A time for generosity?

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By Michael Hart - Creative Director, The Union


As the year draws to a close we find ourselves looking back and peering forward.

In a distant February we hosted our first ZAG conference. If you weren’t there (and you should have been), we had speakers wax lyrical on the importance of being a non-conformist in life and work. Karyn McCluskey, Len Pennie, David Finlay and Yong-chin Breslin took to the stage and enlightened the ninety or so souls who ventured out on a cold winter evening in search of inspiration and a little provocation.

Next year, on 8th February, ZAG will return. Our theme is ‘Generosity in a time of greed’. It’s a tad polemical and we don’t apologise for that. So why this particular topic, and why now?

What is generosity?

“It’s about being willing to give a piece of yourself or offering an invaluable gift of your time and expertise. It’s about caring enough to make someone else successful first. It’s about connecting people who share passions and aspiration. It’s about empowering those around you through a simple word of encouragement and inspiration at a time when it matters the most. All without expecting something back.” Ekaterina Walter, Forbes

But you know all that. Of course you do. But how many of us find the time to commit to genuine acts of self-sacrifice, or would intervene when we stood to gain nothing? Are we giving less and taking more? Are we all too focused on ourselves that we rarely look up to survey the state of the world around us? Because being generous, and what it teaches us, carries equal weight for individuals and businesses.

“On a personal level, make it your mission to make someone’s day brighter every single day. On a company level, make it your mission to make someone’s experience with your brand delightful.” Ekaterina Walter, Forbes

Post-pandemic introspection

Surely, if anything, the pandemic restored our faith in humanity as we battled together against an invisible, strain-shifting foe. We rallied as one, despite a legion of doubters and naysayers. But post-Covid, many of us have been in search of better meaning and balance in our lives. We have moved, perhaps temporarily, from a time of collective effort and compassion to the age of the solo operator. What’s in it for me? is the big question we want answered. Might that shift weaken the social glue that binds us?

Political missteps

Then, of course, there is the political arena where it feels like our Right Honourables can misbehave and expect little in the way of consequences. Cash for questions and peerages, multi-million contracts for chums and supporters, bullying, partygate and so on and so on. Have we become more tolerant of the unethical, allowing others to flout the rules with increasing impunity and confidence? Or are we just more aware and accepting of the shortcomings of our elected representatives? After all, they are only human.

The Ten Commandments of TikTok

With religion no longer the preferred opium of the masses in the Western World, what fills the vacuum left by shrinking congregations? You don’t have to be a regular to know that the bible brims with lessons and moral guidance that won’t be found on social media feeds or the leggings aisle in TK Maxx on a Sunday morning. What are the values that we and society strive to uphold? What’s filling the void and who’s setting the narrative?

“One symptom of low emotional intelligence is the tendency to be self-absorbed, or exclusively concerned about what you’re thinking, feeling, needing and wanting, instead of the thoughts, feelings, needs and desires of others.” Lisa Marie Bobby, Big Think

An uneasy relationship with money

Our media, and thus we, seem more focused on those who have rather than those who have not. Rich lists, property portfolios and premier league transfer spending all make the BBC homepage. We celebrate extreme wealth and place it on a pedestal.

Captain Tom’s daughter has admitted taking £18,000 for an appearance at a charity awards which saw her handing out a plaque, while her father’s foundation only received £2,000.” The Independent

Greed has the potential to ruin things for everyone. For every Captain Tom, there is a Captain Tom’s daughter. This momentary lapse will have major repercussions for the third sector. We’ll all be a little more wary of donating, a little more unsure where our money will end up, a little less generous. Charities far and wide will be cursing Hannah Ingram-Moore for the revenue loss and long-term reputational damage.

Do we care about the things that really matter?

We’re also not particularly good at looking after things that don’t influence our bank balance. We treat the very place that sustains us and our fellow residents with disrespect and contempt. Everything is dispensable except us precious humans. It must be clear to all by now that we are on an unchecked spiral. We could all vote for the political parties that promise to save the world, yet we still appear more interested in the promise of financial returns and dividends than floods, fires and droughts.

Generosity pays

But there is hope. In 2020 a study was carried out to discover if being, well, a little more selfish led to a more successful life. Americans and Europeans were asked a series of questions and the scientists, led by Kimmo Eriksson of Stockholm University, were able to identify the more self-centred from their answers.

“While the researchers found that in public perception, 68 percent of the people believed selfishness was a common trait of those who made more money, in reality, people with selfless attitudes and behaviour had higher incomes and also more children.” Big Think

And then there’s the chemical chain reaction that accompanies the selfless act known as the ‘Helper’s High’. We get that warm, fuzzy feeling when we do something nice and out of the blue for someone else, and they get that warm, fuzzy feeling too. The hormone best associated with that moment of happiness is called dopamine and our brain ladles it out when we do a good thing. Maybe we can turn being kind into an addiction?

Generosity is good for all of us.

Being generous is a rewarding pursuit with immediate and long-term benefits.

“The most successful businesses employ people who are emotionally invested, people who care deeply about the business and the role they play in its growth, people who give a damn about delivering the best customer service at every touchpoint and interaction.” Ekaterina Walter, Forbes

Amen to that.

Faith in humanity, in our generosity to one another will right this ship.

Next February, our four speakers at ZAG 2.0 will tell us their stories. Perhaps the very word ‘generosity’ might sit uneasily with them. Maybe they view what they do as normal, what they would expect us all to do. The rest of us wait for others to do the right thing so we can applaud from the side-lines or hammer pans with wooden spoons at 8pm on a Tuesday.

Either way, ZAG 2.0 promises to be a decidedly absorbing affair. Hopefully, we will emphatically conclude that selflessness is on the rise and generosity the flag we’re hoisting. We thoroughly recommend beginning 2024 with getting your mitts on a precious ticket. You can register your interest here. Incidentally, tickets are free, which we think is very generous.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. All that remains is to thank all of you from all of us at The Union for the generosity of your talents, time and trust.

Thank you.