You know lots of ways to be generous. You open doors, offer your seat, donate to charities and sometimes even share your lunch.
Generosity might not be a word you normally associate with how you interact with others, but it is an important and generative quality to bring to the table. You are generous when you pay attention to what others are saying and work hard to understand it. You are generous when you share your perspective and what you care about in an open way. You also ask others what they think and what is important to them.
However, when confronted with views that set your hair on fire, I imagine your generosity can sometimes disappear. When I hear perspectives that conflict with my own, I notice that what I think of as my kind heart can close and my self-protective brain can open the door to reactivity.
Generosity in a conversation is contagious and generative. When people are generous in interactions they feel included and cared about, and want to make constructive contributions. New ideas get generated and people get excited about how to make them work.
This, of course, does not mean people will agree. Generous actions allow us to disagree and not close our hearts and minds to one another.
Although generosity is expressed through our actions, it grows from an internal atmosphere or state of mind that is spacious and kind, not attached to people being generous in return. When we are generous we are not envious of or competitive with colleagues or friends, and we do not look down on them.
When we disagree with others, hear them state opinions that are anathema to us, the temptation is to turn them into objects, “others,” “them,” strangers against whom we want to rail. The challenge we face, perhaps now more than at any other time in human history, is to open our hearts and give our all to the moment, to this interaction, to “these people” with whom we disagree. In this way we are generous to the future that we are creating through our interactions.
Mary’s award-winning book “Talk Matters! Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available. Click here to purchase it.