How do we teach our children about generosity? Actions, not just words. When they SEE what we are doing, how we are demonstrating generosity, we can then talk about what we do, how we do it and how we make can make a difference.
What is at the core of generosity?
It is really made up of several components that are similar but not exactly the same; giving, consideration, sharing, sympathizing and contribution to name a few. All these components come first from our thinking about them – from thinking generously. And secondly, they must be backed up by our actions.
What can you do? What’s on your list?
Below are a few actions items that might be a part of our daily life, or could be. Some of these I have used myself, others are ‘boiler plate”. But still, anything that has a chance of demonstrating some kind of generosity is good.
- Be present, really listen and give someone your complete undivided attention when they’re talking to you.
- Write words of encouragement on post-it notes and stick them random places.
- Pick up any garbage that you see at the beach, park, or in the street.
- Tell someone you’re grateful for them and why.
- Hold the door open for someone else.
- Tell someone that they’re doing an awesome job.
- Give someone a meaningful compliment.
- Make eye contact with people when you talk to them.
These are some that might appear on your list. But what are dozens more that you can do for one another and for neighbors. As a parent you can connect with your children and create your own process to create and instill generosity.
Being nice vs. true acts of generosity
We do need to be careful to not confuse simply being nice with the real act of generosity. I believe true generosity has a palatable energetic force (emotion) to it and that particular force can often change the state of being between people or an event. In its simplest form generosity and its accompanying energetic force begins with a desire to do something for someone else. For some of us that ‘generous’ desire may be catalyzed when we pass a poor person on the sidewalk who may be asking for food because they are hungry. Our emotions are often directly influenced, and we may feel compelled to respond.
However, there are many other less obvious opportunities that leap in front of us every day. For example, a friend telling us in a casual conversation that they are having a problem picking up their brother at the airport because they are unable to leave work at that time of day. The friend who considers that a genuine issue, and without being asked, offers to pick the brother up is doing what I call ‘thinking generously’. And this act of generosity could easily be taken a step further by the person also offering to entertain the visiting brother until his brother can get home from work. This is powerful because it is offered without being solicited and it comes from a person who is thinking of how he/she can be the most help.
Who is not impacted by this kind of offer of generosity – an actual physical/practical effort to support that wish? It is especially impacting if the motivation is pure and not due to a personal debt, part of the persons job, or an attempt to curry favor.
What’s the impact?
We can all remember when this may have happened to us and how much we appreciated the effort and understood it as a real example of generosity. I truly believe this kind of genuine effort can make a meaningful difference in most any relationship as well as help most any event in which we are involved. Our kids who observe this will also ‘get it’ and if we are lucky, might begin to emulate this behavior with their friends.
There is that expression we have all heard, “It’s the thought that counts.” Well . . . actually not really. The doing is critical. In fact, the thought only provides the initial energetic force and desire (both coming from our emotions) that can encourage the “doing’ and create an impact on the relationship or the experience in a beautiful and powerful way. The full consequence of thinking generously and then acting on it is that the person expressing generosity generally feels good too. It really is a win/win.
Many people may be concerned that being generous will not be appreciated, be misused, or possibly even ignored (not recognized). The result? They choose to simply not think generously in order to avoid these feelings of rejection and therefore do not practice it. And to be completely realistic, there are many people who simply do not have much of a wish to be generous from the get-go. It appears these days that this is a fairly significant part or our global society and it is truly unfortunate. Both generous thinking and non-generous thinking is a pattern of behavior that our kids can easily adopt. Think about that for a minute.
It is possible that persons who have experienced both sides of thinking generously are perhaps in the minority. They are experiencing a beautiful opportunity to impact another person and to be impacted by the extraordinary forces of another person’s generosity. This pattern behavior does indeed get passed on. I have had the good fortune of having a lot of this experience and for me it has been life altering and life confirming.
I remember a movie about a young, troubled boy who was deeply and positively impacted by his high school teacher. The movie covered a lot of normal preteen challenges and life exposures from the boy’s perspective and his challenging home life. It concludes rather undramatically with the young boy telling his teacher as he walked out of his last class at the end of the school year that he was going to “pay it forward”. I thought that was a very beautiful but understated summary of the movie in which a very thoughtful teacher made a definitive contribution to this boy’s life by teaching him to think and act generously.
We can do this as parents. It’s challenging, but it is quite possible. Even today as my boys enter their 40s I am still referring to examples of thinking generously to continue to impress the high value I place on it. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Just take walk through your town or neighborhood with your kids and look for opportunities. Likely there will be several. Watch for them and try to align them fit into context with their current lives and any issues they might be experiencing.
If we have built an honest and loving bridge to our children, then this type of purposeful meaningful exchange can have impact and add to the conscious effort we have made through the years to demonstrate and express thinking generously in our own personal lives. These are great opportunities to interact with our adult children.
If we think generously and then be generous in our actions, our example may compel our kids and others to do the same. It is these experiences coming from parents that eventually help our children establish habits of generous thinking and doing in their own worlds.
Who knows? They may even “pay it forward” with their kids!