A Way to Talk About Generosity
It’s been a dark week. Nepal’s earthquake. Baltimore riots. A remote Methodist hospital in Kenya under terrorist watch. Threats – natural and those by human hands – are real everywhere. And, in each instance, financial assistance is needed. An infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. Real justice work needs to be done. Aid from canceled mission trips needs to be replaced.
It can be hard to respond generously to needs when they seem to pile up on us from all directions. We may want to retreat by shutting the blinds and sitting under a blanket with a big bowl of ice cream (wow, that does sound pretty tempting). But I recall someone saying something about not hiding your light under a bushel. Who was that? Hmmm…I’ll have to Google that.
Sharon Salzberg recently wrote an excellent article “The Real Power of Generosity.” She suggests that many of us have a problem with generosity because it potentially indicates weakness. “Largely this is because, culturally we think of generosity purely in terms of the act of giving up for someone else. This dynamic, by definition, implies at least some degree of self-sacrifice.”
When you think of it, that’s often how we talk about generosity:
- Can you give up a few hours to volunteer?
- Will you spare yourself that latte everyday and give the money to X cause?
- I know your time is precious, but can you help us out?
- Please consider giving – we need to keep the lights on.
We need to turn it around. As Salzberg suggests,
Generosity is not about “giving up” – it’s about “letting go.”
Here’s the amazing thing – this kind of generosity can make us happier! Salzberg talks about the new book The Paradox of Generosity. Participants in a 5-year study identified as “very happy” if they volunteered 5.8 hours or more a month; “among those who donated 10% of their income, participants reported lower depression rates.”
It’s time to reframe the talk about “generosity.” Generosity is powerful. It’s a force for good in the world. It makes us healthier, happier people. If we can let go of our grasp and see generosity as the freeing experience it is…we can change the world.
P.S. Thank God there are constructive ways to respond to the world:
Nepal – United Methodist Committee on Relief
Baltimore Clean-up Efforts
Maua Hospital (Kenya) – Hospital Service Fund Advance #09613A
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. She is not suggesting that you should belt out "Let It Go" to make your point about generosity. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.