• Comments 0

    Moving Past Outrage

    Judging by my Facebook news feed, people are plenty mad about stuff these days. Most recently, they’re outraged about the violence in Gaza and the depression that took Robin Williams.

    They love to proclaim how angry they are, and how unacceptable it all is. Today, someone posted a photo of a bloodied, unconscious child with the words “Can we all agree that this is not OK?” emblazoned across it in glowing letters.megaphone

    Well, yeah. We can. So what? What is anyone accomplishing by proclaiming their opposition to something as obvious killing little children? Clearly, it’s unacceptable. Obviously, most people agree. Just we people agree that there’s something wrong when one of the most beloved public figures of our time feels he has to exit this world.

    It reminds me of my experiences serving on a condo board. Everybody loves to express their outrage, at the Annual General Meeting, or in our monthly meetings, over things like people dumping broken furniture in the garbage area or letting their pets defecate in the flower beds. Then they sit back self-righteously, smug in the knowledge that they’ve done their duty by speaking out.

    But then somebody has to figure out what to do about it. Acknowledging the unacceptability of something does not automatically stop it. Unacceptable things happen for a reason. They do not simply stop when enough people get mad about them. Getting them to stop is almost always difficult and complicated. Speaking out then sitting back as if your work is done is a cop out, if you ask me.

    Getting mad can be a good first step towards changing things. But the next step is the key: what are you going to do about it? Write your elected representative? Change your consumer habits? Change the way you relate to the people around you? What?*

    If you want to share it with the world once you’ve engaged in action of that kind, it’s not a bad idea. “This is unacceptable and this is what I’m doing about it, please join me” is a lot more productive than, “This is unacceptable, get mad with me!”


    *Note: I realize that the Robin Williams suicide triggered a wave of exhortations to be more aware of mental health and depression, which is better than nothing, but still pretty weak sauce in my opinion. We need more specificity, more tangibility, and more personal accountability than the “be more aware”-type messages, especially after the first 5 or 10 people have repeated it.

  • Comments 0

    Be a Job Creator

    If you give to charity, chances are you’ve got a little extra disposable income.

    Meanwhile, there are countless small businesspeople in your community, many of them just scraping by. They lament the difficulty of attracting clientele away from the big box stores, the chains, the corporate companies who always seem to know how to make everything more convenient, cheaper, and better known.cobbler

    But often, these small businesspeople are producing products and services that, in a straight comparison of quality, easily rival the big boys. Also, they hire local people and are less likely to grind them down on salary, benefits and hours. They are your neighbours. They are risking their financial lives to bring you something they believe in.

    So why not take some of that money and support them, instead of giving it to charity?

    Do you have anything in your closet that doesn’t fit right? Take it to the nearest tailor. Are you tired of housecleaning? Take a chance on the lady down the street who runs a maid service out of her house. Are you at all curious about the ethnic deli two blocks over that makes it own sausage? Splurge on that.

    You might find a new favourite food, the household help that frees you up, or the resource that transforms your old clothes into a new wardrobe. This do-gooder strategy could end up being downright luxurious in the process.

    Believe it or not, this is how to fight poverty, urban decay, and unemployment. Hunting for the lowest price on food, clothes, and other goods and services while simultaneously lamenting the death of downtown and the disappearance of the middle class is a bit like complaining of the cold while sitting on a block of ice. In spite of that, it’s become common practice in our society. But there’s no good reason that those of us with a little extra money can’t start reversing that trend.

    So good ahead: spoil yourself, and spoil your community.

  • Comments 0

    Lifestyle vs. Work vs. Giving

    Last week, I shared The Savvy Do Gooder Way, a new framework for doing good that is manageable, effective, and rewarding.

    It includes three main activity areas: The Do Gooder Lifestyle, The Do Gooder at Work, and Savvy Giving; in that order.

    Why in that order, you might ask? Why is giving last?Jane Goodall

    It might seem especially weird in view of the conventional wisdom which teaches that giving is;

    • always a good thing;
    • necessary to being a good person;
    • the first plan of attack on any cause or issue.

    We’ve been trained to think this way for years, even centuries. By this logic, doing good through lifestyle choices and workplace activity is nice if you can manage it, but giving comes first and is best.

    But consider for a moment what the roles of these activity areas actually are.

    Charity and giving exist for when the system fails; when people’s needs can’t be met by business or government or informal networks and communities.

    Meanwhile, those very areas are the system. Whether or not it’s broken depends on how we conduct ourselves as members of it: workers, consumers, community members, and so on. The more the system fails, the more we need charity. It will always fail at least a little, because we don’t live in a perfect world, so we’ll always need at least some charity.

    But the more fail-proof we can make the system, the less we’ll need charity. Through our choices about lifestyle and work, we have that power. Why abdicate it only to turn around and shell out money and/or time to clean up the resulting mess?

    This is not to say that no one can give to charity until they perfect their lifestyle and work situations. Again, there’s no such thing as perfect. But we must at least get moving in the right direction in those areas before we think about giving.

    The fact that this flies in the face of everything that’s been drilled into us for decades makes this even more important. There has been far too much focus on formal giving for far too long, and we need to shift to a more balanced approach.

  • Comments 2

    The SDG Way to Make A Difference

    I’m in the midst of an epiphany, friends. Over the past couple of days, all my swirling thoughts about doing good have coalesced into one, unified, clear framework: The Savvy Do Gooding Way.

    It’s a general philosophy about how the whole shebang should work. It offers:

    • Reconnection with the drive to do good
    • Freedom from the pressure to “do more” or “give more”
    • Understanding of why so many of us are becoming burned out and jaded about making a difference
    • Empowerment to follow the path that makes sense for us, and only that path; guilt free
    • Freedom from the idea that doing good has to mean sacrifice
    • An approach to doing good that is manageable, effective, and rewarding

    Within the SDG Way, there are three components. In order of importance, they are:The SDG Way

    1. The Do Gooder Lifestyle
    2. The Do Gooder at Work
    3. The Savvy Giver

    Lifestyle is first because no one can avoid having impact through their lifestyle choices and we all have an obligation to try to make that impact positive. At Work is next because many of us wield our greatest power to do good as employees. employers, and/or entrepreneurs; and most of us are impacting the greater good in some way through our work. The Savvy Giver is last because giving is a completely optional approach to doing good and should only be embarked upon when we are ready to give it the time and attention it requires to be done well.

    The SDG Way and the three components are all rich areas of discussion and learning. The Way gives us the general philosophy and attitude to aid in our quest to be savvy. Each of the 3 components provides a wealth of knowledge about how to pursue them, success stories from other changemakers, and practical tips on how to get started.

    This is going to inform a lot of my work going forward. What do you think – does it make as much sense to you as it does to me?

  • 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)


    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
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    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.


    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.

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