25% of Statistics are Made Up

25% of Statistics are Made up on the spot.

Is that statement true? Maybe, I could be part of the 25% I guess.

Numbers are great. They are logical and clinical.

They also lie, oversimplify and distract.

For example:

  • 1 in 10 people are colour blind
  • 90% of people can see colour just fine

Two messages from the same set of numbers which read very differently. Neither of which is actually true by the way.

We use numbers to draw attention to the significant issues in our world, and even if they are factually correct, it isn’t working. By themselves, numbers don’t work.

I could tell you that Opportunity International Australia is helping over 6 million families to work their way out of poverty through the power of a small loan, or I could tell you about Shoba…

Shoba, a wife and mother in India, was already living in poverty when her husband got sick.

They were unable to afford the medicine for her husband’s condition, so she borrowed from a money lender to get her husband the help he needed.

Sadly, he died.

In time, the money lender came to get what they were owed – which was now significantly more than the amount borrowed. Shoba did not have the money to pay.

The lender took both of her young sons to work off the debt by manual labour at a quarry.

Nobody should have to live like that, facing an impossible decision between critical healthcare and losing children to slave labour.

Shoba heard about the small loans available through Opportunity. She borrowed USD50 and bought some carving tools and supplies. Shoba hand carved wood into elephants which she sold by the roadside.

Using the money she earned to redeem her sons, Shoba was also able repay her Opportunity loan and build a better life for her family.

Breaking the cycle of poverty takes a lot of courage.

Making a donation is the easy part!

Opportunity has six million other stories like that. Stories that say more than statistics ever could, even if they aren’t made up.

Stories with true statistics will tell the whole story.

My Origin Story

It was one of dozens of similar conversations. But something finally broke with this one.

I sat down across the table from a financial planner, and they began to tell me how many millions of dollars their firm managed and all of a sudden I realised, I didn’t care. I didn’t. I had no interested in their millions of dollars and how much money they were making for their clients. In that moment I discovered that I wasn’t motivated by that at all, which was a bit of a shame because I was working for a bank at the time and my job was to encourage financial planners to put their clients’ money into the banks products. I knew I was in trouble.

It was that moment I began to search for my purpose, something that I could get excited about, something that motivated me. It led me through a journey of community radio, Bible College, youth work, international development work and a master’s degree. I always say that my life has been a weird concoction of career snippets that have somehow managed to feed into each other and create the place where I want to be. Ending poverty, one family and one community at a time. Facilitating generosity to bring about significant change. I’m so glad I had that realisation many years ago and walked away from the banking world.

Not that there’s anything wrong with making millions of dollars for your clients, just as long as you give lots of it away and do something significant with it.

In the Absence of Data…

I used to love writing stories when I was little. Tales about forest dwelling people and stories of weird animals, and bizarre worlds. I think I was quite a creative little guy. But I grew out of that, or so I thought. I discovered recently that I am still strongly involved in creating stories – about people mostly, and their motives and thinking.

Studies suggest that we spend up to 80% or our time each day in some form of communication. Only a small part of that is via speaking. Most of our communication is non-verbal and even when we do communicate verbally we can’t possibly say everything that is going on in our mind. So, for the majority of the time, people around us don’t actually have any idea what we are thinking or feeling.

Brene Brown, the well-known researcher and speaker, says that ‘in the absence of data, we always make up stories’. Meaning that if we don’t know what someone is thinking or feeling about us, we create a story around that – we make up what they might be thinking or feeling. Most of the time what we make up is much worse than reality. But until we get the real story confirmed, we live in a make believe world where our made up version is non-fiction.

One of the greatest acts of generosity to ourselves and those around us is choosing to assume the best. Notice when we are making up stories about what others are thinking and feeling, and seek out the data. Seek to find out what the truth of the matter is. If we must make up a story because we don’t have the data, let’s make up positive ones.