Being Generous. The Art of Right Living
Common Questions and Some Answers

1. WHY IS GENEROSITY IMPORTANT?

2. HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM OUR USUAL UNDERSTANDING OF “CHARITY” OR “PHILANTHROPY?”


3. WHAT INSIGHTS ABOUT GENEROSITY EMERGE FROM THIS APPROACH?

4. WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OR OBSTACLES TO “BEING GENEROUS?”

5. WHICH ARE THE ATTRIBUTES OR VIRTUES THAT NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED OR FOSTERED TO REALIZE A CHANGE IN GENEROSITY?


6. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO THE INDIVIDUAL FROM STRIVING TO BE GENEROUS?


Watercolour by Lewis Vardey.


1. WHY IS GENEROSITY IMPORTANT?

Generosity is elemental to our humanity – across diverse cultures and beliefs and despite differences throughout history - the practice of it is universally revered as one of the highest qualities of the human heart.

As the word connotes, generosity is not just about giving but about “generating” - creating “generative” life-giving opportunities, which may mean hope as well as dignity, and sense of animating purpose as well as opportunity.

In the absence of generosity – of generative possibilities – we are left with more and more despair and alienation. We lose civility and community connection when we cease to believe we can generate something better together.

Today, living generously, in its fullest sense and practice, seems forgotten if not rare. 

  • Why is generosity so rarely included in public discourse?
  • Why does it feel so thin in many relationships? 
  • Why is it so unfamiliar in so many workplaces?

In our society we have also reduced the essence of generosity to something much less fulfilling and authentic. It has become just another mode of consumption (“buy fair trade coffee to help impoverished bean growers”) rather than a commitment to bring one’s creativity and contributions to shared problems and possibilities.

Many of our personal, societal, national and global problems stem from deficits in generosity. On the other hand, solutions and possibilities all depend essentially on some surfeit of generosity (in attitude or action) to end gridlocked attitudes. Addressing deeply complex environmental issues, such as those relating to global warming, especially require all of us to embrace some “generosity of change.”


2. HOW IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM OUR USUAL UNDERSTANDING OF “CHARITY” OR “PHILANTHROPY?”

First, generosity is not about wanting to do a generous thing but about wanting to become a generous person: having a generous attitude, keeping a generous (open) mind, extending a generous (helping) hand. It is therefore not something we do for others rather it is who we ourselves become. 

Charity tends to be something that we give to someone out of what is surplus to us. Generosity is when we give what is really needed, even if there is some cost to us.

Generosity lives in the practice of a circular model of economics made up of three parts – not only giving, but also receiving and circulating.

We agree with Bill Clinton that it is possible to change the world through giving. However, many of us grew up with the adage that: “It is better to give than to receive.”  This is laudable but only partially true.

Too much giving can be as addictive and unproductive as too much receiving. The balance recognizes that generosity operates as a currency, and is mutually enriching on many levels when in circulation.

With generosity it is as important to receive – to allow the giver joy in the giving, to be open to what we really need for ourselves, to deepen our sense of gratitude and interconnection.


3. WHAT INSIGHTS ABOUT GENEROSITY EMERGE FROM THIS APPROACH?

  1. Generosity, like its opposite, which is greed, is contagious. Many people are generous by nature but may be too busy or stressed to practice what would be most fulfilling to them.
  2. Generosity has increasingly been reduced to a form of commercial transaction. We give for a tax receipt, or to have our names put in lights on things like hospital wings or university buildings. Expecting a return on our giving tends to become a limitation on the real spirit and possibilities of generosity.
  3. Simple, everyday activities like conversation, or commuting, are enhanced by generosity. Importantly, so are larger possibilities and responsibilities, like creativity and community spirit.
  4. As helpful as it is to explore its principles and opportunities, only by practicing generosity do we get to actually experience its rewards and understand its challenges and interactions.
  5. Change itself is a generous act. As a conscious and welcomed aspect of our growth as human beings, change is commonly viewed in fear but it is an investment in what we hope and need to become.
  6. Since generosity involves circulation, it takes more than one person – usually a group, community or assembly – to fulfill its potential.

4. WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OR OBSTACLES TO “BEING GENEROUS?”

Knowing when to say “no.”

Practicing conditional generosity.

Giving up expectations in the sense of circulating without wanting an assurance about what the outcome will be.

Trusting within a suspicious society.

Not asking for what is really needed and presuming a fashionable view.

Applying a productivity paradigm to a creative act.

Offering things when what is needed is an investment of time, imagination and commitment from a person


5. WHICH ARE THE ATTRIBUTES OR VIRTUES THAT NEED TO BE ENCOURAGED OR FOSTERED TO REALIZE A CHANGE IN GENEROSITY?

Language that is generative, especially the four most generous words:
            . THANK YOU & I’M SORRY

Appreciating key virtues, including:

  • Courage – to see and act on what is really needed
  • Reliability – to be constant even in small things
  • Remembering – standing on the benefits of gifts and graces we have received
  • Mercy – to not judge others but stand in their shoes
  • Discernment – to be aware of the demands, risks and rewards of decisions
  • Humility – to keep the priority on what is needed, possible or right
  • Compassion – to give voice to our hearts and put love into action
  • Trust – to recognize and relish our interconnectedness
  • Hope - to aspire to what also serves our human need for
  • Balance – to be an agent of generosity by receiving and circulating as well as giving

6. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO THE INDIVIDUAL FROM STRIVING TO BE GENEROUS?

Making change for the greater good that changes us as individuals.

Growing beyond being a “good person” to being morally aware and responsive.

Exercising spiritual practice to experience the insights of wisdom and consciousness.

Adding one’s creativity to the world’s needs and possibilities, participating in the grand  and ancient economy of giving, receiving and circulating.

An exercise in gratitude for how we participate in the web of generosity that already circulates and sustains us, charging the responsibility to add our own contribution.

 

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