Generosity (May 18)


“Giving is a joy if we do it in the right spirit. It all depends on whether we think of it as ‘What can I spare?’ or as ‘What can I share?'” (Esther York Burkholder).

GENEROSITY, LIKE MANY OTHER THINGS, DEPENDS ON OUR ATTITUDE AND OUR MOTIVATION. If our heart is not in the right place, what could be a good thing will end up being not so good.

So let’s ask ourselves: where is our heart when we’re being generous? Unfortunately, it’s often on some payoff that we suppose might come from our generosity. We scratch the backs of those who have it within their power to scratch our backs in return. Or maybe we just want the psychological payoff of feeling good about ourselves. Either way, we need to be careful. Such motivations are self-centered. To be truly generous, a gift must be one for which nothing is expected in return. “A generous action is its own reward” (William Walsh).

When we purify our motivation, however, what we begin to realize is that generosity is one of the most uplifting things in the world. When we forget about whether we’re being benefited, great benefits flow our way — not as the aim of our generosity but simply as a by-product. For example, Karl Menninger, the well-known psychiatrist, once said, “Generous people are rarely mentally ill people.” All in all, there is nothing that contributes to personal balance and well-being any more than becoming outward-oriented and generous.

If honesty indicates that we’ve not been generous in the past, we should begin retraining ourselves. But I would suggest that you start small. Look for little gifts you can give. Next, do this more frequently, and then gradually learn to give bigger gifts. In time, generosity will be more than a once-in-a-while gesture. It will be a habit.

At some point, our generosity needs to become sacrificial in nature. Lesser giving certainly has its place, but the act of giving means the most when it is costly — that is, when we give that which we can’t afford to lose. And there is no shortcut to this kind of generosity. So sale-shoppers and coupon-clippers, be advised: generosity is a thing that never goes on sale. It is always expensive. Generosity is measured in terms of sacrifice, and so truly generous gifts are never affordable.

“We’d all like a reputation for generosity, and we’d all like to buy it cheap” (Mignon McLaughlin).

Gary Henry –