I grew up in what sociologists call relative poverty. I was poor but I wasn’t starving. I had clothes, but they weren’t new, we had a TV, but it was black and white. unless we put this colour paper over the top, and then, it was just blurry. Anyone now questioning my age should… this was the 90’s….
I received free school meals, My dad hated this. He was a large proud irish man. He called charity workers, medical professionals and basically anyway outside the family who tried to help – ‘do gooders’. I remember him chasing away a teacher with a broom… people trying to give us food and clothes.
It was to his great horror then, that I grew up to help do gooders. I created Give What You’re Good At an org that connects charities with people to do free freelance work, like a marketing campaign. I created it because I saw lawyers giving their skills and wanted an effective way for others to give theirs. In my dads eyes, I had given up a fat cat lawyer job to work with do gooders and weed smoking hippies… It was around that time that I hid all the brooms in the house.
I’ve been lucky to travel the world meeting many of those people but what I’ve discovered and talked about has led to me onlu narrowly avoiding being on the receiving end of a broom – without my dads hand attached.
I first raised my concerns over whether charities are the best model to solve problems, at a conference that I was told was 80 business audience which turned out to be the other way around…. so after telling a room full of charity workers, that charities weren’t the best vehicle to solve our problems, it looked like I was going to be strangled by over half the people waiting to talk to me, with red angry, screwed up faces. Which made me think back to do gooders… and look for the nearest broom.
But in all seriousness, what I said provoked such condemnation that many of the charities in the room stopped using GWYGA. I had threatened their positions and even charity workers will fight if change is going to displace them.
We don’t need organisation, we need to be kinder to each other. Be human. Give someone a lift in your taxi, or share your hotel room with them, or your food, or help them stand up, or hold their hand when they are scared, thats what we created families for. Imagine if we all tried to help our fellow man. If we carried someones suitcase up some steps on the tube, maybe they wouldn’t fall down and need the red cross.
I spent 10 days at a Buddhist temple in Northern Thailand which gave me a lot of time for thought. And inevitably I came out all zen and full of love, until I found myself homeless in Lao. I’d booked a hotel online and arrived late on saturday night to find my room had been auctioned off to the highest bidder. The hotel refused to give me a refund… and i promptly turned nuclear when I found there was no where else in the entire city to stay. It was Chinese new year and literally the city was booked out.
A torrent of my wittiest insults started which fell on death ears, I gave up my non-zeng routine and banded together with other victims. So here i am, homeless on the streets of Vang Vieng the party capital of lao with my backpack and my choices being a, share a bed with a drunk 18 year old american for shelter or b, sleep on the streets and potentially being mulled to death by 100’s of stray, red eyed dogs.
So, what did I do, I decided to leave the group and go in search on my own, eventually I found a tv room at a hostel to sleep in, my zen had left the building. I was intent on protecting myself, but had invited all the group to the TV room.
I was full of rage and hate. Bloodly Agoda, taking my money and not giving me a room… I mean to say I was vengeful was an understatement, until I realised how vengeful I was, and how quickly my zen had imploded on me. I dissolved into laughter, which scared all of the people in the hostel and in the two nights I was forced to stay there, I overheard people calling me ‘that crazy british girl’.
I have always been obsessed with trying to find the biggest impact, most often it comes from tackling the root. In myself, my root was my anger and to tackle it, I had to be angry. It took me a long time and a lot of pain to see that, so I can forgive charities for not being receptive to my message.
The problem with most charity is it doesn’t tackle the root. If it did Bill and Melinda would have ended poverty and we would never see war/ violence. It’s a tax efficient model for helping people in their present situation, but most do not tackle the root: people. WE CAUSE the problems. Not organisations, not structures: US!
Blame placed on religion, governments, climate change, all of which we created, managed and furthered. we forget the human agency at our peril, as I discovered in Lao. We have the biggest impact by being kinder to ourselves and others.
I feel like I am in a glass jar screaming. no one else can see the idiocy of these actions, creations and intentions. Chasing shareholder value while we create health problems, that SHAREHOLDERS need to pay for out of their profits. As my dad would say, its swings and roundabouts .
But when all is said and done and we’ve waxed lyrically about depleting natural resources and mental health inequalities you wouldn’t put a plaster on a festering wound?
We live in the here and now. I want to be part of making lives more happy for people to live, note I didn’t say making the world a better place. We must live in the present. There are plenty of great things happening, I see them everyday. The intentions are pure, but the progress is slow, why? we don’t start at the root, governments, ngos, charities, businesses.
So in a way, my dad was right to hate do gooders, they do cause problems, they allow the root problem to go unsolved, while covering the issue in a coloured paper of sorts, at least we are trying, we think… and sure they make life a little bit better in the present, but they also make the present harder, in ignoring the root, and plastering the cracks, we can’t see when volcano is about to abrupt.
In business we have a bigger opportunity to be good capitalists that pay people well, that go good things, where is it written that we need to f people over in business? Commercial awareness need not be about making the most profit, we must desire to make the biggest difference for our customers. Not just extract profits from them, like my Lao situation. Those people made me homeless, cry and get bed bugs.
All the people working in charities are amazing, but theres an irony here: priests abusing young boys they take in. Acknowledge the dark side. the buddhists have it right, we are all one, stop separating yourself, stop protecting yourself, never stop giving, it’s the life force that powers you.
I met a lawyer in Berlin who proudly told me he makes all his money from suing startups who don’t have T and C’s on their websites… I mean boy, if reincarnation is a thing this guy is coming back as a ant.
I’m no angel, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life. I try to help people, not because I want people to see it, not out of guilt, but out of actually pure hedonist desire, by doing that I help myself, more than any travel, any green smoothie, any yoga class and even any meditation retreat, is ever going to help me. Why? Our DNA is oneness.
I learnt the hard way that you can take this too far, the first person you need to help is yourself, you cannot give what you haven’t got, and you need boundaries, but when you place them, remember that helping others is helping yourself, you can get a bigger high from helping someone in need, than you can from dancing in a nightclub off your face, or buying the latest Prada, or sunning yourself on a beach in the Maladives.
When you come to draw your last breathe, you will remember only one thing: love. And to help and be helped is the currency of love.
So, when you want to change things, think root, be good, where you are, right now. Even if that means forgiving people who made you homeless and gave you bed bugs.