Approximately 25 years ago (in March 2020), we did a customer/reader survey. I asked what you like to read on the blog & one of the respondents suggested a post on "living generously". What a fabulous idea and perfect for this time in history!
[The title of this post implies some kind of authority or expertise — ha! Nope, no experts here... just some thoughts on generosity from a fellow human, trying to make my way!]
Who decides if I'm generous?
Spoiler alert: Not myself!
Generosity reflects a readiness to give more of something than is necessary or expected. It is a quality that we can pursue — a goal that can motivate our actions & thoughts.
But, like other characteristics like "funny", "cool", or "fun", I don't really think "being generous" is a label we can attribute to ourselves! Only other people determine whether or not you are generous (imo).
Generosity — is it all about money?
It's easy to claim that something is important, that it is a value. But, the reality of our true priorities are revealed by how we spend our Time, Energy, Attention, & Money ("TEAM" helps me remember this!).
Generosity with time may look like:
- helping someone out with a task or project
- baking or cooking a meal for someone else when you really would prefer to sit & read your book
- opening up a larger-than-necessary slot in your schedule
- sharing your hard-earned expertise with someone (e.g. teaching a skill)
Generosity with energy may look like:
- Going to the park to play capture the flag with your kids (though you would prefer a nap)
- Giving your most productive hours of the day to a volunteer commitment
- Waking up early for any reason at all that is for someone else
Generosity with attention may look like:
- visibly turning off and putting away your device when someone is engaging you in conversation
- reading a book, listening to a podcast, or watching a viral video because someone you care about is interested and wants you to relate
- See: Fred Rogers
Generosity with money may look like:
- Of course, giving money to worthy causes. Generosity is most often associated with financial giving to charity. But, there are other actions around money that also reflect generosity:
- Giving money to someone or something even if there is no tax benefit
- Donating or giving possessions away, rather than selling them to recoup expenses
- Lending or sharing stuff without being worried about items becoming damaged or lost.
My Dad told me a story once about a dinner at a wealthy friend's home. Another guest was drinking from a crystal highball glass, and placed it on the countertop a bit too aggressively, shattering the whole thing. The guest, feeling bad & responsible, offered to compensate the host for the glass. The host accommodated this offer by sending his guest the information to buy a new set (they could only be purchased as a set of two)... for $75!
Here is someone who participated in fundraising & other philanthropic endeavours, but I'm not so sure his friends would consider him "generous"!
Generosity of spirit
Beyond the generosity with material possessions & our priorities in time and energy, I think that what we truly need, most of all, right now, is a generosity of spirit.
We are at an unprecedented time in history. Unprecedented, of course, in our lived experiences; but, also: we've never before seen this level of extreme divisiveness in the conversations, media, politics, & overall public response to the global pandemic (among other current crises!).
There are jokes, there are opinion articles, there are memes, there are Twitter threads... and most of them are imbued with a spirit of dismissiveness.
Dismissing others, dismissing other POVs, dismissing any aspects of the topic-at-hand that are outside of the particular, argued opinion.
Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with hopelessness. How will we fight for common ground? For shared humanity? Have we forgotten nuance and complexity? How will we resist our own echo chambers?
Again, generosity is a readiness to give more of something than is necessary or expected. Culturally, what is expected is: to give no credibility to others' opinions and points of view. What is expected is: that many things we believe are self-evident and other people with divergent opinions are idiots who need to catch up. What is necessary, culturally, in dialogue, is: almost nothing. Not politeness, not listening, not decency towards other human beings.
So, in this regard, generosity can look very simple. For example, reading a comment from someone (a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a politician) that you disagree with, and not thinking the worst about them. Our internal thoughts: that is what I mean by a generosity of spirit.
Living generously will flow out of feeling & thinking with generosity. Actions will begin to flow from what is internal.
Is living generously a challenge? Is it worth it? What examples have you seen in others whom you would consider "generous"? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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I love this definition of “giving more than is necessary or expected” especially around giving attention and benefit of a doubt to persons you may not agree with. What a wonderful world that could be!