As I reflect on generosity, I resonate with many of Gibran's ideas. (An excerpt is pasted below.) We understand that there are different forms of giving and expressions of generosity: We most commonly equate it with material generosity. But, we also hear it in relation to time. In fact, in family science, we remind parents that where they spend their time and money is where their children will learn what they value most. We also hear about "listening generously," and "loving generously," which tugs at the best parts of ourselves to be and live generously in non-material ways.
When we listen generously, we suspend judgment, not formulating our response while the other person is talking. We attempt to see and experience our conversation partner through their perceptions, feelings, ideas. We know how healing it is to be heard, understood, validated, and accepted for who we are. We also know how important it is to understand the needs of another through communication, by not assuming the person can intuit or mind-read what we're feeling or thinking. Therefore, to listen generously, we need presence, openness, and receptivity.
Loving generously is a more complex phenomenon because the act and will to love may mean different things to different people. What remains constant is we know when we feel loved and when we are attempting to love. I highlight attempting because our attempt-when poorly defined-may distance rather than bring others closer to us. Rabbi Simon Jacobson provides some guidelines: "Healthy love must always include an element of discipline and discernment: a degree of distance and respect for the other; an assessment of another's capacity to contain your love. Love must be tempered and directed properly. Love with discretion is necessary to avoid giving to those who would use loving to perpetuate negative behavior." He highlights examples of the permissive and indulging parent who spoils their child or the person who "suffocates" his/her partner as forms of negative behavior. Loving generously, much like listening generously, also involves humility, compassion, and honor. In Corinthians 13: 4-7, this is outlined: "Love is patient and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." In Jewish mystical thought, love is blended and balanced with qualities of kindness, discipline,, beauty/harmony, endurance/reliability, humility, and honor.
On this week of Passover and Easter, listening, loving and giving generously are celebrations of the truest form of liberation: The ability to choose that which promotes the inner wealth and sustenance of ourselves and each other. To those that are celebrating: Happy Passover and Happy Easter!
Then said a rich man, speak to us of giving.
And he answered:
You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
For what are your possessions but things
you keep and guard
for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow
bring to the over prudent dog
burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the
pilgrims to the holy city?
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full,
the thirst that is unquenchable?
There are those who give little
of the much which they have-
and they give it
for recognition and their hidden desire
makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,
and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy,
and their joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain,
and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not
pain in giving, nor do they seek joy,
nor give with mindfulness of virtue:
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle
breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these God
speaks, and from behind their eyes
He smiles upon the earth.
It is well to give when asked, but it is
better to give unasked, through understanding:
And to the open-handed the search for
one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught your would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given:
Therefore give now, that the season of
giving may be yours and not your inheritors`.
You often say,"I would give, but only to the deserving."
The trees in your orchard say not so,
nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live,
for to with-hold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his
days and nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from
the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be,
than that, which lies in the courage and the
confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend
their bosom and unveil their pride,
that you may see their worth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be
a giver,and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life-
while you, who deem yourself a giver are but a witness.
And you receivers- and you are all
receivers- assume no weight of gratitude,
lest you lay a yoke upon
yourself and upon he who gives.
Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings:
For to be overmindful of your debt,is
to doubt his generosity who has the
free-hearted earth for mother,and God for father