by Liz Eckert
Most of us, at one time or another, find ourselves frustrated with the people in our lives – no matter how much we love and care for them. It may even seem that all our problems would be over if they would just go away. Except for the obvious fact that the state we really want includes our loved ones. What a pickle!
It is time to face it head on. “It” being the art of generosity. Specifically, cultivating a generous spirit which is an integral aspect of holistic health.
First of all, what do you think of when I mention that word? To some people, generosity is giving all their stuff away. It is true that generous people share, so that is partially correct. But it is much bigger. Generosity, according to the dictionary, means “characterized by a noble or forbearing spirit.”
Let’s test it. Let’s say that in your mind, generosity equals giving stuff away. So you did just that. You had the expectation that giving your stuff away would result in some specific reaction on the part of the people you gave to. Most likely, you hoped it would come back with interest, as though you had made an investment out of it. (Not cash interest, perhaps, but a consideration such as appreciation, gratitude, or even “instant karma.”) And let’s just say that your expectations were not met. Was this really an act of generosity? Or something else?
There are other possibilities. First, “Giving to Get.” When you give more than you can afford in service to some (misguided) belief, you have become a victim of your own (misguided) beliefs – for example the belief that the only way you will ever be loved and appreciated is by giving even if it takes giving until you have nothing left. That is not generosity, is it? No. It is trying to buy something unbuyable (like love or security) with currency you do not have.
But there are other reasons people give too much away. Another example would be “Giving to Control.” You give something away, instantly creating a debt for the person you gave it to. You have bought the right to tell them how to live. Is this generosity? Not quite.
Then there is “Giving to Disempower” (a form of control). When you help a person with something they should be able to do on their own, you disempower them. You reinforce their fear that they are not good enough to be independent. And you build unhealthy dependence on you. Generosity? Not really.
Giving with a hidden agenda of getting something back for yourself (appreciation, control, or dependency) is not generosity. It is manipulation.
What then, does generosity look like? Here are some examples:
- Forgiveness may be an act of generosity. Someone hurt your feelings. Instead of harboring a grudge, you let it go. Really. They were having a bad day, that is all. Done. Generosity of spirit.
- When the mama bird pushes her little ones out of the nest to make them fly, it is generosity. She challenges them to take the leap they need toward independence rather than hanging on to control of their future. Her faith that they will be up to the task is an act of generosity.
- Keeping an open mind and heart toward a friend or family member rather than judging them by their past actions is also generosity. Do not set yourself up for a sucker punch. If history tells you that your kid does not repay debts, do not just send another check. At the same time, maintain a generous attitude toward his or her ability to come around and set things right.
- Giving a little extra, of course, can be an act of generosity. Helping a child out with their college education or a down-payment for their first home, for example. That kind of hand out could make all the difference in their future, and you will both feel better for it. The distinction is the presence or absence of a hidden agenda on your part and theirs.
We will never cultivate a more generous spirit if we do not understand what true generosity looks like as well as our tendencies toward giving with selfish ambitions. My hope for you is that reading my article has better equipped you to have an attitude of unselfish generosity toward not only your loved ones, but all those with whom you come in contact.