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... And All Those Other People in Your Life

Most of us, at one time or another, find ourselves frustrated with all those other people in our lives – no matter how much we love and care for them. It may even seem that all our problems would be over if they’d just go away. Except for the obvious fact that the state we really want includes our loved ones!

What a pickle!

Well, it's time to take it on.

"It" being the art of generosity. Specifically, cultivating a generous spirit.

First of all, what do you think of when I mention that word? To some people, generosity is giving all their stuff away. It's true that generous people share, so that's partially correct. But it's bigger. Generosity, according to the dictionary, means "characterized by a noble or forbearing spirit," which in turn means, "elevated in character and spirit."

Let's try it. Let’s say that in your mind, generosity equals giving stuff away. So you did. You had the expectation that giving your stuff away would result in some specific re-action on the part of the people you gave it to. Most likely, you hoped it would come back with interest, as though you'd made an investment out of it. (Not cash interest, perhaps, but a consideration such as appreciation, gratitude, or even “instant karma.”)

And let's just say that your expectations weren't met.

Was this really an act of generosity? Or something else?

There are other possibilities. First, "Giving to Get." When you give more than you can afford in service to some (misguided) belief, you're treading on the ground of the martyr. In this case, you've become a victim of your own (misguided) beliefs – for example the belief that the only way you'll ever be loved and appreciated is by giving until you have nothing left.

That isn't generosity, is it? No. It's trying to buy something un-buyable (like love or security) with currency you don't have. You'll end up in debt. You’ll exhaust your life force energy, if not your finances. And you’ll pay the price with your health.

But there are other reasons people give too much away. Another example would be "Giving to Control." You give something away, instantly creating a debt for the person you gave it to. You have bought the right to tell them how to live. Is this generosity? Not quite.

Then there's "Giving to Disempower" (a form of control). When you help a person out with something they should be able to do on their own, you disempower them. You reinforce their fear that they're not good enough to be independent. And you build unhealthy dependence on you. Generosity? Not really.

Giving with a hidden agenda of getting something back for yourself (appreciation, control, or dependency) isn't generosity. It's manipulation.

Generosity of Spirit

Then what does real generosity look like? Here are some examples:

~ Forgiveness may be an act of generosity. Susie hurts your feelings. Instead of harboring a grudge, you let it go. Really. She was having a bad day, that's all. Done. Generosity of spirit.

~ When the mom bird pushes her little ones out of the nest to make them fly, it’s generosity. She challenges them to take the leap they need toward independence rather than hanging on to control of their future. Her faith that they'll be up to the task is an act of generosity.

~ Keeping an open mind and heart toward a friend or family member rather than judging them by their past actions is also generosity. Don’t set yourself up for a sucker punch. If history tells you that your kid doesn't repay debts, don't just send another check. At the same time, maintain a generous attitude toward his or her ability to come around and set things right.

~ Giving a little extra, of course, can be an act of generosity.

Helping a child out with their college education or a down-payment for their first home, for example. That kind of hand up could make all the difference in their future, and you'll both feel better for it. The distinction is the presence or absence of a hidden agenda on your part and theirs.

I'll illustrate further with a story. (It’s fiction, in case you can’t tell.)

The Banquet

Let's say you’ve been invited to a lavish banquet (in my analogy, the banquet is your life). You're so excited to attend! You know you'll meet up with all kinds of wonderful people you appreciate and care about (these are the people you interact with every day). But you're concerned that the menu won't be to your liking (the menu is your experience of life.)

"I see a simple solution," you think. "I'll bring along my favorite dish! That way, I'll know my needs will be met. And I’ll bring extra to share. Maybe I’ll even find some playmates!"

How you bring your dish to the banquet has everything to do with your generosity of spirit. It also has everything to do with how your dish is received (and believe me, when things go bad in this department, they can go very, very bad!) Here are 3 approaches you could take. I've organized them based on what you say when you arrive. Bear in mind that "what you say when you arrive" need not be communicated with words. Unspoken attitude can say it all.

Approach #1: "I knew you goofballs couldn't cook so I brought my own food. You can try some if you want. But it’s probably too good for your boorish tastes."

Approach #2: "My health guru told me to eat nothing but low-fat, vegetarian, organic, whole-grain, no-sweeteners, raw food. He's right, you know. Unless you eat the way I do, you're gonna keel over dead. I brought enough for everyone. You've wasted your time and effort preparing that trash. Just throw it all away."

Approach #3: "Wow. You guys did a great job of putting this banquet together! The table looks wonderful. I really appreciate the opportunity we all have to get together! I wanted to contribute something, so I've brought along my favorite dish. There's enough to share. It might be different from what you're used to, and I won't be offended if you don't take a lot. But please try a little if it appeals to you."

In my analogy, the #3 approach is an example of bringing a generous spirit to people who experience life differently than you do. Let’s explore what makes this approach work:

~ The speaker is kind
~ He or she respects where his fellow guests are right now
~ He accepts his fellow guests as equals
~ He leaves room for them to accept or decline his offer with grace
~ And he keeps offering

Eventually, someone's going to be curious enough to check out what he brought. At that point, we hope he’ll be receptive! And that his generosity continues as he shepherds his fellow guests through their first healthy bites. As we know, healthy living can be an acquired taste!


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