Every year at this time, I am reminded of a lesson in generosity that I received many years ago. As a teenager living in the Appalachian Mountains, I worked as a bag boy in a supermarket. To my dismay, it was the working poor who were most likely to give tips, people who often seemed needier than me. I would either refuse the tip or sometimes slip the money back into one of the bags as I put them in the car. I felt quite proud about this until one cold, rainy Christmas Eve when a man wearing worn-out clothes and driving a beat-up old car filled with many wide-eyed, unkempt children insisted on giving me a large tip. I was embarrassed at the idea of taking his money and flatly refused. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “This is something I can do for you. It is my Christmas.”
Suddenly I got it—the tips weren’t about me; they were about the giver, his values, and his life. I’d believed I had the right to decide the appropriateness of another’s generosity. Such arrogance! I accepted the man’s money, deeply thanked him, and kept walking through the parking lot pushing the empty shopping cart in the freezing air rather than returning to the warm store. My ears burned from shame, but my heart was warm, for a generous spirit had touched me. I knew then that I had received a teaching, but it would be many years before I could make it my own.
The True Meaning of Generosity
True generosity arises out of unconditional caring and compassion for another. Each of us is dependent upon others for our blessings. We flourish or perish together through interwoven acts of generosity arising from the benevolence and integrity of others, many of whom we shall never meet. This is the power of generosity. When we mindfully practice generosity, we come into contact with its joyful, healing power.
Practicing generosity is the intention to find release from attachment to gratifying our ego needs by giving freely of what we have that is of value. What we have to give may be material in nature, or it may be our time, energy, or wisdom. We practice generosity to eradicate the attachments that come from our feelings of scarcity and separateness. The practice of generosity allows us to see the world from the point of view of what we have and what we have to give, instead of seeing it from the perspective of what we don’t have and desperately want.
For Your Reflection:
During this season of gift giving, reflect on how you might practice generosity throughout the year. There are many ways to cultivate an attitude of generosity in daily life. Here are just a few that I have found to be quite powerful:
- Be generous with your attention when you’re listening to someone.
- Be generous in celebrating another person’s happiness.
- Be generous with your sympathy toward someone who has experienced loss.
- Be generous with your compliments and praise of others.
- Be generous with your unconditional respect of others.
- Be generous with your willingness to be helpful.