Yesterday I had the first real conversation with one of my flat mates. Lloyd is Australian, and my interactions with him so far have been around nightclubs and not much else. To be completely honest, I took an immediate dislike to him; he seemed to be very “cool” and I was frustrated in never really feeling like the conversations we had went anywhere past creating a sense of coolness.
As I worked yesterday, my door was left ajar. Lloyd walked by and for some reason stopped to tell me what he is passionate about in the world. He is here in Rio, having recently quit his job as a project manager, and is doing research to propose a big project which would create a government funded charitable platform. He told me there is something like $300B spent in charitable donations per year by Americans, about 3 million charitable organizations, and only a few tiny companies which provide tools to enable the flow of this money. His concern is that these companies providing these tools will become the gateway for these organizations, and siphon money that could otherwise go directly to these aid organizations. Lloyd envisions a government funded platform which would provide these tools for free to charitable organizations.
All of this sounds great to me. And, I felt that no matter how I tried to participate in the conversation, it felt like I was saying the wrong thing, and I was very frustrated in being in a conversation like this. I mentioned that I was interested in what he was doing because I am here in Brazil to assist a girls’ school in Bahia, one which does amazing work, but also, in my opinion, suffers from some of the problems around organization (inherent in almost all small business) that have them not using social media and other tools like this effectively. I then mentioned that I thought about creating a new business which would allow people to share videos of charities they care about across sites like Facebook, so that people that did not have the money to donate could make an impact on a cause they cared about by creating a compelling and visceral invitation for others to donate. Lloyd seemed to bristle at this, starting his comment with “I don’t mean to be dismissive but I really hate this attempt to monetize everything by Americans.” I was taken aback by this, because I wanted to create this platform not as an attempt to get rich, but to enable charities I care about to be more effective in what they do.
Lloyd and I definitely differ in our opinions around public and private organizations and around the impact of capitalism on charitable organizations; I think that having a company provide a service which they make money off is not a bad thing but a good one. Companies in this situation are motivated to provide a quality service. My experiences working with universities at my last company left me feeling that organizations which do not operate within rational market pressures often succumb to bureaucracy, because they can afford to, year after year, without taking steps to adjust for this, as would be required in a business that cannot lose money incessantly without making hard decisions about what they are doing. And, this can prevent public organizations from fulfilling on their missions. For this reason, I actually think that making money is an incentive to create new opportunities which would have never existed before, and while I do think these types of ideas come from the public sector (like Lloyd’s idea, for example) I think execution of these ideas is often less effective. The point is simply that we differ here, and each opinion has validity. I think we are both committed to the same thing, making the world a better place, we just differ in seeing what path will get us there most effectively.
It seemed like no matter what I said in the conversation, there was something Lloyd found critical in my approach. And, I started resenting him for what he was saying, wondering internally if he was doing this out of true altruism or instead out of narcissicm, building this platform to help people doing important work in the world, or doing it to build a legacy for himself or because he wanted something virtuistic to say to the women he was picking up on the beach. A few minutes after our discussion I was sitting in the living room of the apartment and three new American women entered, and Lloyd dropped in and said “Well, I hate Americans anyway.” I jokingly responded “present company excluded, of course!”
My point here is not actually to paint a picture of Lloyd as a certain way. The reality of the situation is that I think neither of us truly learned who the other is. I got triggered by what he was saying and stopped listening. I sat there thinking “How dare he judge who I am, my motivations for doing what I do? How dare he sit there and think that he is somehow better than I am because his vision is greater and more pure?”
After a few hours I noticed the way I was feeling, and did not like that I was feeling upset in this way. One thing I find helps me is to look inward and ask myself what is this bringing up about me. And, I had to be honest and see that I do this to people in my life too. I know that, especially in romantic relationships, I often find fault, often judge harshly, jump to conclusions about motivations. This protects me from getting too close and protects me from being “terminally disappointed” eventually. Rationally I know being “terminally disappointed” is impossible and simply a matter of my perspective on the way relationships have to be. It is good to remember this, to be present to it, so that I can bring awareness the next time it comes up for me and prevents me from connecting with someone. Lloyd gave me a valuable and important gift on my birthday, even though it was not what I expected or wanted.