Kindness and Generosity – Offering Our Unique Gifts

“Generosity brings happiness at every stage of its expression. We experience joy in forming the intention to be generous. We experience joy in the actual act of giving something. And we experience joy in remembering the fact that we have given.”  (Gautama Buddha)

Flowering Cherry and Moss 2A few posts ago, I wrote about the connection between kindness and a sense of abundance.  The logical next step when one’s view of the world is of abundance rather than scarcity is to express that abundance through generosity.

I have been blessed to be the recipient of so much generosity throughout my life—from my friends, my professional colleagues, my family, and even strangers.  Their generosity is expressed through the wisdom they so willingly share, through their time, their thoughtful actions, and their kind words.

When we think of generosity, our first thoughts are likely of material gifts or donations of cash, and, of course, these are elemental expressions of generosity, but they aren’t our only gifts.

The Three T’s

There’s an adage in the non-profit world that board members need to be willing to give the three T’s: Time, Talent, and Treasure.  Treasure is usually interpreted in monetary terms—especially for charitable and philanthropic non-profits.  If board members won’t donate to the cause, it’s hard to convince others to do so.  Hence, grant applications will often ask if 100 percent of the board has made a donation to the organization.  Boards with “high-rollers” can usually easily answer yes, but if members of the board are part of the constituency the organization serves, there may be some who have little to spare in the treasure department.  That’s why applications don’t ask how much board members have donated, only if they have.  A $10 donation from someone who may have to skip a meal to make that donation is just as important—perhaps more so—than the $50,000 donation from a corporate CEO.

Being generous with our talent asks only that we are willing to share what we do best, whether that’s fundraising, marketing, budgeting, schmoozing, or baking cupcakes.  Each of us has unique talents and part of the job of being human is recognizing them and sharing them where they are most needed.

Generosity of time is an essential element in non-profits and elsewhere.  As we have explored in an earlier post, we are often so pressed for time, so overscheduled, that we blow off opportunities to extend kindness.  Or maybe we don’t even see them in our rush to meet so many deadlines.  Generosity with our time when time is limited can be a kindness beyond measure—especially if we are able to give without conveying to the recipient our stress or our inconvenience.

Other Ways to Be Generous

Beyond the three T’s, there are a multitude of other ways we can be generous:

We can be generous in deed: It can be as simple as holding a door for someone, helping to carry a heavy load, or offering a hand.  It might be bringing freshly-baked bread to a neighbor or washing someone else’s dirty dishes without grousing.  There are so many generous deeds we can offer—big and small—and mostly it’s a matter of training our eyes to look for them.

We can be generous of word: It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day with a kind word.  Mark Twain famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  Of course, he is also reported to have said: “I have been complimented many times and they always embarrass me; I always feel they have not said enough.”  Both quotes show how powerful a sincerely expressed compliment can be.  And the wonderful thing is that they’re easy!  We can compliment someone on the great service they provided, or the astuteness of an observation, a well-written report, or how their smile brightens a room.  All we have to do is pay attention.

We can be generous of spirit:  The Buddhist practice of metta, often translated as lovingkindness, teaches practitioners to repeat phrases—aimed first at oneself, then loved ones, then acquaintances and strangers, and finally even to adversaries.  The phrases express a wish for happiness, for safety, peace, freedom from pain, and so forth.  In offering metta to people with whom we share conflict or difficulties, people who have hurt or angered us, we are, says Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, “recognizing our essential interconnectedness.”  Salzberg notes that in offering metta to a difficult person, we are not condoning bad or hurtful actions. “Instead, we are looking deeply into our hearts and discovering a capacity for lovingkindness that is not dependent on circumstances and personalities.”  We are expressing generosity not only to others but to ourselves.  That capacity for compassion is our gift to the world.

If we can give nothing else, let us at least give the benefit of the doubt.  This is easier to do with family and friends than with mere acquaintances and strangers.  If a friend or loved one says something that we find hurtful, it’s usually easy to excuse—“that wasn’t how she meant it to come out,” “I know he’s been under a lot of pressure; he didn’t really mean it.”  Why can’t we offer that same understanding to strangers when they say or do something questionable or hurtful?  Instead, we generally ascribe the worst motives and label them jerks.

In our office, we continually remind ourselves to “assume one another’s good intent.”  A simple statement, but enormously powerful.  If I ruled the world (a frightening thought if there ever was one), I’d have the phrase, “we assume one another’s good intent” printed at the top of every meeting agenda and posted on the wall of every room where people gather.  It all comes down to the simple generosity of giving the benefit of the doubt to everyone we encounter.

Generosity isn’t just something we do for someone else.  When I choose to act generously, the greatest beneficiary is always myself.  There is no better expression of the abundance in my life, nor of the confidence that I not only have enough, I am enough.  Giving creates a joyful sense of oneness with my world and my fellow creatures.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.” (Anne Frank)

 

On the Receiving End of Kindness…

“One who knows how to show and to accept kindness will be a friend better than any possession.”  (Sophocles)

[As I wrote this post, I had the distinct impression that this might be a gender-specific issue.  So to any men who happen to read it, take what you will, and perhaps there will be something that you can relate to.  Accept that you are wise, and handsome, and remarkably accomplished….]

Attribution: Donna CameronEven if we don’t have the resources to give all that we would like to give, we always have the capacity to receive graciously.  It sounds so simple, but it can be surprisingly hard.  Think of the times someone tried to give you something and you demurred—perhaps because you didn’t think they could afford it, or you didn’t feel worthy, or it was simply your initial reaction to an awkward situation.  Maybe the gift wasn’t something you wanted; perhaps you didn’t want to feel indebted.  Or maybe you are among the cynical who wonder what’s the catch?

Did your refusal of their offer please them, or did it disappoint?  In retrospect, would a gracious thank-you have made both of you happier and immensely more comfortable?

Giving is such a pleasurable act.  Yet we often deny our friends and acquaintances—and even strangers—the joy and satisfaction of giving by being such terrible receivers.

And the gift doesn’t have to be something material.  How often do we devalue the gift of another’s words by refusing their compliments?  We deflect kind words about our appearance by saying, “No, I look terrible!  My hair needs cutting and I need to lose ten pounds, and look, I’ve lost a button on this shirt.”  Do you really think they complimented us just to hear us point out all our flaws?  I seriously doubt it.

How much better to respond with, “How nice of you to say so,” or “Thanks for your kind words, they make me feel great!”

In his book, Imperfect Alternatives, Dr. Dale Turner quotes a friend who chided him for brushing off a compliment: “When someone gives you a compliment in words, don’t disagree or minimize what he says, for words are gifts, too.  Accept them gratefully, even though you don’t think you deserve them….. A compliment is a gift not to be thrown away carelessly unless you want to hurt the giver.”

We also reject compliments on our achievements by down-playing them.  We say, “No, it really wasn’t anything special. Anybody could have done it.  I was lucky.” It’s as if we are saying, No, you dolt. Can’t you see I’m really an incompetent nincompoop?  It’s always great to share credit—that’s another form of kindness (not to mention decency)—but minimizing the overall accomplishment serves no one.

How much better to say, “Thank you, I’m really pleased with the result, too,” or “Yes! Don’t we have a fabulous team!?”

As I pose the question of why accepting compliments is something most of us aren’t very good at, I realize this is a much larger issue for women than for men. When was the last time you complimented a man on his new suit and he responded by saying that it makes his butt look big?  Doesn’t happen.

Most of the men I interact with know how to accept compliments about their work.  Hell, they expect kudos … and good for them for having those expectations.

A lot of women were raised with the direct or indirect instruction to hide their light under a bushel.  Our mothers told us to be modest.  Our teachers encouraged humility and restraint.  Somebody else kept mumbling that the meek will inherit the earth.

Let’s Reframe Our Response to Compliments

Perhaps if we reframe our response to gifts and compliments we can learn to receive them.  Instead of questioning whether we deserve them, or fearing that we will appear conceited, or that we are getting more than our share, let’s stop thinking about ourselves and think instead about the giver.  Think about the kindness we can extend to them by accepting their gift with grace.

Why don’t we all set an intention of receiving compliments graciously for the next 21 days and see how that feels.  No demurring.  No downplaying.  No false modesty.  And while we’re at it, let’s extend some compliments.  I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use a few.  Do you?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)