An important and beautiful lesson to learn and to teach, the concept of sonder is a fantastic antidote to the fetishization of individual stories and personalities. Learning that every random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, is crucial to being able to identify equality of opportunity and practice a practical empathy.
Sonder is a concept that informs all the work that we do at the Just Be Nice Project. We believe it should inform yours.
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
We know, the Just Be Nice Project isn't for everyone. We don't partner with everyone and not everyone wants to partner with us. Some people and organisations don't want to do things differently, some people and organisations don't believe that it is possible to change the way they have impact to be better for them and for others. Sometimes, getting people to invest now, in a better, more efficient and sustainable future is difficult.
So who is the Just Be Nice Project for?
It’s for people who want to do good and don’t know where to start.
It’s for people who have worked hard and developed skills and resources but feel disconnected from their abilities and their ability to do good in the world.
It’s for people who are dissatisfied with the current paradigm of charity and social help, people who wonder how in a time of prosperity, such as ours, so many people go without.
It’s for people who want to improve equality of opportunity for everyone.
It’s for people who are good at things. Because people who are good at things can do more good than people who aren’t good at anything…yet.
It’s for people who aren’t sure what they are good at and they want to find out.
It’s for people who need permission to carry on their journey of being good. Sometimes people feel like they need to stop pursuing excellence because it might be seen as selfish, not knowing that their amazing capacity for impact lies on the other side of their excellence. We are here to encourage excellence and then harness it for the largest benefit. (You don’t begrudge brain surgeons for not working in soup kitchens while they study and learn for 20 years to do a surgery that virtually no one else can do, we encourage them, because at the end of it, we know we’ll need their skills.)
It’s for people who don’t simply think that they need to ‘be the change’, but think that they need to ‘be the whole change’. Teaching them that you can be a part of extraordinary impact through making very ordinary positive change… if you do it alongside others.
It’s for revolutionaries; for people, organisations and communities that believe that a world where extraordinary positive change is possible, just not by going about it they way we’ve been doing it so far.
It’s a match for us and our partners when we can take someone who is interested and make them knowledgeable, engaged and effective.
It’s a match for us and our partners when we can take someone who lacks understanding and we can teach them about disadvantage and impact through execution and engagement.
It’s a match for us and our partners when people have tried to help before and become frustrated with charitable dogma, inefficiencies, hypocrisy and its - at times - exploitative nature.
It’s a match for us and our partners when we find people who believe that equality of opportunity is not just a pipe dream, and that it’s a goal worth working towards.
People in need with cancer.
People in need facing extreme prejudice.
People in need of mixed abilities.
People in need without employment or a chance of employment.
People in need growing up in disadvantage.
People in need who are suffering economic distress.
People in need with mental health issues.
People in need without a place to live.
People in need who live overseas.
People in need who have inadequate education.
People in need who are sick.
People in need who fear for their lives.
People in need who look after people in need.
People in need with empty bellies.
People in need who have had a life of privilege and find themselves facing tough times.
People in need who have never had the privilege of a resource rich environment.
We see people in need.
Rather than fight about what cause is the most important, and argue among causes, we believe in creating an eco-system that works to help people in need.
It starts with an acknowledgement that people find themselves in need in many different ways, at many different times, for many different reasons. Rather than take the needs of any one community as more important than another, we consider the knowledge of one community about the most effective ways to help that particular community as important.
Fighting for causes too often means causes fighting against causes. We are here to fight inefficiency. We are here to fight inequality. We are here to fight for people in need.
We are not here to fight inequality with only a spreadsheet and a calculator, but we are also not here to fight inequality with only misguided good intentions and a short-lived peak in emotive interest. We are not here to do things the way that they have been done in the past, because we know that we can do better. We are here to fight alongside people who believe that we can do better. We are here to fight alongside people who are tired of seeing wasted money, time and good intentions.
We are here to fight for those in need.
We would love you to join that fight.
The notion of the feckless poor is a common narrative among conservatives the world over. The persistent insinuation is that people are poor or 'under-performing' because of a lack of morals. Poor because they don’t work hard. ‘There is opportunity everywhere’ the conservatives say, you simply have to take ownership of your life and pursue it, if you don't, there is no one to blame but yourself.
This week, after a series of circumstances and events that one could not describe as anything but farcical, dishonest and lacking character, Scott Morrison was installed as leader of the Liberal party and Prime Minister of Australia.
Among the values espoused in his first press conference, the common call to arms for conservatives of, ‘if you have a go, you’ll get a go’ featured.
If you have a go.
The reality is, in action, there are plenty of people who ‘have a go’ and don’t ‘get a go’ in this country. The asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus Island, having a go, seeking asylum, as is their right. Is undertaking a treacherous journey to protect your life and that of your family not really having a go?
People on the NDIS, leaving about half of the people with disabilities worse off than they were under previous schemes, despite the government spending twice as much. Are these people not having enough of a go?
The 2.9 million Australians that live below the poverty line, including the 36% of them who rely on wages as their main source of income, are they not having a go? Should they simply, as Malcolm Turnbull put it “…seek to earn more”?
Is the renewable energy sector, with it’s huge strides towards creating cheaper power than fossil fuel sources by 2020 not really having a go?
Are students in under-performing schools not having a go? Hamstrung by funding cuts and a teaching profession that treats teachers so poorly that 50% of teachers leave the vocation within a few years of starting, are we sure that these students not having a go?
We need to beware of claims of equality that aren’t matched by the relevant social and legislative supports -
…in societies which claim to recognize individuals only as equals in right, the educational system and it’s modern nobility only contribute to disguise and legitimise in a more subtle way the arbitrariness of the distribution of power and privileges which perpetuates itself through the socially uneven allocation of school titles and degrees. – Pierre Bourdieu & Jean-Claude Passeron.
If we are really serious about giving everyone a go, then we must be serious about improving equality of opportunity for everyone. Not demanding contributions upfront from the most vulnerable, but making it our job to help them get to a place where they are able to contribute.
Regardless of our ability or circumstances, we are here to make a contribution, rather than take one; that in order to you to do better, you don't think someone else has to do worse – Scott Morrison
The real test of the government will be to see how serious they are about building an environment that does, in fact, foster growth and opportunity for all, and not simply a chosen few. We will be watching closely.
What does it mean to strive for equality of opportunity? It is certainly not a simple goal, it is not one that is going to be achieved in a short period of time. That's ok, we are here for the long term.
Equality of opportunity is multi-faceted. It is a combination of removing barriers to opportunity and creating new ones in the space left behind. We believe it is the goal most worth pursuing, the overarching goal to which all other attempts at improving the lives of others lead.
Equality of opportunity is not about ensuring everyone ends up with the same outcome, but ensuring that we remove the handicaps that people neither deserve nor earn but are often stuck with. Handicaps that my appear at any stage of life, in many different forms.
It is our job to merge the worlds of measurement and possibility. In a measurement world you set a goal and work towards it, in a world of possibility you set a context and let life unfold. Imagine a world in which we don’t set expectations to live up to, but possibilities for people to live into.
That’s a world that we are striving to build. It’s a world that we can’t build without you.
Arete is a word, originating in ancient Greece describing Virtue or Valour requiring moral, emotional, mental and physical excellence. While it is often associated with bravery, it is more often used in regards to effectiveness.
A man, woman (or organisation) of arete, uses all of their available faculties for maximum effectiveness in the pursuit of excellence. Being the best that they can be, in all areas of a good life.
The Just Be Nice Project is committed to working with people to help unlock the potential for good in every corner of their day to day lives. From work, to home to community and social interactions, excellence in understanding, communication, health, wellbeing and effectiveness are fundamental to our goal of improving equality of opportunity by changing the way that people help people.
Creating extraordinary positive change in the world, by helping people make ordinary positive change. Chasing excellence for those in need, through promoting excellence for all.
If you are looking to improve your capacity to help others and looking to find more fulfilment in the pursuit of excellence as an individual or organisation, apply to become a Just Be Nice Project Partner.
As we end the week with a different Prime Minister to the one we started seven days ago, it is time for us to ask ourselves, where to from here?
Do we want to be a country that is known for it’s outstanding ability to lift people from disadvantage, or for our propensity to keep people there.
Do we want to be a country that celebrates success by creating an environment in which anyone who is so inclined, has the support and opportunity to pursue it, in whatever area they wish to achieve success?
Do we want to be a country that looks after the most vulnerable? That by looking after the most vulnerable that are already here, set a precedent for those who may seek help from elsewhere.
Do we want to be a country that ensures that the people who live here reap the benefits of the ever improving economy of energy and food production. Ensuring that everyone has access to power, water and food without the artificial price-raising of enterprise attacking the access of basic necessities for communities, businesses and individuals across the country.
Do we want to be a country that leads the way, not in number, but in policy and innovation, in the direction of economic conservation. Protecting our environment and amazing natural resources not only for today but for future generations. Do we want to be known as world-leaders in environmental protection and energy production, or as followers, bowing to the concerns of the quarterly profit reports of large multi-national corporations.
Do we want to be a country that values the education of all its children? Or do we want to prioritise the education of those living in certain postcodes?
Do we want to be a country that acknowledges and addresses, effectively and in the long-term, the concerns and difficulties faced by our indigenous peoples? Or do we want to make excuses, blame those who have been dispossessed and disrupted by colonisation and ignore the glaring inequality of opportunity that plagues these communities?
Do we want a country run by in-fighting, character poor, news poll pandering, race-baiting, dog whistling rhetoricians? Or by politicians who understand the needs of Australians and the possibilities that their office brings to unite a country under values of true acceptance, mateship and understanding. Do we want to engage further in the politics of division? Of down-blaming, blaming those less fortunate, those who aren’t in power, those who have the least amount of resources to effect change? Or do we want to hold those with the greatest capacity for positive change accountable to actually making that change.
Are we committed to rewarding those who play the long game? Those who believe that everyone can do better, if we all work together. Those who believe that a country of humans doesn’t have to be separated into winners and losers, because every person has different possibilities to live fulfilling, safe and happy lives. That removing the barriers to everyone living those lives is a noble priority.
Can we acknowledge that people want connection and contribution. That a happy country is one that isn't only not fighting with itself, but not fighting with others. A strong country is one that is comfortable with its identity, with its ability to win over new citizens, leading by example.
As we enter yet another leadership change and head towards another federal election, we have a number of important decisions to make, individually and collectively.
Where to from here?
Organisational dissonance occurs when an organisations stated beliefs, purpose, culture and actions do not all align.
There are plenty of examples of organisational dissonance, and currently, in Australia, we can see it playing out in the highest levels of government as well.
Some of our bug bears, and most glaring contradictory misalignments include;
Organisations that claim that businesses should be a force for good but are themselves, non-profit entities. Taking the benefits of non-profit status, while having the stated aim that it is, in fact, businesses that should be the driving force for change.
Political parties that are staunchly anti-union, anti-strike action and generally have an attitude of ‘grin and bear it’ when prescribing action to their constituents, shutting up shop and closing down parliament to sort out their own internal problems, rather than simply do their jobs.
Non-profit organisations that claim to want to have long-term impact, but only focus on selling and promoting short-term, instant gratification projects and activities without working to have programs and frameworks for the long-term. At the same time failing to help their supporters understand and see the value in long-term engagement to solve problems.
Organisations with stated aims to assist members of a community through a single area of intervention, wanting to help a group of people, but only providing one element of the help. Ostensibly because they care about the welfare and opportunities of this particular community in need. At the same time they are refusing to work alongside or collaborate with other organisations, who provide different kinds of necessary support, to the same community. This kind of in-fighting among organisations is rife and causes misery inside and outside of the organisations.
Schools that claim to value education and delivering quality education to children, that simultaneously cut the lowest performing and most in-need students in order to keep their performance results high.
Organisational dissonance is one of the biggest blocks to actual equality of opportunity, as we descend further into a culture of ignoring the gaps between stated aims and beliefs and actions. No-one is perfect, no organisation is perfect, but systemic hypocrisy and dissonance should be identified and changed. Quickly.
When the Just Be Nice Project works with out partner organisations, one of the first things we look for is signs of organisational dissonance, staff dissatisfaction, cultural difficulties, uncertain future goals and a lack of trust. It is possible to align what you say you want to do, and what you do and how you do it.
It might not be easy, but it is possible. That is what makes character-led organisations so valuable.
In our short term, news cycle, tweet filled, Instagram storied current environment, is it any wonder that our politicians are leveraging our ever-shortening attention spans for their own gain?
Australia hasn’t had a Prime Minister go to full term since John Howard’s tenure ended in 2007. The revolving door makes a mockery of the concept of ‘Party Leader’, and the infighting and factional divisions that make up the back room, self-interested, self-centered political scene do little to advance Australia in any meaningful way. While the media blasts the most vulnerable communities and individuals for roaming in 'packs', being beyond help, and needing to be stopped at the borders, lest they destroy the country. We have the 'Prime' members of our society doing more damage to our reputation and the steady management of the country than any group of disadvantaged individuals could ever possibly do.
If we want politicians to step up for the best interests of the country and the people who live here, we need to focus on long-term outcomes and hold them accountable to those outcomes. When we allow short-term political leaders to promote and enact short-term, knee jerk policy and legislation while pandering to the most extreme factional concerns, we do the government and ourselves a grave disservice.
To improve the equality of opportunity for all, including the most disadvantaged communities, we need to invest in their long-term development. We need to ensuring that communities in need are getting the help that they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it.
Want to feel safer? Invest in marginalised, disadvantaged communities and give them a chance to become some of the most productive, innovative and driven contributors to society.
Concerned about the future of small and medium sized businesses? Invest in low socio-economic communities so that they may become the consumer base that supports and invests in small local businesses. With 2.9 million Australians currently living below the poverty line, lifting the lowest 10% of the country out of poverty would be an exponential boon to all businesses.
Worried about the health and well-being of Australians? Encourage long term investment in the development and improved accessibility of the great fresh produce our country produces. Encourage investment into feeding the stomachs and minds of our children in schools across the country, ensuring that every child gets the best in nutrition, engagement, education and support all the way through their school years.
Concerned about the revolving door of leadership for our Prime Ministerial office? Hold all levels of government accountable to long term outcomes.
If focus more on what leaders say rather than what they do in practice, we will end up in the downward spiral of negative, backstabbing, short-term, individualist politics. Those at the far end of the political spectrums, to the left or the right, will always be able to take more extreme positions on issues and rabble rouse as a result. Unfortunately, extremities mean that the majority are being ignored. When it comes to equality of opportunity we should look to representatives who are looking to improve the lives of the many, rather than the lives of the few.
If we want to improve the quality of our leadership in this country, we need to demand that our representatives are not asset rich and character poor. We need to have longer memories, pay more attention, demand answers and hold politicians, and the press, accountable for the disappointing state of affairs.
We can do better, we must do better. Not just for ourselves, but for the future generations of Australians who will miss out if we don’t invest in them today. The Just Be Nice Project is committed to developing and investing in projects, programs and infrastructure that provides assistance and development to people in need for the long term, regardless of who is in charge in Canberra. If you have had enough of short term interventions, we would love to have you involved in the business of helping people, properly.
In an excerpt from the fantastic, and highly recommended book from Independent Thinking - The Working Class, Ian Loynd hits the nail on the head with the following observation;
Those children who need our love the most will ask for it in the most unloving of ways, so we remind ourselves that the stories behind their misbehaviour, disengagement or irreverence will not make us angry but break out hearts. – Ian Loynd.
These children, if not helped, grow into adults who were not loved or supported when they needed to be, and we tend to be far less forgiving of adults who are disengaged, irreverent or misbehaving.
Perhaps when we consider how to help adults in need, we consider how our actions when they were children affected them.
Investing in the future means we should aim to support all children in a way that never leaves them short-changed of opportunity, support or love.
Just Be Nice
A collection of articles relevant to pursuing the effective execution of altruism in the search for equality of opportunity.