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Do You Provide Inspiration Or Charity?

How can you bring more inspiration to your life and the life of others?


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Peter Middleton

5 months ago | 6 min read
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It’s an important distinction.

A lot of ‘helpers’ help because it’s part of their identity.

People pleasing, codependency, saviour complex, enmeshment, entitlement. It’s all in the human experience.

It can be a convenient part of society; we need communally minded helpers. It’s part of a spiritual nature to trust in the act of service. To trust that reciprocation will come to you when you need it in return.

However, it’s essential to make sure that you’re an inspiration, not the hand that feeds who inevitably will have to take away; either through exhaustion, resentment, or lack of means.

The old parable from the Bible is this:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

The difference between charity and inspiration.

Charity is giving the man a fish; this feeds the givers ego as well as the man and creates a codependent bond between giver and receiver. Have you ever heard of the drama triangle?

This dynamic is where someone maintains a power structure in a relationship to stay important.

Not only have you given the man a fish, and made yourself feel good by doing so, but when the man is once again hungry, he will return to you as his saviour and ask for more — double win.

Or is it?

If you have no more to give him, he might start to beg you; he might become desperate; cry, shout, become violent or angry.

You might recoil to get yourself to safety; write him off as a ‘good-for-nothing’, or a savage who doesn’t know how to act. You might judge or criticise his actions to unhook yourself from the situation.

The truth is you have enslaved this man by giving him a fish. It is a scrap of life to which he owes you; the entitlement is in our culture. In my opinion, the West needs to believe in charity because of the guilt of colonialism.

There’s been a widespread conversation about charity, for example, the infantilising nature of continued aid, driving four by fours around Africa, and opulent dinners for leaders and organisers whilst people still starve in poverty, sometimes literally outside the door.

The legacy of charity is fraught with complexity:

“Spatial inequality, histories of conflict and everyday politics pose challenges to disaster risk reduction. This is true even when a solid legal and policy framework for disaster management is in place.”

Charity is becoming better, of course. The conversation around philanthropy is now continuing on the African continent as well as others.

Organisations like Charity:Water do incredible work whilst also empowering the local population. Ensuring that 100% of the given amount given goes on the project — by having a separate arm to fundraising for the charity’s operations, and they use technology to stay actively up to date with the water flow of the projects that they have installed.

If the water runs dry for any reason, they can send a team of engineers out without needing to go through lengthy political or bureaucratic means.

Build Africa is another great example; their message is: ‘Education to end poverty.’

What if we changed the model of charity to an inspiration network?

Philanthropy is a long-held tradition, as described by Quote Investigator:

The general principle of alleviating poverty by facilitating self-sufficiency has a long history. The 12th-century philosopher Maimonides wrote about eight degrees in the duty of charity. In 1826 an explication of the eighth degree was published in a journal called “The Religious Intelligencer”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Lastly, the eighth and the most meritorious of all, is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty, namely, to assist the reduced brother, either by a considerable gift or loan of money, or by teaching him a trade, or by putting him in the way of business, so that he may earn an honest livelihood and not be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding up his hand for charity. . .

Inspiration is the equivalent of giving the man a fishing rod and teaching him to fish. He thus has agency from that moment; he learns to live within the cycles of nature.

When you teach someone how to do something, do you leave them space to actively do it themselves, or do you take over and achieve it for them whilst their watching?

It can be useful to give examples of physical process, yet, nothing is better than being able to achieve something for yourself, embodying the process, with supervision, so that the next time you can perform it without supervision.

That’s the difference between charity and inspiration; between being shown something and having a mentor who guides you to the embodied state of achieving a successful process.

Inspiration can come in all shapes and forms, and culturally it’s generally been in the realms of creativity, scientific achievement, or spirituality.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ~ The Little Prince ~

Inspiration is the realm of the heart.

In truth, all of life is an inspiration. Think back to your earliest pleasant memory, or your happy place.

Does that feel warm and happy?

Does that inspire you to feel that warmth in your body at this moment?

These reference states define all of our lives. The thoughts that we think about each aspect of our lives and the conditions that those thoughts call forth.

Helping to inspire someone is a gift, and has the potential to change their lives.

Building self-esteem for someone else is crucial, and no, it’s not possible to do this for everyone that you meet. It’s only possible in trusted and intimate environments. So choose your friends wisely and inspire them.

An example of charity would be to give someone unsolicited advice or to try to fix their problems. Basically, anything that’s an empathy miss is charity.

It misses the point of connection, and friendship, it fosters codependency and enmeshment. It forces a continued reliance on that rigid dynamic that will be tested by life’s ups and downs.

Inspiration is involved in empathy. It’s allowing someone to know themselves better. Active listening is a key skill in this process.

Do you have a friend that listens to you?

Maybe you sit down with a cup of coffee or tea, talk about your feelings. What’s been going on with you, and how that made you feel.

Active listening is empathy, and that promotes healthy relating. It fosters and nurtures connection. It cannot be faked, you either feel it or you don’t.

By the way, listen to your body. If you don’t feel that you have space or the investment in that person, then you’ll need to say so kindly, and set boundaries, or choose to spend more of your time on yourself, or your other friends.

It sounds nasty, or at least unacceptable to our culture — the conditioning says be nice to everyone, no matter what.

Setting these boundaries can set someone free from a dynamic that isn’t genuinely serving them, and it’s not truly serving you either.

They might feel frustrated or depressed about the style of relating. It sets them free to go out and find the person that is an energetic match for them. That will be able to provide them undivided attention and connection.

The truth will set you free.

Even expressing the truth might give the relationship a chance to evolve and pivot into something new and much more respectful to both.

Don’t be afraid to voice your feelings, make sure you come from an ‘I feel’ place, and make sure you have done the inner work around any triggers so you can come to the conversation calmly and respectfully.

That can be inspiring! It provides the other person with dignity, and it can deepen a relation.

The difference between charity and inspiration is distinct and clear. Charity is providing someone with a fish so they can satisfy their hunger.

Metaphorically that can be anything, for example, giving your son some money so he can buy something he wants, or if he’s struggling to make the rent. Inspiration is teaching someone to fish so they can be self-sufficient, authentic, have dignity and agency.

Inspiring people through being a calm, grounded, and centred energy in the world is enough. Everything else is a bonus, and there’ll be many bonuses I promise you that.

Acting in these ways will show people around you where your boundaries are, and what kind of life you will accept. The behaviour that you accept is written in your body language, your energy states, and your life experience.

When someone makes the next step in their own lives, give them praise for doing it. Celebrate, cherish, and acknowledge them.

Say to them:

“Well done for making that happen.”

That’s inspiring, and it relieves the need for saviours, codependency and enmeshment.

Inspiring others is authentic leadership.

How can you bring more inspiration to your life and the life of others?

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Created by

Peter Middleton

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Peter is a creative coach working to unblock people's authentic creative essence and expression. Using transformational life coaching, meditation and embodiment techniques. He is passionate about mental health, trauma informed practice, spirituality and how to create sustainable cultures that empower in equity.


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