“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)
A 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)