” You can share even if you have only a little”. Quote from an East African proverb.
I was struck by the meaning of this a few years ago when our son was home for a brief visit at Christmas during the time he was studying abroad. He was unemployed, broke and looking to begin to find his way in the world. As we walked from a restaurant in the December dampness, we were approached by homeless people asking for spare change. Not once, but several times, he reached in his pocket and gave out a loonie or two. I commented on this noting that he did not have much money. His reply will always stay with me. He said simply, “I have more than any of those people”.
I go back to these words “I have more than any of those people” as I review the holiday requests from various charities for year-end contributions. These requests usually include some indication of tax incentives and urge that donations to be given prior to December 31 for in-year tax advantages. Some of the appeals are heart wrenching with pictures of hungry children, environmental disasters or homeless people needing shelter. All urge generosity and often suggest amounts for the gift.
Trying to respond to all of the requests is impossible but not responding can create feelings of selfishness and guilt because, as my son said so well, “I have more than those people”. As I consider the requests, I am also examining the meaning of generosity — my own generosity and the generosity of others — especially during the Christmas season when expectations of generous gift-giving have become part of the North American culture. These are some of the postworksavvy musings on generosity as I consider how generosity is aligned with my value system.
Generosity comes freely and is inherent
I begin by acknowledging that generosity comes freely to each of us through the gifts of nature — the cycles of day and night, the rhythm of the seasons, the beauty of sunrise and sunset. Our physical world contains an inherent beauty demonstrated through the myriad of plants, animals, landscapes and other natural phenomena. It is given equally to rich and poor. There is no expectation of payment. Out of respect and awe many commit — in various degrees — to environmental sustainability. Perhaps this is self-interest; I like to think it is generosity to the earth and a means of honouring the mysterious balance of the external world that surrounds each of us.
Generosity with nature for the postworksavvy can begin with awareness of the carbon footprint we leave through energy consumption. I am making a commitment to decrease my personal impact on the environment beginning with small steps such as reducing the amount of energy used every day; relying less on use of a personal automobile; reducing waste through rejection of over-packaged goods and by re-cycling; and making dietary changes in favour of eating locally produced food whenever possible and consuming fewer calories from meat, chicken and fish.
Generosity comes back to us
In many cultures and most religious communities there is a belief that an attitude of generosity and well-being is rewarded throughout our lifetime with abundance that rebounds and grows. Writings and teachings of religious thought leaders including Mamonides, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed urge followers to practise benevolence and kindness toward others with selfless concern.
In retirement many people shift away from self-orientation. Whether through volunteerism or philanthropy, many commit to use of time and resources to increase the well-being of humankind and to increase public good. These acts of generosity keep us connected to the needs of others without expectation of return. Strangely, giving to others and connecting to their needs, becomes energizing for the self and keeps us connected to our communities.
True giving is not an economic exchange. It comes from the heart and begins with those three words we all cherish — ‘I love you’. Whether spoken to a life partner, a child or an elderly relative, the usual response is a smile, a hug or some endearing words of reciprocity.
I am learning that generosity with praise and caution with criticism are essential for the postworksavvy approach when interacting with others. What’s more, acting with emotional generosity becomes a habit — it stokes my own well-being. Whether it is a kind word to the annoying telemarketer, a smile for a neighbour, an extra amount on the tip for the harried waitress that spilled coffee as it was served, or a word of praise rather than criticism for a child — my own behaviour has an influence that rebounds positively. And, generosity with others becomes contagious. Yes, it energizes the recipient — more importantly, it energizes me and warms my heart — regardless of the response it brings.
I am learning that unexpected blessings come from practising generosity. Whether it is a gift of the heart, a gift of time, or a gift of money, the reward my generosity produces is a feeling of well-being that warms my soul — especially in this holiday season.
I am confident that the small mental shift in fostering an attitude of generosity in thoughts and actions will bring big changes throughout a lifetime. Benevolence, kindness, and altruism are transformational qualities that are becoming anessential part of my postworksavvy approach to life.
Your thoughts and reactions to this blog post are important. Does generosity increase as we move into the third age? Are we more selfless as we grow older or does our selfishness increase? Do you believe that generosity toward other comes back to reward us? Please provide your comments.
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