July 18, 2013 was Nelson Mandela International Day. In honor of his 67 years of service, people throughout the world were challenged to spend 67 minutes in charitable activity that would make our world a better place. View the highlights from the day to see all of the amazing things people did.
I was inspired by this challenge, and began a quest to understand the virtue of generosity. Sparing you the details, I can quite honestly say that I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, but have come through the final tunnel safely. I would like to share the first steep hill of my journey…
My family loves San Francisco. We visit often and always stay at the same hotel.
We eat at our favorites restaurants…
I always look forward to visiting Gandhi standing amongst the produce and flower venders.
San Francisco’s streets are lined with homeless people and panhandlers. Some play music, others are comedians, and still others are just passed out on the sidewalk with their dog(s) lying next to them. The disparity between the haves and the have nots stands out like a sore thumb.
A couple of years ago while visiting my favorite American city, I learned a lesson; in doing so, I found my heart in San Francisco.
It all started one evening while my family and I were eating dinner at our regular ‘first night in town’ restaurant, Bellini’s. Somewhere between eating salad and dipping the flatbread into olive oil and balsamic vinegar, my husband made the announcement that instead of taking our leftovers back to the hotel only to rot in the fridge, he was going to give them to someone on the street.
Alarms started going off in my head!!! To say I, the social worker had a very strong negative reaction is an understatement.
“Don’t do that! (Note to my readers: If my hands weren’t typing they would be covering my face in shame) They don’t want your food; they just want your money and will harass us for more.” My boys agreed with me and we begged him to listen to us, basically requesting that he not be so naïve (I can’t believe I’m confessing this). To his credit and my dismay, he stood his ground and boldly said he would do what his conscience told him. I rolled my eyes both because it came naturally, and as a last ditch effort to demonstrate my complete disagreement.
We had a leisurely dinner and when we were done with our pizza, we asked the server for take out boxes. With leftovers in hand, we walked towards the door. In the back of my mind I was wondering what was going to happen. I was half hoping everyone had forgotten about our earlier conversation and that the evening would pass without incident. Clearly my mind had fallen down the rabbit hole of one of my many complexes. We walked out through the open doors…
Not more than 5 seconds passed before an elderly woman bent over with osteoporosis and wrapped in a blanket, walked up to my husband and asked if he was going to eat his leftovers. Speechless he held the box out to her, which she grabbed and immediately opened.
We took a few steps up the street towards Nob Hill, and then stopped to turn around and watch.
She was inhaling the pizza as if she couldn’t satisfy her hunger fast enough. I looked at my husband who had tears filling his eyes. I caught my breath and swallowed deeply, (pride is large pill) as the lesson of charity burned an indelible image in my mind.
In all of the times we had been to San Francisco, nothing like that had ever happened, and nothing like that has happened since. Have you experienced something that you knew wasn’t a coincidence?
When I look back on that night along with all of the other acts of charity my husband has included me in against my will, I ask myself: “How can I be so heartless when I care so deeply for people, especially those in need?”
The answer is simply fear. It stems from a childhood of my dad protecting me from harm in every possible way. I love him for that, but I have developed a misguided conception of what harm actually is. Now that I have an awareness of what’s blocking my heart, I can begin to dismantle it. That doesn’t mean that understanding the fear will prevent me from experiencing it anymore. It means I will have to look it straight in the eye and walk through it over and over again, until my brain gets rewired to think and respond differently.
How do you define “Generosity?”
Charity, Service, Altruism, Giving, Volunteering, Listening, Donating, Sacrificing, Sharing, Love… the list goes on and on.
In 2009, a $5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, was awarded to The University of Notre Dame to study “The Science of Generosity,” in order to understand why some people practice generosity and others don’t. In their study they explain…
- Generosity thus conceived is a learned character trait that involves both attitude and action—entailing as a virtue both an inclination or predilection to give liberally and an actual practice of giving liberally.
- Generosity is therefore not a random idea or haphazard behavior but rather, in its mature form, a basic, personal, moral orientation to life. Furthermore, in a world of moral contrasts, generosity entails not only the moral good expressed but also many vices rejected (selfishness, greed, fear, meanness). *note* Highlighted by Barbara for emphasis
- Generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others. Generosity always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom it gives.
- What exactly generosity gives can be various things: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, and more.
- Generosity, to be clear, is not identical to pure altruism, since people can be authentically generous in part for reasons that serve their own interests as well as those of others. Indeed, insofar as generosity is a virtue, to practice it for the good of others also necessarily means that doing so achieves one’s own true, long–term good as well.
- And so generosity, like all of the virtues, is in people’s genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.
Well, that’s all for this week, but I promise this is not the last you’ve heard from me on this topic. If you missed International Mandela Day, take the opportunity to have a belated celebration, by spending 67 minutes practicing the virtue of generosity. I would love to hear what you chose to do. If you need some inspiration, click on the link “View the highlights of the day,” found at the beginning of this post.
Stop back later in the week for the next installment of Self Discovery the Michelangelo Way: The Game. At this writing, only 5 people have voted on whether they are more a babbling brook or a placid lake. So far, the placid lakes are winning out. Come on friends, cast you vote and participate in this fun game. I get a big smile each time I see a new vote.
Until next time, may you find your cup half full,
Barbara (The Blog Whisperer)