Remarks by Bobby Sager
I am among the most selfish people I know. That’s why I’ve spent most of the last 14 years living in some of the most desperate places on earth, sometimes sleeping in tents and shitting in holes. All while trying to make a difference in the lives of others.
By being hands on and eyeball to eyeball with the people I am trying to help, I get to learn things and feel things and experience things. And that’s the fullness in life. That’s what I mean by being selfish.
I stopped working to make money 14 years ago. I decided that making more money wasn’t going to make my life any better. I only ever made money so I could have choices and then it was a matter of what I did with those choices. My choice was to reapply my entrepreneurial skills in the world of making a difference, skills like knowing how to hold people accountable, smelling bullshit, doing deals and generally knowing how to get stuff done.
I didn’t start doing philanthropy because I felt guilty that I made too much money and I didn’t have a bolt of lightning strike me with a desire to give back to society and it wasn’t an emotional knee jerk reaction to seeing suffering. No Kumbaya. No sentimental filter here.
I’m not a do-gooder. I’m a doer who has figured out that hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball making a difference is a way to live a very full life.
Our foundation’s way of helping is to never give a hand-out. We don’t do charity. We help people to help themselves. Of course it is better to give someone a fishing pole and teach them how to fish rather than to give them a fish, but unless you teach them how to SELL the fish, all they are ever going to do is eat fish.
So 14 years ago, my wife Elaine and I took our 9 and 6 year old kids, Tess and Shane, out of school and set out to live really close to the ground in the communities we were trying to help, places like Pakistan, Rwanda and Nepal. Now, even 36 trips later, we still talk to the kids about the difference between snorkeling and scuba diving, being on the surface versus being truly submerged.
When you are hands-on and eyeball-to-eyeball with the people you are trying to help, you get to understand the situation better and come up with better solutions. You get to look the people you are trying to help in the eye and feel their humanity and let them feel yours and let them know that they are important enough for you to be there.
My kids didn’t have the benefit that my wife and I had of growing up without money. We wanted to use our money to expose them to the world and to help them become more grateful and more sympathetic to others. To appreciate what they have, to better understand the world they live in, to be outside their bubble without the distorting filters of privilege or distance.
While living in Rwanda, we met a child soldier named Moises. He had killed three people by the time he was seven years old fighting in the Congo and another two before he was nine.
(Hold up garbage ball) This is his football. His only possession.
(Hold up Hope Ball) These are indestructible soccer balls that a scientist named Jahanigan and the musician Sting created.
When I was handing out these indestructible balls to child soldiers in Rwanda, I asked them to consider that since the ball is indestructible it will be in their lives for a very long time, so that one day they could play soccer with their sons and daughters with the very same ball they held in their hands that day. In a world where they can’t depend on anything, where everything they touch crumbles, now they had something they can rely on, something that won’t let them down.
Hope is the most important thing that people need to move forward. The slightest ray of hope can ignite the human spirit’s ability to overcome. Giving people hope can sound like a soft and cuddly cliché. But actually hope is strategic. Hope changes all the odds. All the upside. Lots more people win.
Hope isn’t just nice. Hope is a game changer.
Very often people throw up their hands and say the world is too screwed up and there’s no way that I can move the needle. It’s a kind of default mechanism—I can’t do anything so I can feel ok about not trying. But my response is to find concrete baby step ways of making a difference. That indestructible soccer ball is an example of a concrete baby step, but so is being a mentor, or serving on a committee, or giving someone a scholarship, or giving someone hope.
If I do my concrete baby steps, you do yours, and everyone else does theirs, when we add them all up cumulatively, that’s the best way to have real, sustained change in the world. No big ideas, no magic wands. Just all of us making a difference whenever, however we can.
Does anybody know how many seeds are inside an apple? I have no idea but I know how I’d find out. I’d cut the apple in half and count the seeds. But what you can never know is how many apples may one day come from those seeds, how many trees, how many orchards.
But who is going to do all of this????
I ask you to consider who has been the world’s greatest leader over the last 30 years? Leadership in the truest and best sense: compassion, purpose, clarity and accountability? I think pretty much everyone would agree it was Nelson Mandela. But that’s not my point. My point is who would be second on the list, and third and tenth and twentieth? I think you’d find, as I have, there isn’t much of a list.
We are the list. All of us. Each of us doing our own concrete baby steps.
This idea that we can outsource fixing the world to large organizations and politicians is very last century. Obviously governments have a role to play, but sometimes they need to be shown the way and all the time they need to be held accountable.
When my family and I visited with Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, my daughter Tess said to him “You are such a hero to my mother and father. Who are some of your heroes?” and Madiba responded “My hero is not necessarily the president of a country or a prime minister or a cabinet minister. It is somebody who has declared war on poverty, on disease, on illiteracy, and who is prepared to give human beings hope that there is a future for him or her. Those everyday people that decide to make a difference in the lives of others. Those are my heroes.”
We can all be the heroes that Nelson Mandela so admired.
Three months ago last week, I came within a minute or so of being burned to death. It’s made me think a lot about how we take tomorrow pretty much for granted. But tomorrow may never come. How does that change how we live all of our todays?
Most of us wake up on Monday morning and wish it was Friday. And as a result, we can wish away 70% of our lives. I have been working on a new book which is about thankfulness. In it, I talk about the magic of what I call “Tuesday afternoon” which I mean to represent the everyday, the so-called “ordinary.”
Life happens between the big days like New Year’s Eve and your birthday. Those are just the icing; the cake is all the ordinary days in between. The everyday can become common without a tuned in spirit. Everyday relationships and friendships can feel routine and we can de-sensitize to their wonder. Just because something happens daily certainly doesn’t make it ordinary.
Our extraordinary lives are made up almost entirely of ordinary days.
Think about how much we all take for granted. Gratitude is as critical to life as breathing. How do we engage each day with optimism and wonder? How do we make each day more vivid?
Hands-on, eyeball-to-eyeball helping takes you outside of your bubble and helps you to be more mindful and more grateful. No one-shot feel-good stuff here. This isn’t about making yourself feel good, this is about making yourself better.
This is a video of some of the kids from my book, The Power of the Invisible Sun. Invisible Sun is a metaphor for hope. The music is from Sting’s song “Invisible Sun”. These kids live down alley ways, in remote villages, and in some cases war zones. They are child soldiers, refugees and just plain kids facing unimaginably difficult lives.
PLAY VIDEO: POIS KIDS
Don’t feel bad for these kids. They don’t want your pity. I didn’t show you these images in order for you to say “oh, look at those poor kids. I want to give them a hug”. Hopefully, you take strength from their strength; feel more thankful in your own lives and in return for that strength and thankfulness, you find ways to give other people hope, not just by giving money, but by giving something of yourself.
Who am I to tell you what to do? Everyone has to connect their own dots. But you don’t need to go to the other side of the world to be hands-on and eyeball-to-eyeball. You can find ways to make a difference in the lives of others right around the corner from where you live.
The typical touched-by-an angel stuff makes you feel good momentarily, but it doesn’t change you. There’s a big difference between feeling good and truly doing good. Emotional is not sustainable. And sustainable is all that matters.
That’s why it is so important to find something that nourishes you so that you want to keep on helping. The more you serve yourself, the more you will serve others. In a sense, the more selfish you are, the more people get helped.
As you change the world, you change yourself. As you change yourself, you change the world.
Be Selfish, go help someone because you learn more, feel more and do more.
Be Selfish, go help someone because making a difference in the lives of others is too important not to get right.
Be Selfish, go help someone because fixing our broken world is not a spectator sport.
Be Selfish, go help someone because ALL our concrete baby steps added together could very well change the world.