, and we don’t understand the intrinsic value that each person carries within them. This is no more evident than with what we see online and how we behave and treat others when there is no face to face communication.
So, I have been thinking about how I engage with people and
topics, especially online. Perhaps you may find this valuable.
Rules of engagement:
- If someone has not travelled with you through your journey of crap and disfunction, if they haven’t sat with you when you are at your worst, celebrated with you when you are at your best and dreamed with you during the times in between, they have no right to offer their opinion on what you should do. People will still offer their opinions, but you only get to listen to the ones that come from the people who have earned it.
- Keep your political and social opinion to yourself. The only time you should share your opinion is if it is not set in concrete and can be shaped by what other people think and feel. This is called a discussion. It is a wonderful place were people are free to disagree with each other, challenge thinking and behaviour and are encouraged to own it when they think they have been wrong about something. It is a place where a person’s ideals and opinions are separated from their value as a human being – meaning that a person can say something, do something or think something that some might consider not nice or unhelpful, but they are not considered bad or evil. They are, like all of us, on a journey of growth and improvement. Because, let’s face it, in a few minutes it is likely we will be saying something, doing something or thinking something not nice or unhelpful.
- If you do not like something on television for whatever reason, don’t watch it, don’t talk about it, don’t post on social media about it. Don’t give it air to exist. Instead focus on creating the type of content that you want to see. Act out of positivity and creativity rather than out of negativity.
- Most of all, seek to connect and engage with other people and their story. Everything that everyone does makes sense to them. If you don’t understand them yet, ask more questions.
Another word that gets overused in the not-for-profit sector is development. Which is tough because it describes the work that many, including Opportunity International, are involved in. But this means it gets used frequently and loses its meaning along the way.
So what is development?
A key theme of development is this idea of cultivation, which means creating something. Not in a mass production type of process, but bringing something to life and growing it over time. Creating a space for something to flourish and develop. It is very much in line with building relationships and getting the best out of people.
But at the same time, it is bespoke, as individual and unique as the people we work with. Sure, there may be many similarities but development is not a copy and paste mentality which assumes that just because an idea has worked in one area of the world then it will work in another country. Sometimes the same idea doesn’t work in a neighbouring town.
True development is a complex process which works with what already exists and finds a way to enable growth of people, agriculture, infrastructure and community engagement.
That’s how I think development should look. Which is less about the specific actions and more about the environment and culture an organisation brings.