We’re so conditioned to think that money should be the primary outcome of our efforts that doing something just because it’s the right thing to do can fail to be a sufficient incentive. And an opportunity is lost.
Of course, money is important, it’s the primary currency of transaction and still the principal way to establish and recognize value. But it can also distort perceptions and mess with our motivation in such a way that all value is assessed in financial terms and other important concerns get neglected.
In Africa, there is a concept known as ‘ubuntu’ – the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.
~ Nelson Mandela
Like making the time or spending the money to help people in need, for example. There is no end of important concerns that require ordinary people to step up to do the right thing where there will be little to no financial return on the time or money they invested.
Think of a cause that’s moved you but you just couldn’t justify getting involved or you never got around to writing that check. What stopped you? Now think of the times when disaster struck and ordinary people stepped up in droves to help or donate money and you got to witness humanity at it’s finest. What compelled them?
Because money plays such a dominant role in the way we think and live, we may not even be aware of the financial conditioning that’s shaping us. Until that disaster strikes or something else jolts us awake to remind us that there’s more to life than this singular focus.
There is a place beyond financial returns where the essence of what makes us human is what matters most. And when we can tap into this wellspring, even if only for a brief moment, we can access something that is so pure and empowering that can leave us feeling connected and full of purpose. Who wouldn’t want to experience that?
What would be possible for you if you could access that wellspring of empowerment on a more consistent basis? If doing the right thing could be a sufficient enough incentive, how free would you be to follow what calls you?
I’m not suggesting that you throw all caution to the wind and pursue a whim just because it ‘feels right’. We only need to observe the opportunistic advertising that’s done by big charities around Christmas when people’s desire to give back is over-stimulated to know that this is an easy to exploit human frailty.
I once wound down my car window to give a homeless man $20 because I felt guilty that my backseat was full of expensive food I didn’t really need while my charitable donations for the year seemed woefully inadequate. When he thanklessly took the money, I could see and smell that I’d likely just added fuel to his addiction and my guilt got amplified. Hardly a wellspring of empowerment.
What I’m suggesting is much more substantive and requires some internal and external due diligence. Know what’s driving you and know where your money or efforts are going. Then jump in, boots n all.
What does ‘Right’ even mean?
There aren’t many universal definitions of the ‘right’ way to live, treat others or share the world’s resources. This is typically seen as the domain of religions like Christianity, which have heavily shaped conventional ideas of morality in society. Even the non-religious have been conditioned by such propositions as ‘it is better to give than to receive’. But even between religions, there are deep ideological divides about what is right or wrong. Let alone the deeply confusing contradictions we must grapple with in everyday business life where such values are typically disregarded.
What are we to do? Being subservient to a set of principles that are deemed more worthy than our private selves is held up as one answer but let’s be honest, this hasn’t fixed the world’s problems and it’s created many of its own. But jettisoning all the collective agreements that have gotten us this far would plunge us into chaos and anarchy so that’s hardly viable either. So the reality is we need to navigate the messy and grey middle ground full of warring ideas and paradox until we can discover our own moral compass.
Perhaps ‘right’ lives somewhere in this middle ground. Where seemingly competing ideas can be synthesized and balanced so they nurture different parts of what makes us whole rather than fragmenting us into either/or choices. Give and receive, yin and yang.
Getting to Your Right
You can find your right by becoming deeply familiar with the core values and needs that shape and drive you as a unique individual, while tuning out the noise of the judgments and obligations. It is less about appearing worthy in the eyes of others than it is about being worthy inside of your own sense of worth. So if you can get to a depth of understanding that puts your life into such perspective that you know with certainty what is the right thing to do, this awareness alone can be a precious gift.
There’s no need to set your sights on changing the world or anything so grandiose. Instead, trying pointing the compass in the direction of what brings you a pervasive sense of satisfaction and joy or just makes you feel better about who you are as a person. The point is it should be significant to you because doing the right thing for others is also doing the right thing for you. It’s a win-win situation – you help others and help yourself by doing so.
Research shows that acts of giving or serving lead to greater feelings of social connectedness and overall well-being. Human beings are social animals so as we feel more connected, we experience less loneliness and our self-esteem is boosted by a sense of higher purpose. It creates opportunities to utilize your skills or resources, discover new interests or be a leader. Opportunities that might be lacking in your job or personal life.
Doing the right thing beats doing it right
It doesn’t matter how well you do something if it’s the wrong thing to do. Think about it. It doesn’t matter if you get somewhere faster or more efficiently if you end up in the wrong place. The same applies to giving back. You could invest a lot of time or money in a cause that will never go anywhere or and it makes no difference how well intended you were. Your good intentions will amount to very little and there is a real risk that this could be disheartening or worse, poison your desire to help again.
Perhaps you believe in karmic payback and take solace from just being a generous or empathetic person. Nothing wrong with that but like any investment, there are things you can do to improve the odds that you get a more measurable and direct return on your efforts or good nature. It comes from doing your homework.
Know what you’re investing in. Know the players who are involved. Know the vision and objectives of the organization. Know what’s being done with your money. Know what difference is being made. If this information isn’t readily available or there’s a lack of transparency, there is good reason for pause.
With each passing disaster, more and more organizations raise money. This leads to intense competition between organizations for donations. Those with the biggest name recognition and the most eye-catching advertising, or those that are on the most lists of “How you can help” or that have the best celebrity endorsers, get the most donations.
~ The Dirty Truth About Disaster Fund Raising (click to view article)
Unfortunately, the world of philanthropy is just as vulnerable to exploitation or incompetency as the for-profit world. In some cases it can be even worse because there is a lack of oversight and a dearth of the skills and strategic thinking that are required to be effective. I saw it first hand in Ethiopia where I was working with a team trying to solve the problems that had been created by HIV drug distribution. The big aid agencies were competing with each other and arguing about the right way forward in the Sheraton Hotel while the NGOs on the front line couldn’t raise the money to buy a motorcycle to visit patients. The big organizations are not all bad and many are doing important work but don’t forget the local organizations who don’t have the budgets for glamorous advertising campaigns. They need you to find them and everything you do will make a significant difference.
My goal in writing this is to get you thinking. Not to preach or to leave you feeling obliged. There’s enough of that in the world already and when it comes to giving back, I strongly believe it’s best when it comes from a beating heart rather than a wagging finger of virtue. If it inspires you to think about a next step, my last piece of advice is to be discerning and thoughtful about what you do and to channel that anabolic energy of yours into something that really matters. If you need support on this journey, contact me. I can help you get in touch with what’s calling you and what’s right for you.