If you ask any of us, I’m sure we would all proclaim to be generous in some way. That it’s a value we aspire to live up to.
But how well do we embrace it really? How much is living generously a true guiding principle in our lives and how much is it just a nice sentiment we pay lip service to.
I am fully guilty of token gestures. A $20 donation here. An hour volunteering there. Ooooo look at me, what a good person I am. But it’s never anything too taxing. Money I can easily afford to spare. Fitting volunteering around my schedule, rather than committing and scheduling around it.
Recently I made a commitment to greater generosity to see what would happen. Being conscious of when I was generous as a matter of course and looking for opportunities for generosity around me.
Here’s what happened:
Sunday: Donation to Pencils of Promise
Monday: Shouted a colleague coffee
Tuesday: Showed a girl on the tube my Best Self Journal after she asked what it was.
Wednesday: Sent Christmas cards by snail mail (side note: who else loves snail mail?!)
Thursday: Lent my carry on suitcase to my flatmate for the weekend
Friday: Assisted a girl with a stuck plug cover so she could charge her laptop
Saturday: Had a screen free day
Lessons on Living Generously
On reflection, there is so much judgement. It even sneaks into the introduction of this blog post. Is this act generous enough? Does it count? Does not donating to every homeless person I see mean I’m actually a generosity fraud? Somehow my yardstick is a direct inversion of my level of self-deprivation. If I have to actively forgo something then it can count as a generous act. In reality, every time I choose to direct my money or time or energy towards someone else when I don’t have to, then I’m being generous. Just because I don’t draw the direct link between the coffees I’m giving up and the education I’m contributing to through Pencils of Promise. Or the brunch date I’ll not arrange in order to help at a lunch for the elderly. I’m still making a choice. The trade-off is still happening. So big or small. Direct deprivation or not. Can we all agree that being generous is being generous and get on with the show?
I impressed myself with how many generous acts I did already, that normally I don’t even think about. You want to borrow something? Sure. Check over your CV? No problem. Directions? Absolutely. The cool thing about this wee experiment was highlighting to myself that I already give pretty freely in many ways. Due to the judgement expressed above, I didn’t consider myself especially magnanimous. It feels good to give myself a little credit.
The other result of being more conscious of my giving is it opened my eyes to the opportunities around me to be kinder, more helpful and patient. Friday’s action was the epitome of this. Walking through the communal office space and a girl can’t change her laptop because she can’t get at the plugs in the floor. I saw her struggling to prise the cover off and stopped to help. Not a big deal but most of the time I would have walked on by, preoccupied with my own concerns. Instead, I helped and we both got a boost to our Friday afternoon. These opportunities are everywhere, we just need to pause long enough to take them.
There a million and one and then some ways to be generous. You can be liberal with your money, time, knowledge, attention, possessions. The recipient can be friends, family, foe, stranger or yourself (my screen free day is case in point). It can be a tiny gesture that will be forgotten in a few days or an ongoing commitment that makes a real impact in someone’s life. Being a buddy to a blind girl, taking her for coffee, to the movies, the regular things girlfriends do is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.
Acts of generosity reveal your priorities and values. I realised that I can’t be generous to everyone, all the time. Every charity collector in the street isn’t going to receive my donation. All the worthy causes that could use my skills aren’t going to get use of them. The reality is I, and you, need to choose. Inevitably those choices get made based on what we think is important. I believe strongly in the power of education and learning, thus donating to Pencils of Promise. But there are lots of organisations bringing better access to education. What I also like about PoP is it was founded on sound business principals that mean my money is well spent on building schools and not funding inefficient overheads. Even if you don’t think you’re making these kinds of judgements to determine where to spend your money and time, on reflection you will highlight what you value as important.
Generosity can be big, can be small. Can directly or indirectly require choices between options. The options and opportunities are endless. Sometimes we’re going to be incredibly open and generous and other days we’re just going to walk on by. And all of that is ok. It’s time to unshackle generosity from judgement and just be as generous as we can be in each moment.
So I challenge you. Today, as you go about your day, keep your eyes open for the opportunity to engage in some impromptu generosity.
When was the last time you felt generous? What did you do? Tell us in the comments.