“It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.” ― Albert Einstein
Generosity is one of my favorite words and a trait I greatly admire in others. As we approach Christmas and the end of 2021, I would like to share some thoughts with you on generosity that will encourage you to pause and reflect before the holidays, but also hopefully influence how you live in 2022 (and beyond). Would you agree that generosity inspires gratitude, and gratitude inspires generosity? Let me share a brief story that illustrates this point.
An admirer of the great German composer, Johannes Brahms, left him a large sum of money in his will. Upon learning of the generous gift, Brahms was deeply moved. “It touches me most deeply and intimately,” he wrote to a good friend. “All exterior honors are nothing in comparison.” Then, in the next sentence, he shared with his friend that since he did not need the money, he was “enjoying it in the most agreeable manner, by taking pleasure in its distribution.”
The generosity that was shown to Brahms was immediately passed along by the composer to those in need. The virtue of generosity that affected Brahms inspired replication of itself in the generosity that Brahms himself demonstrated to others. We would also hope that it stirred the same virtue among the beneficiaries of his gifts. When we consider that there is a ripple effect resulting from our generosity, we may be compelled to be more thoughtful and focused on giving to others we engage with each day. If we reflect more deeply on it, it is clear that generosity is the virtue that can go on mirroring itself forever.
The greatest gift we can give to another is the gift of ourselves. Giving of ourselves in this way epitomizes the virtue of generosity. The dynamic impulse toward generosity is implanted in the depth of man’s being from our very creation. Consequently, to live authentically means to give generously to others. For those of us who are Christians, we know God’s gift of Himself through Christ represents the ultimate form of generosity, and serves as a model for all human generosity. We are reminded of this tremendous gift to the world every year in the celebration of Christmas!
Does generosity, considered as a virtue, have limits? Since virtue is rooted in love, this question is similar to us asking, “Does love have limits?” If we indulge our analytical minds, being generous seems to be costly and perhaps uncomfortable at times. If we live with a generous heart, acting from a place of greed seems almost incomprehensible. It is greed that makes us poorer, not generosity. True generosity, when practiced consistently and well, enriches us beyond measure. I believe there is an abundance of generosity within each of us, waiting to come out. Not to release it is to cost us a bit of who we are. Nothing, therefore, costs us more than greed. Nothing rewards us more than generosity.
If we consider famous literary characters such as King Midas, Ebenezer Scrooge, and The Grinch, we will realize they are all driven by greed in such a way that the more greedy they become, the less human they appear. The ultimate conversions of Midas, Scrooge, and The Grinch are, in effect, returns to humanity that are joyfully appreciated by the reader. People living lives rooted in generosity are not only more likable than those who are greedy, but they also appear to be more human and certainly more authentic. Do you agree?
It is more blessed to give than to receive, but it is far more blessed to give than to take. For a moment, let’s thoughtfully consider how the gift of our time, our willingness to listen, our patience, our mercy, our talents, our kindness, our love and our financial resources can be applied to more intentionally living the virtue of generosity towards others. In the end, we cannot take with us what we have, though many of us seem to live as though we could. But we can joyfully share what we have been given, accumulated or earned with the people we encounter each day. Finally, remember that generosity is a virtue for everyone, not only the prosperous and blessed. Generosity can take many forms and everyone has an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of this virtue, regardless of their struggles or situation in life.
Who will benefit from your generosity today?
*Stay tuned for the 5th blog post in the Upon Reflection series next week: The Power of Self-Discipline, Intentionality & Routine for Leaders in 2022