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Towards a more generous life

16 May 2012 | Mike Dickson

Be the change you want to see

For the last thirty years, most of us in the western world have been having a party. We have been encouraged to be self-sufficient and independent. To become successful, rich, search for true happiness, and to find the 'real us'. To buy our own homes, invest in shares, become entrepreneurs, travel the world and borrow as much money as we liked to consume - 'things' that upon cool, calm reflection we didn't really need. Or use. We have been cleverly and ruthlessly advertised and marketed at to buy a lifestyle rather than get a real life. We thought we had it all.

But now, the world is not in a happy state. And neither are most of us. We are nationally, corporately and individually bust. Owing unimaginable trillions that would make our own more prudent forebears groan with disbelief, and which will take our children decades to repay.

I think it is time to change the world. For every one of us to wake up and decide that we, ourselves, can tackle the challenges our society faces, as individuals and in groups. We all can become leaders and authors of change, by living more generous, proactive lives, by inspiring each other and by setting an example to our friends and to our children.

We know in our hearts that it is good to be generous. Each one of us feels far better about ourselves when we can help other people, and we are touched when others are generous to us. A generous life is a life well lived, and a happier life. The challenge is to find a way to lead a more generous life in the real world.

As individuals we cannot hope to address the problems we and the world face - socially, economically and environmentally - but collectively we can. It is time to be more generous and build a more generous world; a world not of you or me, but you and me. To recapture some of the practical simplicities of the ways that we use to live, when we were dependent on each other. To set out and create a world, rather than acquire one. To take the first step towards a more generous life.

Generosity isn't about money, though giving money to a good cause or even a person - quietly and without ceremony - can be an important element in a life worth living. Giving of ourselves is the greatest act of generosity.

A generous life involves putting more effort into looking after each other; becoming actively involved with our own communities; speaking up for the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our society and becoming their champions and ambassadors; paying attention to the plight of the world's poorest people and learning how we can help them; actively campaigning to save our planet; amassing fewer things that we don't really need and withdrawing our financial support from those who are destroying our world for purely commercial gain. It involves acknowledging that we do care about the destruction of the rainforest, about preserving fish in the sea and tigers on land for our children to wonder at when they are grown up. And that we value these things more than fabric conditioner.

Our society is overflowing with people whose everyday lives do indeed involve an enormous amount of love and care for others. Who do their jobs, but who are also generous with their lives. We need to cheer these people on, celebrate their work and create a mood that encourages them to emerge and to thrive. In this book you will read of extraordinary people who work tirelessly, seven days a week, to help others. But there are many more - teachers, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, charity workers, firemen, social workers - whose daily work includes a generosity of spirit that we should admire and applaud.

We want our children to be taught well and inspired to learn. If we are ill, our lives might depend on a student nurse or a junior doctor on their fourth night shift. A group of brave firemen might save our home, a Macmillan nurse care for our mother. They are the people upon whom we truly rely. And yet it is one of the sad ironies of modern life that people often seem to be paid in inverse proportion to their value to society.

But there is hope. We live in an exciting and optimistic age where ideas, campaigns and movements can spread to millions of people instantly through the internet and social networking sites. All of us as individuals, families, schools, businesses, politicians, journalists, faith leaders - young or old - can use these outlets to spread the power of generosity and of living more generous lives; to encourage each other, tell stories from different countries and cultures, recount inspirational tales of generosity that we have experienced, and report examples of the generous acts we have done.

Because we are better than we have been, and because we can.

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This article is taken from Mike Dickson's book Please Take One. Mike is founder of the Rainmaker Foundation and charity Whizz-Kidz, and advises companies and individuals on charitable giving.

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