This is a little longer than my usual posts but I felt like sharing a story that touched my soul.
Back in 2009, when teaching creative entrepreneurship workshops to startups at the University of the Arts London, and after already qualifying as a Life Coach, I regularly would signpost students to the 5 Ways to Wellbeing research by the New Economic Foundation.
The 5 Ways to Wellbeing as described by the NEF in 2008 are: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give.
I would include a link to their research in every context where I was explaining the importance of having a self-care plan that looked outward not just inward, and also whenever we were discussing R&D or the giving-back element of your business plan.
A long time before I was focused on this idea of contribution, I always imagined giving to be an act you did when you donated to the charity shop or when you gave money to whichever organised charity was fundraising at the time.
Since moving to Morocco, I’ve lived and breathed contribution every day by being part of this Muslim community.
I have been reminded once again, why giving is so helpful to our wellness, our creativity, and our businesses.
So back to today. It's now 22:36 and I'm still writing this as it matters I share it.
This morning there was a ring at the intercom. I answered but couldn’t understand all the Arabic the man said. I understood the word “poubelle” or “bin” in French.
Ayoub, my love spoke with him in Arabic. He was asking for money to bury his mother who’d died that morning. He said he “did the bins” in the apartment block where I’m staying.
Ayoub said, “Can we give him 50 dirham?” (the equivalent of the price of a latte, in most Western countries)
I didn’t have anything in my purse until I went to the bank.
My love’s response was, “Relax baby, this man has nothing. He needs to bury his mother today which is custom. He is asking where he needs to ask. We can go to the bank, get the money and return.”
“Ok, I understand his loss but I can’t go now, but can go later after I get change at the shop”, I said aloud but inside, my thought was, “when we (in Britain) need to bury someone or need money, we can’t just knock on someone’s door to ask for help.”
When we told the faceless man via intercom we needed to go to the bank, he said he’d wait, meaning he thought we’d go to the bank there and then, and return with a contribution. I was shocked and annoyed at his assumption and quite frankly, the interruption to our day.
Cue a torrent of questions from my less-giving side, “Is this normal?”, “Is he telling the truth?”, “Would he do this if he didn’t think we were rich just because we live in this building?”, “I’m tired of being seen like I have a dollar sign on my head just because I’m international here.", "I'm giving money every day, several times a day, I don't have an endless string of cash."
Ayoub, who has less than me, says, "Don't worry, when I go to the salon, I'll get the money and I can give you to give to the man. It's ok my love."
Feeling guilty, I try to explain that if I had money in my purse, I wouldn't mind so much and would give, like I always do. It was then, I realised I had 30 dirham in another place and went down with the intention to appease admittedly, rather than the spirit of to give.
But I put my doubts and woes aside.
As soon as I saw the man, I knew he was telling the truth. I felt his loss. The look in his eyes. This man, like no other man, wants to knock on another person’s door to ask for money. No-one ever does.
I extended my hand and said in broken French that I was sorry for his mother’s loss and would be able to give him more later if he could return. He asked what door number and seemed happy that I’d even offered this much so far.
The assumption I made that this man had time to return in the midst of burying his mum makes me bow my head in shame tonight. (Our egos take control at times). Albeit, within the hour, I’d taken money from the bank, given some change to at least three homeless people, like I did the day before, and daily since I got to Morocco.
As I walked back towards home, it then dawned on me, that what an amazing country and culture to be in where you could knock on the door of a stranger’s home, and for it to be instantly understood (by the Muslim community) that we must help.
I only wish that was true of other countries too.
It didn’t matter that we didn’t know the man at the door who services our bins – though we should, as he deals with our rubbish daily. It didn’t matter that we didn’t know his mum, though I’m sure she would have been a good woman, rest her soul.
What mattered is that we know his human experience, of suffering and of being in need; of wanting to be a good son and bury his mum in the way she deserved.
With this thought in mind, as I walked the street I noticed the stray cats searching for food. Knowing I was caring for two well-fed cats in the home inches away, I instinctively decided to fill a bag with some dry and wet food and go feed the strays.
It was if this first act of contribution outside of my normal day had triggered a real need to help and get over my ego and just go do something for someone else, without question.
I found three strays to start with but couldn’t find the kitten that I’d seen yesterday and wanted to feed too. I'm in the middle of fasting for Ramadan right now, but it didn’t matter that these animals were getting fed first. Their need was greater than my own.
How do I know their need was greater than mine? When you’re fasting for 16 hours with no water or food you start to appreciate the signs of extreme hunger in others. After 16 hours, when you take your first drink and bite to eat, you realise you were never “starving”, in fact far from it. So any animal or human that shows distressful levels of hunger or thirst – you know they’ve been waiting a long time and they need your help.
After I finished serving the cats, I then saw the man had returned with a pick-up truck bearing what looked like the size of a home-made coffin ready for use. He smiled at me as I approached the van – and we were both so pleased I’d not missed him. Over his rolled down window, I gave him 50 dirham on top of the 30 from before.
"Pour ta mammam”, I said. His look of gratitude will be with me for days.
Later tonight, I was heading out to eat iFtar in a cafe (for the first time in a week), which was my first water and meal of the day. I notice the blind homeless man sitting eating iFtar that someone had kindly left him for free.
Sitting on the curb, seemingly more down than usual, I approach and surprise him by saying, "Salam, labes? C’est Marie.” ("Hello, how are you, fine? It’s Marie"). I place 2 dirham in his hand like I do every time we exchange money for gratitude and big smiles. His smile was greater than usual as I’d approached him to give, not because he’d asked but because I’d noticed.
As I say goodbye, I pass another homeless man on the corner, who dressed in Sahara-style, invites me to share his iFtar as he sits eating under the palm tree. I smile and say, “La, shokran bezzaf” ("No, thanks very much").
Sitting in the cafe eating, alone for the first time in days, I think of all the people who asked or I'd noticed needed help today and I felt even more grateful for that first sip of juice.
Fast forward to after iFtar, I am again walking towards my street, which for the most parts is affluent. This time, I see a different kitten, alone, lost, dangerously close to the main road. I wait for his mum. No mum comes. I don’t want to leave him alone but I’m too far to go get him food. As I go to leave, a group of young boys scare the cat.
I return to comfort the kitten wondering, 'where’s his mum?'. Maybe she died too.
Out of nowhere, as I’m now sitting on the curb with the kitten, the Saharan-style dressed man approaches me in silence and offers a piece of Kiri cheese for the kitten. I thank him again, this time for helping me to help the kitten.
And, I’m filled with love and gratitude.
From Ayoub this morning wanting to instantly help the man at the door. To the son braving vulnerability to ask for help to bury his mother. To the blind homeless man who peacefully tries to help his disadvantaged life in whatever peaceful way he can. To the Saharan-style man who feeds the stray kitten from his own small iFtar tray.
This to me is Morocco. This is what a peaceful Muslim country looks like. This is what a true Muslim man does. This is what a man is. It seems apt to be remembering the good of a man on Father's Day.
This is what it feels like to contribute. To be part of a community.
On my way again, I pass the little black kitten I'd wanted to help first thing this morning. But this time, he was fine. This one still had his mum and his dad at his side.
Now, at my writing table, coming back to write this piece at 11pm, and why I think giving is so important to your creativity and your business?
The skill of awareness, of humility, of understanding the struggles of another and knowing you can do something to lessen their pain and ease their life in some way – these skills will make you a better creative and entrepreneur than any art school or MBA school can.
My 5-step challenge to wannabe “successful” creative professionals and entrepreneurs (and all who just need to know how to be a better human being):
- Go out into the world tomorrow and contribute where you see a need.
- Even before someone asks, be prepared to give.
- Notice those who can’t talk or ask for help who need it most. Give what you can.
- Be prepared to receive help in helping another.
- Be ready to live your day as part of a whole community who is helping each and everyone to live their day with the basic necessities first, and then more.
Tell me how it makes you a better creative and a more successful entrepreneur.
I’d be grateful to hear your stories of giving below.