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August 16, 2022

Generosity Is... – #MTtalk Roundup

Yolande Conradie


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"Generosity is as much showing your vulnerability as it is your passion for something."

— David Droga

Can you remember the first time you were on the receiving end of a generous act? I can't, but I clearly remember the first time I understood how a small act of generosity could make a big difference.

Blog author and Mind Tools Coach, Yolande Conradie.
Mind Tools Coach,
Yolande Conradie

A Generous Act

I was in fourth grade. Fred was a boy in my class who lived in difficult circumstances. His parents didn't have the means to buy him all the stationery he needed in class, and one of the basic items he lacked was a set of colored pencils. Every time we needed to use colored pencils, Fred would get up, walk across the class to my desk and borrow some of mine.

One afternoon I told my mom that Fred didn't have his own set of colored pencils. To her, it was unacceptable that he didn't have the basics, and she said that it must have been hard for him to always rely on others. Instead of driving home, she drove to the closest stationery shop and had me choose a set of pencils.

The next day I was sent to school with Fred's pencils in my school case, and a set of "orders" too! My mom told me to give the pencils to him as unobtrusively as possible and not in front of the whole class. I shouldn't make a big deal of it, but just give them to him and tell him they were his to keep.

As the first bell rang that prompted us to go to our classrooms, the moment presented itself and I gave Fred his pencils. At first, he looked uncertain, then happy, and then proud. At last, he had his own pencils!

To me, it wasn't a big deal to let him use my pencils. However, my mom realized what a difference it would make for Fred to have his own. Generosity is... spotting an opportunity and doing something about it if it's within your means or capability. Sometimes we don't do anything, just because it's "too much trouble" or we're too busy. I like to think, "If I were in that person's position, how would I feel if people simply didn't care enough to do something?"

Ways to Show Generosity to Others

But is generosity always about giving money or material things? Not by a long shot.

There's generosity in thinking creatively to help yourself and others find solutions. Sharing wisdom, and looking for opportunities to help and teach, are acts of generosity.

There's a special kind of generosity in providing a safe space where people can simply be – a place where they don't have to pretend, play a role or fit into a mold without the fear of being ridiculed, judged or excluded.

Taking the time to support a friend or colleague who is going through a tough time or just having a bad day is a type of generosity that builds trust. Giving someone your time and attention by listening mindfully might help them feel heard, understood and less lonely.

It takes mental and emotional energy to admit privilege. Doing your best, and what is within your power to mend historical injustices, is generous. It's much easier to shrug it off and say, "It's not my fault, so why should I try to fix it?"

Accepting an apology when you've been hurt is an act of generosity and not an obligation. Forgiving is an act of generosity irrespective of your reason for doing it.

How Can You Show Generosity Toward Yourself?

Generosity also comes in the form of self-care.

One of my favorite sayings is that you can't give what you don't have. I believe that generosity, like respect and love, starts with how you treat yourself. If you don't love yourself (not to be confused with arrogance), how can you love others? If you don't respect yourself first, it's difficult to consistently treat others respectfully.

Although it might not feel that way, self-honesty is a generous act. If you gift yourself with self-honesty, you get the opportunity to grow into and discover the best version of you. If you're in denial, though, you won't learn or change.

And, showing up in all your glorious authenticity and vulnerability and giving the world you is a special kind of generosity – because you are the only person who can do that.   

What Generosity Isn't

Generosity is an attitude – a way of thinking and being. It isn't doing something to be seen, for social media creds or a cringeworthy post that starts with, "I'm so blessed to be able to give (this person) a (meal/voucher/Christmas gift)."

Being a voice for the voiceless is an act of generosity. Patronizing the voiceless isn't. Calling out wrongs is an act of generosity, but not if you do it to score points. Holding space for others and allowing them to feel what they feel is generous, but not if you're going to use it against them in the future.

If you're thinking about what you'll get in return, you're not showing true generosity.

Generosity Is...

During Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed what generosity is and what it isn't, and how we can display it personally or in the workplace.  Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:

Q1. Complete the sentence: Generosity is ______.

@ColfaxInsurance Generosity is giving with no expectation of anything in return; very similar to kindness.

@MikeB_MT Generosity is a renewable resource, just like kindness. The more generous I am, the more generous it is.

Q2. How would you describe a generous mindset?

@Yolande_MT A generous mindset knows that you don't always share out of abundance – you share what you have because another needs it more than you do.

@Midgie_MT A generous mindset consists of both the attitude and approach of kindness, wanting to cause no harm, to be helpful and to be respectful at all times towards others.

Q3. What are the benefits of being generous?

@CaptRajeshwar You are always the last in line and know who needs what and when. You become Wi-Fi for your stakeholders: silent [and] obscure, but they know your importance and [are] ready to feed generously.

@BRAVOMedia1 Give unconditionally and you will receive. The operative word here is truly "unconditionally"; I believe when we give we do receive and it is usually in the most unlikely places with the most unlikely people. Be generous unconditionally.

Q4. How do people react when others show them generosity?

@junkkDNA They can either feel relieved/thankful while some may also feel offended. It's difficult. Even if you're coming from the right place, people can get offended for 2 things: 1. When they are wrongly convinced that your generosity is practiced in bad faith; 2. When they themselves practice generosity in bad faith, they tend to believe that everyone's like them.

@EYLynette [It] depends on how they have received offers of generosity before. Happy, loved or shame depending on how it's offered.

Q5. What are some examples of "bad" generosity?

@NWarind Bad generosity is greed, self-praise which boosts jealousy.

@SarahH_MT Buying expensive gifts to "show off" or "look generous" defeats the point of giving and is unhelpful. People do this often out of guilt (I don't do enough for you so I'll create extravagant, public gestures instead to overcompensate).

Q6) How does generosity fit into the workplace culture?

@MarkC_Avgi Mentioning generosity with skills reminds me of those who closely guarded their knowledge & skill-sets, perhaps seemingly being concerned about someone else learning them, & being replaced, rather than sharing such abilities & knowledge to teach or mentor others.

@PG_pmp [It fits] at [the] workplace when we are good listeners and share [our] own know-how with others.

Q7. What might stop you being generous toward your colleagues?

@ZalaB_MT When generosity is mistaken for "can be taken advantage of." When people are generous with their time, space, means and funds, it shouldn’t be taken for granted. When people exploit that, it’s a good way to start setting boundaries and making your priorities clear.

@SoniaH_MT I might stop being generous toward my colleagues if I detect that I'm being used.

Q8. How can you be generous and maintain your boundaries?

@ColfaxInsurance Part of this is knowing when to stop yourself. You can't be generous to the point that you don't take care of yourself, so start by setting clear boundaries for you and communicate those to people.

@DrSupriya_MT Be mindful of this compulsion to be "always nice to others" [because it can] slip into people-pleasing behavior. Then the boundaries are not respected.

Q9. How could a company show generosity to its employees or the community?

@_GT_Coaching There may be certain things a company can promote but ultimately it is down to people within a company.  It is all open to interpretation, either as giver or receiver of generosity.

@Yolande_MT Communities: don't just throw money at them. Ask: How can we best serve this community? What project/effort/action will make a lasting and sustainable difference?

Q10. In what new/different ways might you be generous?

@_GT_Coaching Understanding my blind spots may lead to changes in when/how I am generous.

@PmTwee Each time your generous act serves the purpose means it is indeed new or different!

To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat over here.

Coming Up

It's almost Back-to-School season so we will be hitting "pause" for two weeks! During our summer break, please be sure to check our Twitter page for #MTtalk updates. We look forward to your participation in our next poll closer to the end of August.

Generosity Resources

In the meantime, we've compiled a list of resources for you to browse. (Note that you will need to be a Mind Tools Club or Corporate member to see all of the resources in full.)

How to Avoid Generosity Burnout
Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes
Winning by Giving
Managing Your Boundaries
Why Being a Generous Leader Can Make You a Great Leader
How to Get the Best From an Extra Miler
Random Acts of Kindness
What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Gable's Four Responses to Good News

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