Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jeff Shinabarger of Plywood People. He is the author of More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity.
“Anything we find that is more than enough creates an immediate opportunity to make others’ lives better.” - Jeff Shinabarger
I was 24 and was asked to lead an event called Catalyst. And it grew. We saw the growth happen from 5,000 people to 10,000 people to 25,000 people and awareness continued to spread across the world.
But, bigger is not always better.
I wrestle with this tension everyday. More or Less? Every aspect of life feels like this tension hits at the core of what is success. More or less clothes? More or less food? More or less square footage? More or less time? More or less Twitter followers? In an age of continual progress, what is enough?
Often times, a relationship with one person can change how you see the world in a greater way than the largest audience that you influence.
We moved into East Atlanta Village. It has eclectic bars with the best sounds of up-and-coming musicians, and a community-operated bike shop. It’s a wonderful, diverse place to live. We were moving from a two-bedroom to a three-bedroom home. We just didn’t expect what would happen next.
When we moved into our house, it was only a few hours before a man rang the doorbell. This was our neighborhood welcoming committee of one.
He had one of those smiles that implies he’s got some hard stories to tell. His teeth were a little crooked, yet very white. He was wearing a Cincinnati Red’s hat cocked to one side. My new neighbor’s name was Clarence, and as I learned that day, he was always “looking for work.” I also learned quickly that Clarence worked hard. The difference between Clarence and many of my other neighbors is simply he had no home.
It’s not that I had never met a homeless person before. But this was different. Clarence pushed me over the edge. He was my neighbor. I couldn’t get away from him. And I liked him. The constant smirk of a smile got under my skin and into my heart.
Our relationship introduced a barrage of new questions for my life: How do I love my neighbor when my neighbor has no front door or even walls? My previous worldview assumed my neighbor would be living in the same context as me: in a home. I thought the fabric on our couch or our dinner choices may be different, but I never really imagined my neighbor without a refrigerator or a shower. With one doorbell ring, all the ways I looked at my day-to-day life instantly changed.
Suddenly I saw my life through Clarence’s eyes. What he saw looking through my front door was abundance. I have not one but two living areas that anyone can actually see from the front door. I have air conditioning for those hot days in Atlanta. I have a toilet and shower in each of my two bathrooms and I even have a washer and dryer for my clothes. And speaking of clothes, my wife and I each had our own walk-in closet filled with them. Clarence didn’t have to say a thing to me. Just having this new relationship in my life changed the way that I looked at what I have been given.
My material excess and his material need made for a confusing symbiotic relationship. We both knew there was no way that I could fully grasp what it would feel like to not have a physical place to sit down and process the day. But there was also an understanding that he could never fully understand the things that I own. Our worlds were lived far apart, yet in the same square mile.
I wish everyone had the opportunity to know Clarence, or someone like him. They encourage us to a distinct change needed in our own lives. An unsettled ambition that we know needs to be different.
The truth is: I have more than enough and I believe many people can relate. We don’t need more. We don’t need bigger. When we choose to live on less, it creates the potential to do much more for others.
Jeff Shinabarger is the founder of Plywood People, an innovative community addressing social needs through creative services. His new book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, is absolutely fantastic. It is a book destined to call many to redefine their understanding of “enough” and call each of us to rediscover a lifestyle of excessive generosity. I highly recommend it to you.