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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How To Find Money For Charity

“I would love to give, but there are so many worthy charities out there that I cannot decide.”  “The rich are able to afford to give to charity. I’m not rich.” “We should take care of those in need in our own country before we give to other countries.”  All are common excuses (or even reasons) for not giving up a little bit of what we have to help others who need.  Most of us feel badly for those with less than us, and want to help, but cannot see their way to finding funds within their budgets to reach out.  Yet, each of us in North America, regardless of our incomes, have the capacity to “discover” methods by which we can assist those people who are less fortunate than we may be.  Yes, even the poorest of us can do so, and definitely the wealthy can redirect money to others, if we choose.
Recently, I visited Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  My wife and I took none of the guided tours, ate at none of the tourist attractions, bought nothing from cruise ship-sponsored kiosks.  Instead, we walked two miles back through the town centre, beyond the acceptable tourist spots, through the local farmers market, behind the preparation areas hidden behind the pallets of local foods, among the local garden and “plantation” areas, and into the residences bordering the market.  From there, we were able to see the contrast between the tarpaulin-roofed homes to the mansions of Mick Jagger and other “rich and famous” homeowners.  It was overwhelming.  But how could we, with only a hundred dollars or so, make any difference?  And what right did I have to act so voyeuristically, peering into the desperate lives of these people as if they were zoo animals on display?
This private dissection served a purpose: it made me think, “how can I help?”  I came up with several solutions.
First, I write for a living.  That day, I began a new manuscript, calling on the images and experiences that day in Jamaica.  I will be publishing it within the year, and every penny of revenues will be directed to Ocho Rios.  If I were to simply hand over the cash to a relief agency, much of it might not make it into the hands of those in need.  I expect to earn only a modest amount from this book.  I know a couple from Jamaica who will take the money I earn each year, proceed to the farmers market, and discretely distribute money to several of the vendors.  Every penny.  What difference will it make?  For a brief period, those families will benefit.   And there is one solution, for each of us who cruise or take vacations in countries like Honduras, Belize, Jamaica, etc.  Take half of the money that you had intended to spend on souvenirs, tours and local treats for yourself, and give it away discretely.  Not willing to part with fifty percent?  How about 10%?  Any amount will help immediately.
Currently, I am involved in setting up a charitable housing project for low-income families in my home town.  Habitat builds homes for those with need, as well.  These are worthwhile ventures.  But, how about homes built for those with means, wealth?  As an illustration, Family A plans on having a custom-built home constructed with a budget of $400,000.  Two choices ca be made here that will generate a significant amount of charitable money.  First, add 10% to the budget, to be donated to the charitable cause fund base. Or, insist that the costs be reduced by 10%, and donate that money to the cause.  Now, locate tradesmen that are willing to donate one week of their time, free, to the construction of the home.  Get them to set the fee that they would charge, and that money gets donated to the helping pot.  Approach local lumberyards, and insist that they donate 10% of their costs to the charity.  Be sure that the finances are transparent, so that everyone who has contributed can see that the money is going where it was committed.  No one is out of pocket.  Everyone has done their duty to help others.  And you, the homeowner, has more than a “green” home.  You have a home with a heart, of which you can be proud!
Donating time is one of the easiest ways to give to the world around you, and is as valuable as any money tossed into the pot.  Use your own unique skills to make a difference.
How about our daily budgets?  Start by monitoring, for six months, your food budget, your entertainment budget, your housing  and clothing budget.  Now, commit to trimming 10% of any or all of those budgets, and donating the amount to a charity for only two months of the year.  It makes a difference quickly, and the “leaning out” of your budgetary diet will improve the health of your conscience.
How do we cut housing costs?  Many utilities and local governments offer tips on how to conserve energy.  Follow these guidelines, and part with only half of your savings.  Any grants and rebates available can be similarly forwarded to charity, without cost to you.
How about clothes?  I have a system of cycling my clothes to cut costs.  My clothes start off as “going out on the town” wear.  As they age, they become casual wear.  Soon, they are work wear for doing household chores.  Finally, they become rags, or are donated to thrift shops or recycling depots.
The food budget is the easiest in which to cut costs.  One day a week, substitute high-quality foods for lower-cost items.  Make every second alcoholic beverage a lower-cost item than you will normally drink (it may also lead to drinking less.  Wonderful, isn’t it?). Make and buy meal items in bulk.  Typically, you save between 6-14% in this manner.  There are dozens of other strategies.  But don’t just cut costs and keep the savings.  Be generous to others.
Lastly, a simple change in attitude will help you find an abundances of resources to share.  Instead of looking at giving as an option, and as a task, look at it as an opportunity to play a more involved role in the world.  Like your cup of coffee, embracing the world is addictive.  Unlike tobacco, it is healthy and invigorating.  It is not your duty to help others.  It is your pleasure!  Look differently, not at the world, but at yourself, and how you see the world will change.  Make a difference in yourself, so that you can make a difference in the world.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Reduce Stress By Being Prepared

Work-related  stress  most often is cited as the most negative stress that we experience on a regular basis, followed closely by the stress associated with unfamiliar experiences and locations.  The latter commonly is confused with fear, the former with former with job dissatisfaction.  Both have in common the element of control, or, more specifically, a lack of control. 
Job dissatisfaction occurs, however, when we our abilities are not exercised, or where the work environment itself is “toxic.”   Stress becomes involved when we are faced with challenges for which we are not prepared, or situations that have proven to be problematic in the past.  Indeed, anticipation of a stressful situation or experience creates its own stress.  Job dissatisfaction feeds that stress, but often is not stressful in itself.
The stress of unfamiliar experiences can be both positive and negative.  Equate, if you will, excitement with unfamiliar stress, and imagine those athletes that participate in extreme sports (such as helicopter skiing).  These extremely athletic individuals savour the excitement and the stress of the moment.  However, what we fail to factor into these experiences is that each of the participants have spent a great deal of time preparing for the sport, and  manage their risks well.  Certainly, there are those that do leap in, unprepared, but they are the exception, and often mask or submerge their stress by mentally blocking the risk factors.
What separates the good stress of athletic competition from the bad stress of the job, or facing the unknown?  The simple answer is “preparation.” Soldiers are trained and disciplined for many weeks before being thrust into unknown, challenging environments.  They repeat and repeat and repeat drills.  They simulate the confrontations and challenges that they will face, until they almost instinctively react to the unknown, by categorizing it with familiar rituals that they have practised.
Exam stress is a prime example of the benefit of practice and preparation.  Psychological studies have shown that learning  the material thoroughly is the best remedy to avert exam stress.  Yet, that is nothing more than preparation and practice!  A second dimension of exam stress reduction, though, is the principle of state-dependent learning.  As a parent, I used to simulate the exam room at home by setting up desks for my children, at which they studied, and insisted that they do homework in this setting, regularly.  However, I would also provide practical applications for the topics that they were learning, so that they could relate the learned material to a “real-life” experience.  This extra element provided a level of intimate understanding of the material, while the desk environment helped them to recall materials in the test environment as if they were at their desks at home.  They were prepared.
One of my great stressors was the doctor’s office, and, specifically, needles.  Such was my panic at medical exam time that I actually passed out while having my blood pressure taken, and, three times, while having a blood test.  Yet, I have had twenty-seven broken bones and severe injuries requiring medical intervention, have been involved in more than 1,600 fights, and have even eschewed having a broken wrist set and cast, because I had too much work to do!  Clearly, pain was not my problem.  It was a fear of the unknown: specifically, what might be in the needle, and what control was I relinquishing in the situation.  Ultimately, I chose to donate blood, reasoning that I had no right to be selfish, when a simple blood donation was needed by others with medical emergencies.  In other words, I shamed myself into overcoming my fear of needles.  It was my version of preparation.  Having donated blood multiple times, I not longer fear the process (but still don’t particularly care for it).
By preparing for and understanding circumstances and events, we can reduce or eliminate stress.  Lowered stress does not mean lower enjoyment, but it does allow you to more smoothly engage with situations that may otherwise prove too chaotic or disturbing.  In short, organize your chaos, and you will eliminate many of your potentially stressful experiences,.