Generosity is something we all want and often struggle with.
Why is that?
Ambivalence About Generosity
We tend to respond to generosity with warmth, happiness and joy. We also naturally respond to stinginess with repulsion, hurt and fear. Of course negative experiences can cause us to have more complicated feelings.
Generosity is loaded with ideas about power, what it means to be a good person, our survival needs, or needs to be respected and valued. It is an important factor in issues of discrimination and injustice.
There is a lot of effort put into getting people to be generous. Advertising is a way to get us to be generous with our wallets, which are filled by our hours of work. A lot of social media is about parading images of abundance and happiness – a demonstration of our worth through what we have in our lives. These presentations of generosity create conflicted feelings and are primarily materialistic.
Because so many of our needs have been met through automation – at least pre-COVID-19 – the greatest emphasis has been placed on developing our personalities as a way to be eligible to receive in this world. Since we need to function in this world and with each other, we develop the coping strategies that will make us attractive. One such strategy that is culturally supported is the positivity movement which encourages positive thinking as a way to be in the world. Being positive is a good thing unless it means we give up being grounded. Being grounded is easier said than done in an ungrounded cultural system that is creating ecological havoc.
To many, positivity has come to be perceived as a way of not being real and perhaps more importantly disconnected from reality. The demand for constant positives and perpetual pleasure is unrealistic, unnatural and demands too much of people and nature.
We all need supportive connection and like pleasure and joy. As a result we many reject unpleasant experiences as simply negativity which may not be the truth. We can lose a lot in the process.
We all like to feel good. We all also know the feeling of pleasure we get from being generous. It is the best part of the holiday seasons that we celebrate each year. Yet if one person gives more than another or has more than another, that largesse may feel uncomfortable.
Noticing Our Vulnerability
Unfortunately, materialism is so promoted that it can cause us to feel lack. Not having something is fine but in a competitive world, perceived lack can have consequences affecting employment and other opportunities. Sensitive people know this well. Perceptions of lack can remind us of our vulnerability.
We are especially affected by our relationships but our longing for connection can be thwarted in many ways:
- rejection can cause us to pull back from others
- our competitive society which thrives on comparisons may be a factor in our feelings of being vulnerable with others
- we may react to macho values of stoicism and be embarrassed by our vulnerability
- we may see vulnerability as a weakness and be treated that way by others.
If we have experienced any shaming in our early years we may be uncomfortable with generosity.
Generosity And Nature
One of the wonderful things about nature is that its existence is an act of generosity towards us that rewards us over and over just by being in it. One of the best parts of life for many people is being in nature or with animals in nature or as pets. It is one place where our generosity can express itself with little interference from intrusive thoughts about power, injustice and exploitation.
With animals in particular we are able to feel our kindred relationship with another species and have it be a warm and nurturing experience. Their generosity often comes naturally. With humans not so much.
Why Generosity Is So Important
Without the ability to be generous we are not truly free. We are shut down, and our energy is turned into ourselves in a way that is painful. It is really important that we find a way to enter our generosity in a constructive way so that we can experience the connection and joy that we yearn for.
I personally think that to increase the generosity and joy in our lives we need to go slowly and look for ways to safely increase our positive experiences of generosity and positive social connection. It helps to take baby steps and even write in a journal about our experiences. It is important in creating connection to be mindful of the vulnerability of others and seek ways to help others have less fear around connection.
Generosity is the expression of our own natural goodness and gratitude for what we have. The more we express it the better our lives can become. Hopefully, our pandemic has opened the door to a reconsideration of the importance and value of generosity as a personal quality separate from materialism and status so that we can find our way to a kinder and more generous form of human community.