Earlier this month, the minister of the Unitarian Church that we attend on zoom presented a meditation on the spiritual practice of generosity.
The service was billed as a stewardship service. Past experience with stewardship services had me assuming that the service would focus on giving money to the church, tithing, pledging, etc. Just about every church I’ve attended avoided talking about money until problems such as a leaking roof, insufficient funds for operating costs including staff payroll, carpets needing replacement, or extraordinary safety issues arose.
To my surprise, the meditation focused on the habit of generosity. The meditation focused on small acts of generosity that can be practised every day.
Since then, I’ve been thinking of the many instances when I’ve witnessed the generosity of others. For example, I’ve often seen my son giving extra tips to waiters and waitresses noting that they likely don’t make the salary he does. Years ago I remember watching my mother reach into her purse to give our neighbour a $100 bill to purchase new glasses for her daughter when she saw the girl with frames held together with duct tape. I’ve watched my husband purchase subscriptions for magazines he never reads from solicitors at the door just because door-to-door solicitation is a difficult job. I’ve felt the warmth of a hug from a friend when I was distressed and needed comfort.
Throughout my life, I’ve seen many other instances of generosity showing unselfishness and respect for other human beings. Sometimes it’s an act of friendliness; sometimes it’s altruism; sometimes it’s a helpful gesture in traffic.
Regardless of the action, true generosity shows a selfless concern for the well-being of others.
The Practise of Generosity — photo courtesy of Elisabeth Wales on Unsplash
Generosity can be expressed in many ways that show thoughtfulness and don’t involve much if any, money.
We can encourage a child by praising their efforts at school or in sports and acknowledging when they try hard. By recognizing good behaviour instead of punishing misbehaviour, we establish expectations with positive messages.
When interacting with others, we can always be kind — even when feeling affronted. Most people don’t go out of their way to hurt or provoke or insult. An acknowledgement like a smile is usually sufficient to end any exchange without rancour.
Requests for spare change often bother me because I just don’t carry enough change to give a looney or toonie each time I encounter someone in a doorway who asks for money. I try to acknowledge the person and gently refuse rather than ignore the person. A sincere acknowledgement recognizes that it is another human being that I am passing — not just a doorway. When I have coins, I’ll give them just because I can.
I’ll practise instantaneous generosity. It usually takes less time to act when an impulse strikes. rather than putting it off for later. When I think of sending an email to check on a friend or donating money to a needy cause or complimenting someone for a job well done, I’ll act on the urge and let generosity prevail.
The generosity of others is an act of love.
My husband often reminds me that I have difficulty accepting generosity. Sometimes our son will offer help with jobs around the house or at our cottage. In my natural zeal for independence, I refuse the offer. I’m learning that such a refusal robs him of the joy of doing something for us.
I’ve caught myself minimizing a genuine compliment. Instead of saying a polite thank you, I may downplay or deny the compliment. It’s an area that I clearly need to work on by noticing the generosity behind the compliment. By accepting the compliment as a generous acknowledgement of something I’ve done, I can respect it as a gift of kindness shown to me.
Since hearing the meditation, I thought about how to make generosity a habit. Behavioural psychologists tell us that doing something every day for 28 consecutive days results in the formation of a habit.
I began with noticing the generosity of others — either generosity for which I’m the recipient or times when I’ve practised generosity.
There are many small and simple acts of generosity that can make someone’s day brighter. If all of us develop habits of generosity, perhaps we can make a difference in our broken world.