• Decision
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    Dream Big or Sell Out: The False Choice

    Do you believe you have to choose between following your passion and paying the bills? Do you see your choices as:

    A) Get a stable job that provides financial security; but give up on being a force for good (or try to do it in your spare time)

    ORDecision

    B) Follow your dreams, do what you love, and change the world; but live on a shoestring and never know how you’re going to pay the bills?

    For a long time, those have been the two options we’ve been offered. Good job vs. idealism. Security vs. fulfillment. You can take a stable but uninspiring position with a big company or a branch of government and know that your salary, benefits, and pension are assured. Or you can forgo big paycheques and job security to scrape by as a passionate charity worker or small entrepreneur who pursues noble goals.

    Guess where offering people those two choices, and only those two choices, will get us as a society?

    We’ll have powerful, well-funded organizations like corporations and governments full of passionless drones who punch the clock, collect their pay, and avoid investing any drive or initiative into their work. And we’ll have a whole other sector of overworked, underpaid, under-resourced, passionate people in various stages of burnout trying to make a difference with little success because all the power lies largely in the hands of the well-funded, bloodless, drone-filled corporate and governmental organizations.

    Not a pretty picture. Which is why we need to re-frame this choice. It’s not about the stable job vs. the chance to make a difference. It’s about taking our determination to make a difference into every corner of society and economy, and sticking to our guns even when it gets difficult and there’s no map to follow.

    We need do gooders everywhere.

  • dirt
    Comments 1

    When Issues Hit Home: The Man In the Dirt

    Recently, I was walking my baby home from downtown Edmonton on a Friday afternoon. As we hit the northern edge of the business district, we saw a man coming towards us. He lurched from side to side, stumbling and disoriented. A few paces away, he fell painfully to the ground and rolled just off the pavement.

    dirt

    This is a stock photo. I didn’t snap a pic of the man in my story.

    He was filthy and clothed in rags. As I looked at him laying in a pseudo-fetal position in the dirt, semi-conscious, I couldn’t even begin to imagine all the factors and choices that led him to this point.

    The wrench of my heart going out to him as I pushed the stroller past was almost a physical sensation. I felt that age-old urge to do something. But what could I possibly offer that would make any impact in his semi-conscious state? I knew a gift of money was probably a bad idea. I had no food on me. He was relatively safe, out of the path of traffic. It was a nice day so he was in no danger from the weather. There were plenty of people around.

    I walked by, craning my head around several times to look back at him.

    The truth is, he was beyond my help. He was within 2 blocks of several shelters and the main police station. Maybe I should have called one of them to come get him. That’s been haunting me ever since. But beyond that, what?

    From what I know of the issues that could have been at play, immediate gestures don’t make much of a dent. The problems are complex and difficult. They’re rooted in cultural attitudes, economic and social structures, and other macro-systems. I’m not going to solve them with a few bucks or a free sandwich.

    None of that makes the urge to do something go away, though, does it? So what can someone like me do?

    I’ve been mulling this over in the days since, and here’s what I keep coming back to: One of the factors that prevents people from falling this far is strong communities.

    We need a strong civil society, including; responsible elected representatives; informed public policy; quality police, ambulance and fire services; strong families; etc.

    So what I can do to address the wrench I feel on seeing a wretch of a person fall into the gutter in my community is:

    1. meet my neighbours;
    2. reach out to friends and family who might be going through a rough time;
    3. develop a relationship with the kids I know and make sure they know I’m available if they need anything;
    4. vote;
    5. show up to public consultations;
    6. contact my elected representatives to let them know what I’m concerned about and how I’d like them to conduct themselves.

    These things may not offer the instant gratification of handing a dollar to a man on the street, but I truly believe that they are where my greatest power lies.

  • Darkness2
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    Learning to Live With Darkness, Part 2

    Last week, we looked at how the idea that we can eliminate all suffering puts us at risk of trying to take people’s freedom away.

    Another piece of it is that there is no light without darkness. Pain and suffering have value. We learn from them. We are motivated by them. They are the consequences to our choices and actions. Even if it were possible to eliminate them, what would we be left with? A candy-floss, superficial daydream of a world?

    Is it hard to watch someone going through rough times? Of course. Does that necessarily mean we should always rescue them; make it go away? I don’t think so.

    Consider this: Do you know any children who are never allowed to feel pain, who are caught before they can fall, who are given everything they want to prevent their becoming upset, who almost never experience the consequences of their own actions? Darkness2

    They’re not much fun to be around, are they?

    Even when people do want to be helped, that doesn’t always make it the right thing to do. The big risk here is twofold:

    1. we risk creating a culture of dependency, where people don’t know how to help themselves.
    2. we risk robbing people of challenging experiences that will benefit them in the long run

    That’s why, as a society, it’s important that we grow up on this one. We need to invest our resources into reducing pain and suffering where it’s going to deliver the greatest return, and where it doesn’t rob anyone of their inherent right to be their own worst enemy. We need to get used to living with a certain amount of healthy darkness, as opposed to fooling ourselves into thinking that a universe of sweetness and light is our ultimate goal.

    Is it always easy to tell the difference between healthy darkness and darkness that should be eliminated? No. Is it worth asking the question before taking action? Every time.

  • Darkness
    Comments 1

    Learning to Live With Darkness, Part 1

    We’re at a weird place in our cultural evolution. We seem to think not only that unpleasantness is undesirable, but that we have the power to get rid of it.

    We see it in campaign names like “Make Poverty History” and “The Plan to End Homelessness”. We talk about no one having to suffer or go without.

    Reducing the amount of suffering and injustice in the world is, after all, what it’s all about. But eliminating it? Aren’t we being a little naive here?Darkness

    Beyond naivete, I think this idea that we can/should blot out everything we consider ‘bad’ is quite dangerous.

    It makes it too easy to forget about the agency of whoever’s on the receiving end of our problem-eradicating work.

    For example: my husband works in health care and sometimes, someone simply says no to the treatment he knows will help them. In the problem-eradication model, he would force them. Chase them down. Harass them until they break down and agree to do what, in his opinion, is best.

    How likely is this to work, in the long term? Is it even possible to help someone in spite of themselves? Is it the best use of scarce resources?

    If you were a patient who wasn’t interested in the help being offered, how would you feel about this approach? If you were another patient eagerly waiting for help, how would you feel about the amount of time and energy your would-be caregivers poured into the uninterested one?

    Might we see the uninterested patient, years down the road, more incapacitated or in more pain than they had to be? Sure, maybe. But without the possibility of that happening, how can we ever have free will?

    Freedom of choice inevitably comes with the responsibility to live with the consequences. Unless we’re prepared to eliminate freedom of choice, we need to get a bit more comfortable with watching people live with the fallout from their own actions.

  • Comments 2

    The Hardest Part of Not Giving to Charity

    This year, I’ve written quite a lot about how the role of charity has gotten out of hand (see the Savvy Giving category).

    For the most part, I find people agree with me. This was a bit of a surprise, but I am glad to see rising awareness that charity is not a magic bullet, that we all need to be doing and being things in our day to day lives and choices to impact issues; that our work and lifestyle choices are important in creating a better world.Beggar

    In a world where we have limited time and resources and they can be put to better use elsewhere, something’s gotta go. That ‘something’ should probably be formal charitable giving, especially when you consider how much time and effort are required to do it properly. No more fun runs, no more bottle drives, no more skip-a-thons, no more annual contributions.

    And yet… it’s not quite that easy, is it?

    It’s almost like a habit. It’s not easy to walk away. It feels sort of mean, like we’re being ungenerous. And of course, the whole system is set up to make us feel that way. Especially the fundraisers who will almost certainly be in touch when they notice we’ve stopped giving.

    I understand this feeling. I am, at this point in my life, not giving a dime to any charity, ever. Even though at one point in my life, I was always up for any campaign or volunteer activity and wanted nothing more than to work in the charitable sector professionally. And I feel the pressure, the guilt. I get it.

    But I still think it’s more important to first max out the greater power we each have for creating an impact in our work, lifestyles, and relationships. I, for one, will continue to resist the pull of charitable fundraising until I honestly think I’ve done everything I can through my day-to-day core activities.

    As a wise person once said,

    “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

  • Comments 0

    How Are You Different?

    Have you ever told someone what you’re working on, and gotten a reaction along the lines of, “isn’t someone else already doing that?”

    It happened to me last week after delivering a speech about my big event, The Good Hundred Experiment, to a business audience. Someone took me aside afterwards to say,

    “You say you want more participants from business and government. But a lot of them have workshop fatigue. They get invited to tons of these things. How are you different?”

    That’s been playing on a loop in my head ever since. How ARE we different? We want to be doing something that’s genuinely needed, not duplicate efforts. But there’s almost no such thing as a new idea. Should we abandon our approach to doing good just because it resembles what someone else is doing?

    In our particular case, I think the key differences are:Unique

    1. Personalization. The event is about each attendee’s own work. There is no third-party or educational goal, like, “Collaborating on a strategy for public innovation”. We meet people where they are and work to provide them with whatever they need, right now.
    2. Quality and accountability. Not all professionally facilitated workshops/interactive events are created equal. I suspect that when someone has “workshop fatigue”, they’ve been to a few too many of the poorly executed ones. We never stop tinkering with our program and strategies, never say no to an offer of feedback, and ask participants directly to tell us how to improve, every time. We want to be the best, and to keep getting better.

    At last weekend’s event, a woman who goes to a lot of workshops and events all across the country stood up and said that yes, we are different; we stand out. So I feel better about that now.

    But I still think it’s worth asking the question – how are you different? Are you offering something that’s really needed? Are you doing it in a way that’s different and/or somehow better than anyone else? Are you offering it to a community that doesn’t have access to anything like it?

    Duplication is not good. And if your offering isn’t new or different, you might have trouble attracting participants/customers/donors/etc. But asking about it doesn’t have to lead to packing it in. It’s just a valuable exercise in making sure you’re truly filling a need.

  • Comments 0

    An Ounce of Prevention with Fringe Benefits

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? We know this. But it’s a tough sell. We all know how hard it is to make time for prevention when there are so many other more urgent (or more interesting) things to do.

    Nowhere is this a bigger problem than in the world of disaster preparedness and relief. Despite overwhelming evidence that preparedness saves more lives than anything that can be done after a disaster, it’s tough to get the support and funding needed to do it well.

    How do we change this? As I prepare for my next webcast on this very topic, I think part of the key is to see this work in a new light. According to one of my expert guests, preparedness has traditionally been seen as an expense.

    What it really is is insurance. It’s hard to get people (and by extension, governments) to value something that, if the worst never happens, is basically invisible. But the insurance industry has managed it and is doing very well from the risks involved with health crises, accidental death, car crashes, and other horrible things that may or may not happen.

    So why not this area, too?

    Beyond that, one of the most effective tools in disaster preparedness is the exercise (basically, a mock disaster). It can be as simple as a group of people sitting around a table verbally playing the roles they would play if emergency did strike. Or it can be as elaborate as a full-scale mockup with actors playing casualties and placing calls to responders as distraught spouses and outraged journalists.

    Exercises are actually a lot of fun. What better opportunity to get people from industry, government, and community organizations engaging with each other? What better chance for an organization to display its commitment to community safety and the environment? Anyone looking for ways to engage their employees with the broader community need look no further.

    If you look at it this way, disaster preparedness work is more than insurance. It’s a community engagement opportunity. Even if the worst never does happen, preparedness efforts aren’t wasted. Two for the price of one! A bargain.

    If you’d like to hear a more educated perspective on this rich field, please do sign up to join us on the free webcast next week. Here’s the link.

  • Comments 0

    Don’t Be Fooled By The Non Profit Label

    You know what really gets my goat? When people explain what their social good organizations do by saying they’re a “non-profit”.

    Goat

    You’re a what?

    “Non profit” is nothing but a legal status.

    It’s a management decision, and it does impact how the organization operates, but no more than a long list of others; an idea I explored in detail in a previous post. At no point in the process of becoming a non profit does an organization have to prove it’s doing anything worthwhile. No non profit is ever audited for social worthiness.

    And yet – people often put it front and centre when describing their organizations as if  it carries some moral weight, as if the fact of being non profit makes them virtuous.

    It doesn’t, or; it shouldn’t. All it really means is they are legally prohibited to deliver profit to a third party.

    There is an argument to be made about whether the profit motive is a good idea for any organization, or for society as a whole (also explored in a previous post). But as long as it’s a tool of our economy, why should we give anyone goodness points for not using it?

    Even if we should, why would it be the first thing out of a person’s mouth when explaining that organization’s work? If an organization is saving children or helping people out of poverty or curing disease, shouldn’t those things take the lead, as opposed to a fairly obscure management choice?

    Describing a social good organization’s work with its legal status makes about as much sense as describing it primarily as an organization that leases its office space or buys its office supplies in bulk.

    Using ‘non profit’ to describe what an organization does is also a bit of a cheap trick. It’s a shortcut to appear virtuous without really saying anything about the work or the goals.

    The organization may be doing good work, in fact. But it hasn’t developed the ability to articulate that. Which basically boils down to a missed opportunity to communicate, and fuels the unhealthy “don’t ask questions, just trust us and hand over your support” dynamic that exists in so much of the social sector.

    So the next time you hear “we’re a non profit”, treat it as the smokescreen it is. If you’re interested, ask more questions. If you’re not, walk away. But don’t be fooled.

  • Comments 3

    Being a Conscious Carnivore: The Do Gooder Lifestyle

    Ever since I read Fast Food Nation, I haven’t been able to stomach commercial ground beef. At first it was because of the book’s graphic accounts of disgusting conditions in most feedlots and slaughterhouses.

    I wasn’t ready to swear off meat altogether but I figured that ground beef was a good place to start because it could almost literally have anything in it, as far as I could tell from looking. After being off the commercial stuff for a while, I discovered that if I did try it again, I became queasy. This convinced me to go local and organic for good.

    This proved challenging for my family and friends, as they often prepare dishes that use ground beef to feed a crowd: chili, burgers, lasagne, etc. But I brought my own alternatives, encouraged my mom to find a butcher in her area who carried organic meat, and muddled through.

    About 6 months ago, I came across the Sangudo Custom Meat Packers booth at a farmers’ market and decided to take things a bit further.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Turns out, they offer local, organically raised, ethically slaughtered half pigs and quarter cows for sale. That was a bit much for my two-adult-one-baby household, so we approached my parents about splitting it. After much calculating and some research to determine if the price-per-pound compares to the supermarket meat (it does), we went ahead.

    About a month later, my dad drove out to Sangudo for our pork and beef. We’ve had a good stock of it in the freezer ever since, and are only now starting to reach the bottom of the pile.

    With few exceptions, the quality has been outstanding. It’s made life easier, too: I no longer have to make special trips to the organic butcher shops or farmers’ markets for my ground beef – I just have a bunch, in my freezer. And so does my mom.

    An unexpected advantage was that, along with the familiar cuts (steaks, chops, hams, roasts, ground beef), there was a variety of things I didn’t know how to use, so I Googled them. I learned to make pulled pork from ham hocks, cook minute steaks, and make my own sauerkraut for a ground pork recipe that turned out to be delicious.

    Like many do gooder lifestyle choices, buying ethical meat from local producers turned out to be easier than buying it the ‘old’ way, from the supermarket. The difficulty lies in adjusting to the new way. In this case: finding a supplier, researching cost, learning about different cuts, and sorting out the logistics. Now that we’ve got that down, I expect we will rarely buy supermarket meat again.

  • Comments 0

    Bargain Spring Fashions: The Do Gooder Lifestyle

    This post is part of an ongoing series: The Do Gooder Lifestyle

    Back when I wrote my first piece about clothes, I said buying used clothing was one of the best ways to be a conscious consumer, but the truth is, I was skeptical.

    Thrift

    Here be guilt-free treasure

    I’m not much of a shopper. Even in a store targeted specifically to my needs and laid out by colour and style, I have a hard time. So the idea of sifting through piles of fairly disorganized junk looking for gems that fit and look good seemed pretty unrealistic.

    BUT THEN: I discovered Nicole Rowan. Nicole is a stylist who specializes in thrift store shopping. Having worked with stellar stylist Shirley Borelli in the past, I knew that it could be a big help in getting me into outfits appropriate to my goals. Although Nicole’s personal style is not the same as mine, she worked really hard to get to know what I liked and needed.

    In one whirlwind afternoon at what she calls “VV Boutique” (Value Village), Nicole helped me get 19 new-to-me pieces for $150, including jeans and dresses. The savings more than covered her modest hourly fee. She later blogged about it, here.

    So: I got a whole new wardrobe PLUS the advice and assistance of a professional stylist, all without the consumer guilt I would have felt buying new, and all for less than it would have cost me for one good quality pair of jeans and one nice dress bought new?

    Yes, please! I am totally hooked. I recently needed a few new pieces for spring so I enlisted a fashion-savvy friend who likes to shop, popped the baby in the stroller, and off we went to our local VV Boutique. This time, I got 10 new-to-me pieces for $50.

    I may never buy new clothes again. An activity that used to make me part of a problem has been transformed into something that makes me part of the solution. And does it ever feel good!

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