(Image from lavnatalia on Pixabay)
Tis the season to spend tonnes of money on things that people will forget about by the time the New Year clocks in. Cynical much? Not really. I am a present giver, to a certain extent, and whilst I love the idea of giving, I think that we have to think more about what we give and how. Growing up in my family we go to ask Santa for one big present and we would get a stocking chock full of little presents. And that was it. The one big present would have to be something that we really really wanted and the little presents were normally things that meant something. Nothing beat the excitement of going to sleep on Christmas eve and waking up the next morning to spy a fat stocking hanging on my bedroom door.
Also, nothing beat the family coming round for Christmas lunch, kids running around, cold ham and salads, trifle and Christmas pudding, jumping in the pool, playing Christmas carols at top volume, and the laughter, of the laughter around the Christmas table. Do I remember all of the presents that I received?.... nope. Do I remember special moments with family members? Yes. And these special moments are even more precious now that some of those people are no longer with us.
Relationships and experiences matter more than the material, the object, the disposable. I did a gratitude survey on Twitter this week asking what people were grateful for this year, the choices were: experiences, material, relationships, and career. 43 people voted, 73% said they were most grateful for relationships, 20% said experiences, 5% said careers, and 2% said material. I was only slightly surprised. I thought it would be closer between relationships and experiences, but the people have spoken (no I am not chucking a Theresa May), or rather the very small sample size have spoken.
So, I want you to think of celebrating Christmas from a less material perspective, and approach it from how can I cultivate good, positive relationships this season. How can I act and behave that will nurture the relationships I have? But also think, instead of buying a gift for someone can I perhaps provide them with an experience instead.
That new jacket, dvd, or phone won't help you thrive and flourish (though of course, it is nice to get new things, but the point is....), but relationships and experiences will have a larger impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
Think outside the box this season - especially if you have left your Christmas shopping to the last minute and you don't want to have to face the crowds of last-minute shoppers this weekend. Here are a few ideas:
1. Write a Thank You letter (or Christmas Card) to someone you love as a present. Make sure you write about something that they have done or said that you are grateful for. Be effusive, be descriptive, and be open hearted.
2. Think of a person you love and what their character strengths are, i.e., brave, creative, hopeful, and then buy or create an experience that fits with that character strength. If they are creative people perhaps they would love some vouchers to life drawing classes, if they are curious perhaps they would love a visit to a museum, if they are humorous perhaps they would love a homemade book of jokes (google for jokes on the internet, type them up, and present them to the person you love).
3. If you have a bit more money to spend, look at going to a company like This Pampered Life where they can create a package, that suits many budgets, of experiences for the recipient.
Merry Christmas everyone!
"Rather than knowing more, I think I've got more open-minded."
- David Bailey
I have been quiet on here this month, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been exploring the wide spaces of openness and open-mindedness, and understanding what this means and getting to know intimately the personal stops and gaps in my own path of being open and accepting.
This month has been busy. Busy, but inspiring - on a global level and on an inner landscape level, specifically when it comes to being open-minded. What I have discovered is that being open-minded is being conscious of everything, it is being aware at the wider scope of difference and also the minutia of the self, and multitude of selves that we cover and peel back and cover again.
Who are you?
Who am I?
These are the two "real" questions that have popped up this month.
These questions stem from the openness I have actively cultivated. And it has been tough, and so where do I start, how do I catch you up on what has touched me, blown my mind, and ultimately created a desire to open even further to that which is life and life-giving.
I have been on two trips this month - Canada and Ireland.
Was a long felt for visit to a friend who was there for me at one of the toughest times of my life. T is so important to me, a kind of sister-figure that is here to challenge me, that is a reflection of the parts of me that I want to develop and grow. Spending time with T was like communing with the open-minded angels on a deep, fun, joyful, intense level.
Canada was also attending the IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) Annual Congress. The biggest illustration of open-mindedness, on an intellectual and global scale, made itself apparent here.... THE POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY COMMUNITY IS QUESTIONING ITSELF!
What became apparent and openly discussed was the acknowledgement that not all positive psychology interventions that appear to work work for all people. What became apparent was that science is not perfect and should not be treated as perfect, and yet it should be respected, because of its ability to question itself and evolve, question itself and evolve, question itself and evolve.
(perhaps us humans should take note - question ourselves and evolve)
(the ultimate in being open)
Was the return to a deep spiritual relationship with music. U2 have been a band for me that evokes such strong emotions and feelings, ever since I was a child. These strong emotions burst into feelings of the sublime and joyful, wild abandon, to the physical manifestations of goose-bumps and tears.
(I know not all love U2, and even find them pretentious.... so I've been told *wink wink* Each to their own I say, if you don't like them that is fine with me, there are musicians much loved in the world that I am not a particular fan of, and guess what, that is fine as well! Remember open-mindedness includes being accepting of others likes and dislikes)
To see U2 perform the Joshua Tree album in all it's glory, to play their classics, their iconic songs of the 80's and 90's, it bought me back to being fearless. Why fearless? Here's a story:
Years ago I went on exchange from my university in Australia to Leeds Uni in the UK. I had a hell of a trip; I was supposed to arrive in Leeds before lunchtime on that particular day, my flight into Heathrow was on time, but there were gale force winds, and my quick nip of a flight from Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford airport was cancelled. I remember feeling sick, that familiar feeling of tingling liquid ice seeping through my veins tickled my consciousness. British airways told me they had organised a bus to take the passengers to Leeds. What should have been a half an hour flight ended up being a 10 hour bus trip filled with nightmares. We trundled into Leeds/Bradford Airport at 11pm, I had no idea where the security office for the university was (if you arrived to the uni late that is where you could find your key and instructions on how to get to your accommodation), I had to trust the taxi driver knew where to go. He did.
I got to the security office, on the verge of tears, exhausted, nervous, scared, not knowing what to expect. The security guy must have looked at this messy, smelly, sad looking body of mine and said "I have your key, if you can wait a few minutes for my colleague he can give you a lift to your house." By the time the other security guy got me into my house the other students were already in bed. I stumbled, almost blind with a strange feeling of grief and sadness, into my allocated bedroom, dropped my bags, and foolishly used my mobile to call Australia. The moment I heard mum's voice I burst into tears, as quietly as possible, I didn't want to disturb anyone who might be sleeping - absurd considering there were walls and hallways separating us. I sobbed into the phone I clutched tightly in my left hand "Mum I just want to come home, why did I decide to do this?" I could hear the worry in mum, I didn't mean to worry her, but she was my mum and it was inevitable.
Mum's solution to getting through the night: "Get out your Mp3 and put your music on. Listen to some U2, they always make you feel better."
When mum died two and a half years ago I couldn't listen to U2. It took me well over a year to be able to listen to most of their songs; there are some songs I still can't listen too without descending into a fit of grief and tears.
My grief is still there, but going to the concert last weekend? That sense of the awe and the sublime is back. That inspiration is back. That connection to the meaning of their songs, on a wider, global and universal scale is back.
I am open to the music again.
I am filled to the brim with openness.
(image from pixabay)
It was the end of my first year of uni (doing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree) and I was nervously awaiting for my final results to pop up on the computer screen. I alternated between looking everywhere but the screen, and giving furtive little glances to see if the page had loaded yet (remember this was before high speed internet and just after we had graduated from dial-up). Inevitably the page did load and there were my results: passes and merits.
Not bad, not bad at all, especially from a kid who had failed to get the marks to get into uni straight out of high school, but was determined enough to make a go of it as a "mature student," i.e., in Australia you are considered a "mature student" at 21.
Yet, my little competitive heart clenched.... it was good, but not good enough. I wanted to be better, much much better.
And so I hit hard the obstacle that stops many of us from improving ourselves - was I prepared to accept (with an open-mind) and take on board the constructive criticism from my lecturers? Was I willing to step over my ego, embrace some humility, and step with open arms into the abyss of contradiction and argument in the hopes that my marks would improve by that time next year?
When we want to improve in life, whether that be our academic results, labour skill, hobbies, or even character strengths, we have to actually embrace the notion of being open to constructive criticism from those that are further down the path then us. We have to accept our imperfections, our mistakes, and we have to acknowledge that others may see what we don't see, that they may know well an easier path to take, and that in having made similar mistakes to ourselves, know how to rectify and improve themselves.
If we want to be truly open minded we have to accept that this will include constructive criticism - in fact we can't avoid it whether we are open or not - but your level of openness will predict how well you take the criticism and whether you will use it for good, or discard it for the status quo.
Constructive criticism generally comes from a place of support and encouragement - why would you be closed to that?
In my second year of uni I voraciously read the side note commentary written in the margins of my essays and art journals. I noted each approval and each criticism, most especially I noted suggestions for improvements. As the year went on my marks started to improve, until I finally found myself at that end of year again, nervously waiting for the screen with my marks to load.
Results: merits and distinctions.
Liz: 1, Ego: 0.
Being open to constructive criticism works.
(image from pixabay)
Another month and a new trait to explore.
This month it is open-mindedness that I am exploring... this does not mean that I will be open-minded enough to do something that I do not want to do/think/say, but it does mean that I am going to try and be more open to new and interesting ideas, to explore activities and concepts outside of my usual, and not reject activities/concepts/stories at the outset. I think this month is going to involve a lot of mindfulness and reflection... it should be interesting.
Since writing the above I have got my research project for uni started and I have popped on a plane to Canada. I am now in Toronto staying with my wonderful friend and soul sister Tara and I am loving it. I have been here almost two days now and I have been challenged, opened, and revealed, and come to the realisation that I am more open-minded and accepting then I give myself credit for.
And standing in this openness I am stronger, in my own sense of what is right for me, and finding beauty in what is right for other people. It is seeing other people so comfortable in their skin, in their differences, in their acceptance of themselves and others, that has made me reflect on my own acceptance of myself and what this means for me now and in the future. In the space of two days I have come to question what is it that I want in life, and be open to confronting blocks I know I haven't even faced or acknowledged before, and being open to facing what it is that is causing these blocks.
Travel is transformational, and I think this is why I love it so much. To be exposed .... to new cultures and ideas, but to .... be exposed, in the sense that your self is exposed beyond measure, imagination, and want. To crack that shell of what is closed, to open to life as it is right here and right now, and to not be afraid; to step boldly forward trusting in your own self and judgement, knowing that what is laid out before you is for you to decide.
This should be interesting....
(image from pixabay)
In my previous blog post - which you can access HERE - I wrote about Prometheus and the gifts of fire and blind optimism that he gifted the cave dwellers. Metaphorically, these were actually gifts of knowledge (fire) and hope (blind optimism), gifts that would enable the cave dwellers to climb out of the cave of ignorance and into the light of enlightenment and happiness.....
This got me thinking about the people in my life who embody Prometheus, and to be honest I have a few friends who embody these virtues, but (not) to my astonishment I realised that I know a HUGE group of people that are Prometheus - teachers.
For is it not in a school where the philosophical aim is to inspire knowledge and hope?
The teacher in the classroom is a beacon, a rebel, a light bringer; a teacher is the creator of humankind, with the responsibility to give life, to enable a flourishing in all life areas in the children they work with.... they invest in the next generation like no other, they really are the heroes of mankind's story. It doesn't matter the guise of the teacher, be they academic, practical/labour skilled, or philosophical, they all have a place in the giving of knowledge and hope, and for this they should be recognised.
Therefore, I believe that the teacher is the ultimate philanthropist, they give, heroically, stoically, and wish passion.
Next teacher you see/meet say thank you, say I appreciate your hard work, say I see the light you give to children, to adults, to your peers.... and then say thank you again.
(image from Maicar)
Philanthropy is often thought of as being about giving money, whether there is a moral element to this or not doesn't seem to matter - though most philanthropy is done from a standpoint of some interest or passion in a cause or idea. It is the idea of philanthropy as a character trait (or virtue) that I aim to question here, and this question can seemingly be answered by really grounding down to the root of the word itself - phil-anthropy.
The word itself is Greek in origin, stemming from Prometheus Bound, a Greek play from around 400BC. Prometheus Bound tells the tale of "the primitive creatures who are to become human live first a fearful life, in utter darkness in caves. Zeus, the powerful and at times tyrannical King of the Gods, decides these creatures have no value and set about to destroy them. Prometheus, however, possessing something referred to as 'philanthropos tropos' or a humanity loving character decides to defend the defenceless."
Prometheus is the first philanthropist - in the true sense of the word.
Phil - to love, anthropos - mankind
(to love mankind)
(to cherish humans)
(to love thy neighbour)
(to accept others without judgement)
(to care for the best and worst of humanity)
(to step above the ego and show compassion for all humans)
In the play the first two gifts that Prometheus gives to the cave dwellers is fire (knowledge) and blind optimism (hope). The philanthropic act is beyond the simple concept of giving money, it is the giving of character and virtue to humans who, without said virtues, were mired in a world of fear and hate. These two philanthropic gifts were more powerful, more freeing, than money could ever be - for with knowledge and hope any human can bravely stride forward into life, living a fully human existence; one can thrive.
Is philanthropy a virtue?
Yes, as long as we live it within which the vein it is intended, (do not take example from a certain US President....), and we look beyond just the giving of money as a philanthropic act, but consider how else we can love our fellow humans, philanthropy will always be a virtue.
(image from pixabay)
"To give away money is an easy matter and in any man's power. But to decide to whom to give it and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man's power nor an easy matter." - Aristotle
To understand the truest nature of philanthropy is to understand the morality behind the purpose of giving money (or the giving of anything really). As Aristotle so eloquently put in the quote above, anyone can give money away, but what matters with this is where and to whom is the money going. It is the moral purpose behind the giving that counts beyond the actual giving of money.
Paul Schervish writes about us all having a "Moral Biography" - "Moral biography refers to the way all individuals conscientiously combine two elements in daily life: personal capacity and moral compass." In other words, we have to take our character and our capacity for giving (in a physical sense) to come to a moral decision about how, when, where we give what we can give. It is about taking the wealth that we acquire (to whatever level that wealth stands) and using it for good; by moving beyond just taking care of the basics, giving provides a mutual wellbeing, to the giver and the receiver.
I believe that most people have a moral biography when it comes to wealth and that they are more generous than they realise. You just have to look at the responses to the multitude of tragedies that have happened, not just in the UK, but around the world. When people recognise that others are in hardship, most people will dig as deep as they can to help, assist, and support. Of course, this doesn't mean that we can support all causes and people - a moral biography is made up of your character and your means, meaning you can only support as far as, you are still able to support yourself. This means that you have to undertake a practice of giving (or philanthropy) that is based on where you heart is directed, resting assured that other causes are supported by those whose heart lead them in that direction.
This philanthropy month I have followed my character, my moral virtues, and my heart, bound within the means in which I live, and I have given to a friend, a tragedy, and a charity. Where does your moral biography direct you?
(image from pixabay)
As I sit here this morning, cup of green tea in hand, my uni readings opened and notepad ready to make notes, a random though popped into my head - is philanthropy a cycle?
When I think about money and giving and caring for those you love, I consider the lengths that we would go to to support those that mean a lot to us, but also the lengths that they go to to return the favour. There seems to me to be a back and forth kind of approach to personal philanthropy within family and friend groups. This mutual support is a beautiful thing; that want for the other to be okay, so be safe, to be cared for. I must say that money exchanged is generally with the mutual proviso that it will be repaid.... so unlike a true philanthropic gesture, where the money is given with no expectation of being returned (I only wish I could be this generous at the moment), this truly is, what I now call, a philanthropy cycle.
My current philanthropic cycle is quite mixed, I won't talk about specifics here, but there have been loans of financial support, for me, and my giving support to others, especially over the past two years.
To my peeps who are in the know I thank you for your support/I love being able to support you and help.
A philanthropy cycle, and philanthropy in general, I believe, can be beyond the scope of money. Being conscious of this means that you can look for those opportunities that are present everyday, to give. To give in simple and/or big ways.
One way is to offer to pay for dinner for a friend.
Another is to buy a little "just because" gift for a friend (maybe it is something you have noticed they need, but can't afford to get it themselves...)
A perfect way is to support a friend's business, whether via money or marketing support....
These three things I have done on a conscious level, to understand that this form of philanthropy is some way that I can make a difference, in the best possible way.
Do you have any thoughts about philanthropy as a cycle? Let me know below.
(image from pixabay)
My head felt enclosed, tight, small, each chink plugged with spirit gum.
Outside felt just out of reach, like a tenuous grasp, lingering;
each bird that sang, tutted, and tweeted, it was as though they were there
right in my ear, whilst also elusively beyond my reckoning.
Nostalgia hit like the downfall of rain that bashed against the flagstones in the courtyard.
And still my breath took me with it, took me through the melancholy, through
The other side was like a wave of happiness, sunlight glinting through the apple tree leaves.
Green has such a special note to it.
Meditation had alluded me the past few months, like a longing that I wanted, but not enough. The desire was there, but the motivation was lacking.
8 Days I am back in the game, and I can feel myself sink back into the familiarity of the endlessness of my "self."
(image from Pixabay)
June is all about philanthropy.
My Granddad was born and raised in Glasgow. He was born and raised in tenements, which were more often then not overcrowded with poor sanitation, and the people living there with not much hope for flourishing in life. He was about 20, working on the docks, when a gentleman approached him and other young men with an offer - move to the other side of the world, passage paid for, and work in the docks in Sydney Harbour. I cannot imagine what that opportunity must have felt like for these young men; Sydney, Australia must have felt like a bright spark of sunlight in the dreariness of a foggy and polluted Glasgow; an adventure was to be had, and my Granddad was up for it. So, with the help of a wealthy philanthropist, my Granddad moved to Australia, worked hard, met my Nan, had my Aunty and my Mum, and the rest is history, so to speak. I wouldn't be here without that philanthropist, he changed my Granddad's life, and helped to create mine.
So what is Philanthropy?
According to the Oxford dictionary it is: "The desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes."
What I want to explore this month is that "especially." Philanthropy is often seen as the generous offer of money to assist someone in terms of life improvement/wellbeing/flourishing, but can you be a philanthropist by giving in other ways?
I have given money to causes that I believe in, and we see this giving of money for causes every day - in fact one of the most moving giving of money to a cause was very recent, this Sunday just gone, when Ariana Grande raised money through her One Love Manchester concert for victims of the awful terrorist bombing at her concert a few weeks ago. In fact the concert and donation drive has raised over 9 Million pounds thus far, and shows the true generosity of people in the face of tragedy.
We can give in big ways, such as the above, but we can also give in smaller ways, and be philanthropic everyday, when we see the person struggling to find coins to pay for parking, or we offer to cover a friend's dinner if we know they needed an evening out, but couldn't afford it at that time.
In embracing philanthropy this month I aim to give, money-wise, to causes and events I believe in, but I also want to explore how I can be philanthropic beyond money, and try and understand what this means for myself and others.
(To kick-start my philanthropy month I have donated a pay-it-forward ticket to Anj Handa's "Inspiring Women Changemakers Non-Awards evening." This awards evening will showcase inspiring stories that will inspire change and collaboration as we try to make our world a better place. Consider buying a pay-it-forward ticket here - Inspiring Women Changemakers - and consider attending yourself!