Writing my latest book, Sacred Shadows, has been mind blowing. It has shown me so many things that I only suspected were there. Once I really started looking, they came out from the shadows (hence the title!) And one of the greatest lessons is that money has been given importance it never deserved, and we have to ask ourselves why. Yes, it can buy things, but why oh why does everything these days come down to money?
To give you three examples. Firstly, the ‘Donate £15’ campaign to save the bees. Now these campaigns (and this one has been posting out fliers, which can work out very expensive) are all well and good, but better still is teaching people how to do it for themselves. Saving the bees (or anything else for that matter) is not just about money. It is about acting. If all we do is throw money at a problem, we are missing out on the opportunity to try and become part of the solution.
Anyway, on the weekend I discovered that my compost bin down at the bottom of the garden was literally seething with bumble bees. I hadn’t put them there. They’d just arrived unannounced one day, decided this was the bumblebee equivalent of the Hilton and moved in. And it cost me nothing. And who knows? Maybe it did more good than £15 would have done.
(I always exercise what Mr Penry calls ‘benign neglect’ in our garden, allowing dandelions, buttercups and other plants that some would call weeds to flower in profusion. Along with herbs and just about anything else that will grow there! And the bees love it.)
The second example: Many years ago, I had a neighbour whom we’ll call Janet. She was poor as a church mouse, had a lot of children, worked when she could and supported her husband who worked every shift he was given just to keep a roof over their head. Her house was painted a myriad of colours simply because she only bought paint that was on offer – so nothing ever matched.
Anyway, one day there was a knock at the door and it was the local vicar collecting for ‘The Poor.’ Janet was a kind hearted soul, so she invited him in and promised to help.
‘We need money,’ he explained, ‘to give them basics, like saucepans and so on…’
‘I can help there,’ said Janet and went to the kitchen, coming back with two of her saucepans to give him.
The vicar regarded them with horror. (You should have seen the look on his face, she told me later.) ‘Well, that’s no good,I’m afraid,’ he said, ‘They’re second hand!’
‘What’s wrong with that?’ asked Janet. ‘They’re clean. They do the job. They’re my saucepans and I got them second hand.’
‘Well, we can’t possibly hand out old saucepans to people.’
‘Well I’ve got old saucepans, Vicar. I’ve never been able to afford new ones. And if they’re good enough for me, they’re good enough for anyone else, too.’
Needless to say, the vicar went away empty handed. For him it wasn’t about helping in a practical way – it had all boiled down to money. And he couldn’t spot a real gift, a real sacrifice if it punched him in the nose.
Now to my third and final. Someone I rather admired, began telling everyone who would listen that he had a great plan. A plan that would set the world on fire. A plan that would change everything.
And because I rather admired this person, I listened, and wondered what the plan could be. He’d had lots of interesting ideas in the past, so I thought this latest one must be brilliant because he was so fired up about it. When he eventually let me in on the secret, it was…. a fundraiser.
‘We only need a couple of thousand,’ he beamed.
And suddenly my admiration turned to dust. We all could do with a couple of thousand for our ‘great plans.’ But we don’t have it. And our great plans become just little ones, and we have to accept that.
Does it matter? Well, not always, as the bumble bees showed me. It’s not always about what we can pay, it’s about what we can do.
Now there are times when projects need money. No doubt about that at all. But they need other things too. And we need to feel we can be useful, not just hand over a fiver (or a few thousand) and leave it to someone else. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference.