TED Talk Tuesday: The Way We Think About Charity

As someone who has worked in and around non-profit organizations nearly all of my adult life, I had never considered just how wrong some of my own thoughts (and the thoughts of others) are when it comes to how non-profits should spend their money.

Dan Pallotta’s talk is a stark reminder of the disadvantages faced by non-profits as they seek to do some of the world’s most important work. What if a non-profit group could hire a world-renowned expert to help accomplish their goals, rather than relying on whoever is kind-hearted enough to give up a lucrative career?

Here in Texas (and in many other parts of the country), we shrug our shoulders at a college football coach making five or ten times as much as any other faculty member because we understand that football brings in revenue to the school – revenue that can be used for other programs. Yet, we have trouble using the same logic when it comes to our favorite non-profit organization.

Listen to this talk and be challenged. Ask yourself this question: What would be possible if we encouraged moral innovation in non-profits, rather than taking a hard line on frugality?

TED Talk Tuesday: Experience vs. Memory

Our memories are funny things aren’t they? What we experience and what we remember are often very different. I realized this one day a few years ago when the movie Top Gun was showing on one of the cable channels. Now, you have to understand that when I was a kid, Top Gun was the coolest movie ever. Every boy I knew wanted to fly fighter jets and have cool call-signs like “Maverick”. Even as an adult, my memory of that movie was that it was EPIC.

Then, on that fateful day, I watched Top Gun on cable and, having had a couple of decades to embellish the awesomeness of the movie in my memory, I was sorely disappointed at what I saw. Everything from the hairstyles to the clothing choices to the dialog to the acting reminded me that my standards for movies have changed a lot since I was a kid. That awesome movie was suddenly lame. My memory had betrayed me.

Daniel Kahneman reminds us of this disconnect between our experiences and our memories and just how dominant our memories can be. His challenge to experience life, rather than just remember it, is one that I don’t exactly know how to apply. What I do know is that I don’t want embellish or diminish my experiences, nor do I want to dumb down my memory to just the highlights, lowlights or the last few minutes of a particular experience.

I supposed some memories are better left untouched. The experience vs memory gap is probably one of the primary reasons the earth remains populated today. If mothers had to truly experience childbirth every time they thought about their child (rather than just having a memory of it) there would probably be a lot more one-child families. Instead, mothers look at their children and think of all wonderful things. Then, with that perspective, they view the pain of childbirth as “worth it”.

There’s a lot to think about when listening to this talk, but one thing that has really stuck with me is the power of the “final moment”. Getting things right 99% doesn’t really matter if we botch the ending. Conversely, getting it right 70% of the time may do the trick if we finish well. As a pastor, a father, a husband and a future church-planter, this talk has me thinking a lot more about all those little “final moments” in life and how one word or action in that critical time can forever color someone’s view of me, my family, my church and even my God.

My challenge to myself, then, is this: Start well, finish better. (Evidently, the stuff in the middle is only mildly important anyway!)

TED Talk Tuesday: Could your language affect your ability to save money?

Fascinating research from Keith Chen regarding language and economics. As a notoriously bad saver, it’s comforting to know that my native language is at least partially to blame! However, what is more fascinating to me is the idea that the way we speak about things – the syntax that we use – has such a strong effect on how we think about things.

The Bible, of course, speaks to the power of the tongue and some have taken this idea of “speaking things into existence” to an extreme level. But while some believe they can speak things into reality through the cosmos, what we are learning scientifically is that we can at least speak things into existence in our own minds.

The basic underpinnings of ideas like self-esteem and personal motivation rely on this idea that the things we speak to ourselves and the way that we see ourselves can have a dramatic effect on how we live our lives. What if it’s even more complex than we would like to imagine? What if Chen’s findings carry over into every part of our lives? What if, beyond that, the words we speak and the way we speak them combine with our perception of those words to have an even more powerful influence over our lives than we can fathom?

I have long pondered these ideas as they relate to identity. If I’m going to give myself a label and I have certain perceptions of what that label is, do I then adjust myself to fit that label? In other words, if I believe that the label “suburban” carries with it a list of associations – minivans, coaching soccer, 3 kids and a dog – once I move to the suburbs and decide that I am now “suburban”, do I begin to make alterations to myself to adjust to that label?

Perhaps it’s simpler than that. Maybe it can be attributed to other factors like wanting to have a sense of belonging. But Chen’s research makes me wonder. I wonder how the way we speak and think affects our actions. I wonder if our mental “software” – acquired throughout our lives – has us programmed in certain directions.

This talk truly fascinates me. To be honest, I would love to just hang around with this guy and let him talk for a while. I’m certain I would discover much about myself in the process.

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