If you are like me you may have a sneaky suspicion that you could be more giving. When you meet with others perhaps you could be a bit more ready to give something of yourself than is strictly necessary or expected. You don’t have to be stingy or mean to lack generosity – just a little more open-handed and less judgmental.
“In life and in politics, it’s helpful to try to perceive the other person through the most generous lens.” (Megyn Kelly, American live television host / journalist)
Some people seem to have more of a natural empathy for those they meet and a spontaneous way of giving their time and energy. A few are even unsparing in their generosity.
I don’t think I often lack concern for those in need. But it doesn’t always show in what I do and be grounded in action. My attitude contrasts unfavourably with the inclination of my late mother. She willingly would give food to tramps who knocked on the back door.
So just how does one develop a generous spirit? Here are 4 suggestions I am working on to become a more giving person.
1. Noticing acts of giving by others
Before the days of easy credit, my late father kindly lent me some money after I had neglected to watch my bank balance. However, generally speaking, I can’t easily remember anyone giving anything to me. Is this because people are not generous as a whole?
“Many men have been capable of doing a wise thing, more a cunning thing, but very few a generous thing.” (Alexander Pope, 18th-century English poet)
Perhaps there’s more generosity about than I think. It is possible I don’t much see it because I rarely ask for a favour from anyone. Or maybe I haven’t got my eyes open.
Having said that however, I do recall some years ago once asking someone to let me jump the queue at the supermarket check-out as I had only one item. They let me in and I cynically supposed they were too embarrassed to refuse. Now I realise it would have shown more generosity of spirit on my part to have assumed the best in someone. In fact, more recently, a similar situation has arisen and without my making any request, someone has shown consideration by waving me through to the front of the queue.
2. Writing down some things you are giving to others
Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are giving of ourselves to others. Listening to their woes. Lending a garden tool or book. Helping them with a car lift to the railway station. Getting some shopping for them when they are unwell.
“Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways it can change someone else’s life forever.” (Margaret Cho, American comedian, actor, & singer)
Doing favours isn’t always from pure kindness. There might be other motives mixed in there sometimes. Wanting to stay on good terms with one’s neighbours. Being uneasy about being thought badly of. Hoping to get something back in return. But even if it is not kindness of heart, the good turn might possibly be done because giving is the right thing to do. And I suppose that wouldn’t be such a bad motive.
3. Writing down some things that you are not giving and the reasons why.
I notice more women than men give to street beggars. Is this because they are more naturally warm-hearted or more of a soft touch? I know there is genuine need out there. I hesitate in being generous to those who are down and out because I wonder if it would be merely feeding a drink or drug problem or an unnecessary habit of helplessness or role of dependency. It is possible to be taken advantage of by a stranger.
“If you want to be a generous giver, you have to watch out for selfish takers.” (Adam Grant, academic psychologist)
I would rather be generous with my time in listening to the concerns of others rather than giving more tangible things. This would mean providing reassurance, encouragement or suggesting useful ideas.
“We’re all generous, but with different things, like time, money, talent – criticism.” (Frank A. Clark, American 20th century politician)
But more often than not I don’t even take the trouble to do these.
There are a myriad of charities we could give to. We all have limited money so we have to choose between them.
“Funny thing is that the poorer people are, the more generous they seem to be.” (Dolly Parton, country music singer / songwriter)
I can sometimes excuse myself for not donating to an appeal for a worthy cause by saying I am already giving to the charity whose work I mostly value.
I admit sometimes I do begrudge effort, time or self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Even though I do give these things. Of course a genuinely generous thing to do is done from the heart and not merely for the sake of appearances.
“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (Paul the Apostle)
4. If religious, asking for God’s help to follow spiritual guidance.
In the New Testament we are asked to love the neighbour as ourselves. By loving others we are loving Christ’s life of loving service. One teaching I believe in is that this high level of loving care can become dramatically possible. However, this happens only when we try to follow the Lord’s example and ask for his help to do so. Then the Divine Spirit can slowly transform what we delight in doing. It changes us from being self-serving to being generous towards the needs of others.
‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (New Testament)
Copyright 2018 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems