Saturday, December 16, 2017

Developing Generosity Intelligence

Sunset Egret on Lake Chapala by Joyce Wycoff
Here in the part of Mexico where I live, two cultures rub shoulders with each other, creating sometimes friction and sometimes greater awareness. A story came across Facebook about a family who had moved here and had been helped and befriended by their Mexican neighbors. It was the holiday season and the woman who was new to Mexico wanted to give her new friends a gift to repay all their kindnesses but was unsure what would be appropriate so she asked a Facebook forum for advice.

Accordingly, she received a lot of suggestions, many conflicting with each other. Some said money while others suggested that might be condescending, inappropriate, and also revealed an assumption that all Mexicans are poor. Some said cake or cookies, to which others responded with concerns about health and dietary restrictions. Some said clothes or holiday food items such hams and those, too, received mixed responses. 
Life insists on growing.

Only one responder suggested trying to figure out what the family might need, a suggestion which triggered my own thoughts about generosity. Is it more about what we have that we can share … or more about what the other person needs? I’m reminded of John Surowiecki’s intriguing comment, "Of the various kinds of intelligence, generosity is the first.”

Perhaps knowing how to be generous is an intelligence we can develop. Learning what someone else needs or would appreciate takes time and love enough to care about their lives and their concerns. Generosity isn’t about balancing the scorecard … she was really kind to me so I want to give her something. Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert states that we can never actually repay kindness, we can only continue, forever and sincerely, to say thank you.

It reminds me of one dark night when I experienced such kindness that I desperately wanted to repay it. I was hopelessly lost In San Cristóbal de las Casas with a frustrated, Spanish-only-speaking taxi driver who was about to bolt at any moment. No one could have been more surprised than I when, out of the darkness, came a woman dressed totally in white: long white tunic sashed with a white braided belt, wearing a white turban. She approached us and, in perfect English, asked, “May I help you?” 

I don't know why.
Her name was Blanca and, that night at least, she was an angel who went out of her way to guide me to my destination. When I found out she lived in the neighborhood, I invited her to lunch. I wanted to somehow repay her, but I’m sure it wasn’t the price of the meal that she appreciated as much as it was the time we spent together, sharing our life stories, getting to know each other. She, too, was new to the area and we both needed a friend. I continue to this day to say "thank you" for her kindness. I wound up spending almost four months in San Cristóbal and her generous kindness seemed to be a glow that lit the entire trip.

As for the woman who started this train of thought, I didn’t respond to the Facebook thread at the time because I didn’t have any bright ideas about what would be appropriate and valued. If I could respond now, however, I think it would be one word: time. Most of us newbies here in Mexico truly value the time we spend with local people who share their lives and culture with us. Perhaps we forget that sharing our own time and friendship could be a gift to them, also. 

Spending time with someone may be the one thing they truly want. As Kahlil Gibran says, “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

A friend of mine recently found a small bag of dog treats tied up with a bow in her mailbox. It was from a neighbor she had never met and accompanying it was a note that stated: “Just wanted to say hello and send a little treat for your best friend that I see in the window — he/she makes my day when I drive by.  Happy New Year! All the best in your move.” An inexpensive gift wrapped in loving kindness and showing great generosity intelligence about the recipient.

Generosity intelligence seems to be a key-and-lock kind of thing where what can be given finds an opening that results in both hearts being opened a little wider. Sometimes the greatest need is money, as in the great natural catastrophes where homes and lives are lost. More often, where people’s basic needs are already met, generosity takes more creativity. What is that person hungry for, and what can you give that might feed her or his spirit?
Just because it's so beautiful.

More thoughts on Generosity:

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it's wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

“Generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share.
-- Suzy Orman

“Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone's day.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway

“You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”
― Debbie Macomber, One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity


  1. Nice post, Joyce.

    Generosity is but one flavor of Love.

    But what an important one it is.


  2. Love your post, Joyce. Generosity given, when the resource is limited, demonstrates a deep form of lovingkindness.