This extraordinary little book has the power to heal and foster relationships, console and empower individuals, create community and help save the world by providing a spiritual ecology for our daily lives.
Think thats a bold claim? It is, but its also true. We can all be generous with our money when an occasion like Christmas rolls around, or when disaster strikes as it did with the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. But Lucinda Vardey and John Dalla Costa say that this kind of giving segregates generosity, and makes it a special activity only for special times. If were truly going to help this troubled world, as individuals we must investigate other possibilities for being generous as well, by helping those we interact with every day: our children, colleagues, parents, friends and the homeless men and women we encounter when out and about in our cities. We learn that the four most generous words in the English language are “Im sorry” and “Thank you.” We learn that if we ask, “What do you need?” we may be surprised how readily we can provide assistance, and how a single generous act may turn into something that circulates to include many.
Lucinda and John are a married couple who have committed-they say “humbly and imperfectly”-to making generosity a central practice in their daily lives. What they refer to as their art of right living, within family, work and community, is both a mode of being and a value that infiltrates all others. Generosity inspires and guides them, and continually tests and teaches them. This book is filled with true stories theyve collected about generosity in action. Being Generous is their gift to readers, written to enable and encourage us to follow the generous way.
She was famous for her work with the poor in the streets of Calcutta. One day a beggar by the road ran up to her with a small coin-financially worthless to anyone but him. It was his days take on a long, hot and humid day, and he wanted to give it to her. She pondered what to do. If she took the money then he would have nothing at all, but if she rejected him, it would not only hurt him but insult his generosity. She stretched out her hand-he, who never had the chance to give, could give to Mother Teresa. The joy on his face said everything to her.
The Lesson: Saying no to anothers offer denies them the joy of giving. Accepting what they wish to give-even if you dont need it-is what practising true generosity is about.
—from Being Generous
From the Hardcover edition.
1. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Generosity is elemental to our humanity-across diverse cultures and beliefs and despite differences throughout history-and 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, a 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 unfamiliar in many workplaces?
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?”
•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 and 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?
•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.
•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.
•Simple, everyday activities such as conversation or commuting are enhanced by generosity. Importantly, so are larger possibilities and responsibilities, such as creativity and community spirit.
•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.
•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.
•Since generosity involves circulation, it takes more than one person-usually a group, community or assembly-to fulfill its potential.
•It reminds us that generosity towards oneself is also very important. If we aren't generous to ourselves, we'll have trouble becoming generous towards and with others.
4. WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OR OBSTACLES TO “BEING GENEROUS?”
Knowing when to say “no.”
•Practising 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 & IM 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 to do good
•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 ones creativity to the worlds needs and possibilities, participating in the grand and ancient economy of giving, receiving and circulating.