Post Written By: Aly McCarthy
Let’s be honest. When I think of generosity the first word that comes to mind is money. I have an unfortunate, automated response: take a defensive step backward, pull my purse snug under my shoulder, and brace myself for what comes next.
There are a lot of financial expectations for us during the holiday season, but I’d like to suggest that we have much more to offer than money.
According to Google dictionary, there are two definitions for generosity:
- The quality of being kind and generous. (neighborly love)
- The quality of being plentiful or large. (material abundance)
My natural defensiveness at the word generosity is a clear indication of how our culture values the second definition more highly than the first. As Americans, we often define ourselves by what we have and it can skew the way that we define and therefore respond to giving. It feels natural to give material resources to those who lack our physical comfort but it’s another ordeal entirely to meet another person’s emotional and relational needs.
“Most North Americans define poverty as a lack of material things and so our solutions tend toward providing material things towards people,” (When Helping Hurts).
The irony is that the poor often define poverty in far more psychological and social terms – a lack of dignity, hopelessness, and broken relationships. I can’t help but question whether the poor’s version of poverty has extended to all classes in America. With such a great emphasis placed on material resources, is it possible that we have overlooked the relational poverty occurring all around us?
There seems to be a tension in our culture. We can all feel it regardless of what family you come from, what stage you’re at in life, or who you voted for president. This tension is a burden we all share in common and it’s overwhelming. I look around at friends and family only to realize that they are experiencing the same thing. How many of us continue the same routine every day, feeling hopeless, lacking trusting relationships, wondering if we will amount to anything, and too anxious to step out and make a change?
People all over the country are crying out for material and political liberation, which is important, but much of what we lack is the feeling that we are valued and understood.
Perhaps it’s time to change the way we perceive generosity in order to meet the needs of the people around us.
Tell Me Something Good
I’d like to suggest an alternative way to give this holiday season: by identifying, sharing, and celebrating in the good qualities of the people around us.
I'm ready to end the race for negativity. Most of us are aware of our own faults. We may try to cover them up, we may even try to hide it from ourselves, but we know they exist and we often feel helpless in the struggle to overcome them. When we recognize the good in others and ourselves, it gives us something to aspire to rather than a negative attribute that we must actively fight.
We know about the effectiveness of positive reinforcement for children. Why not do the same for each other? Let’s place an emphasis on understanding before being understood. Let’s recognize the good-intentions lurking beneath the mistakes of the people next to us. Let’s applaud each other for small successes and small improvements, creating a sense of purpose, hopefulness, and trust.
Tell each other something good!