I listened to a podcast of cbc radio's Definitely Not the Opera yesterday. It was about belief, and the things we believe in that we can't prove. People on the show discussed different kinds of belief: religious, political, economic, social, psychic... It got me to thinking about what I believe that I can't prove. I believe a lot of things, but here's one that I thought about when I was at my bible study group on Wednesday. I'm doing a faith formation course for 6 weeks with a small group at my church. We're looking at the Book of Acts and our changing church. We were discussing inclusion and openness, and what makes for a sense of welcome and belonging in community.
I believe that people are, by nature, generous. I have observed that the happiest people I know are the most generous. At first I thought that if a person could afford to be generous he or she would also be happy, but I've come to realise that the act of generosity itself (rather than the resources for generosity) is the source of happiness. There's not much better feeling than being able to help another person. This is a good and needed feeling regardless of one's situation.
At church, my friend Pete told a story of a homeless man in a nearby city who was murdered recently. At his funeral, people from the community came forward to tell stories of his generosity of spirit - how he shared whatever little he had, went out of his way to help whenever he could, and how he gave a feeling of warmth and friendliness to everyone who knew him.
At work, I met a woman named Tanya who had no home of her own, and was couch-surfing. She would come in every few days for a shower or to get out of the cold. More than once my co-worker or I would make her a cup of tea, or share part of our lunch with her when she was hungry. She was such a friendly, open person, whether she was sad or happy, she would also stop to say hello on her way in or out. One day she arrived at the rec centre in despair because she was without a place to stay. The staff on duty helped her with a phone number for the shelter hot line, and offered her the phone. After a couple of hours of calling, she found a place for the night. We didn't see Tanya for a few days, then she stopped by and came into my office. She told me she wanted to thank me for my kindness, and she gave me a bracelet. I accepted the gift, thanked her, and put it on right away. She left smiling.
When Alex was small, he was cared for by a family daycare mom, Shirley, while I was at work. Shirley's husband Glen operated a small shoe repair shop. Shirley cared for her aging mom, who lived with them, and helped out her young adult son and daughter who were starting their own families. Shirley was a kind and loving caregiver to Alex and the other children who came to her. Her generous spirit showed in the cards and gifts she had for the children (she never missed a birthday, Christmas, Easter or any other special day), and in the way she loved each child and saw his or her special strengths and qualities. As busy as she was, she took care of us in other ways. When Andy's Dad died suddenly, Shirley cared for Alex while we made arrangements and attended his memorial service. She also baked two huge trays of squares and cookies and gave them to me to take to Andy's Mom's place for the reception after the service. When Fiona was born, Shirley offered to take Alex for the time Andy and I were at the hospital. When Andy picked up Alex from Shirley's place, Alex had a gift for his sister. Shirley had taken him shopping and bought a whole outfit - dress, shoes, socks, bib, hairbow for Alex to give to Fiona. When Fiona 6 months old, Shirley encouraged me to quit my job and open my own daycare. Her optimism and generosity had a profound influence on me.
My own parents personify generosity. They have helped us financially as we bought a home and as we have raised the kids. They are also generous in spirit, encouraging us to follow our own inclinations and ideals, even when they differ somewhat from their own. They let us know all the time how much they appreciate and respect us, and they enjoy being with us and sharing in the life of our family. They are role models for us, showing us through their generosity that the world is full and abundant with opportunity and love.
Not everyone is as generous, or as happy, as the people in these examples. And here's the part I can't prove, but still believe: I believe that people who are not generous in their actions are still generous by nature. I believe that they are heart-sick from the lack of opportunity for generosity, and hobbled by whatever it is in their thinking that stops them from being generous. I don't know what it is - maybe they don't believe there's anything they can do that would help others? maybe they don't believe in themseleves or see themselves as good people? maybe they are afraid that if they give away what they have, there will not be enough left for them to survive.
All of this is to say that I do not think ungenerous people are bad, or greedy. I believe that they are sad, afraid, hurt, and stopped by something from being who they are really meant to be. I believe that one of the most generous things a generous person can do is to nurture the generosity of another person. Accept the gift - whether you need it or not. Recognize the intention, even if the act itself doesn't come out the way it might have. Fan any small spark of giving and help your friend - or the stranger who may become your friend - to find a way back to his or her true nature. Model generosity even when you know it will not be reciprocated. You never know what small act of your own kindness may break through to another person who is aching to change.
I have not way to prove this, but I believe it truly and deeply. I think I have always believed it. Happiness springs from generosity. Generosity is who we are.
question: can you think of an example of generosity and happiness in your life?
mompoet - believing