​Be Generous

Generosity can be scarce in these times of doing it all for number one. We live in a society that values personal gain above all else. Nationalism incites nations to go it alone, leaving the rest of the world to fend for themselves. Individualism does the same on a much smaller scale, pitting people against one another in an unspoken battle for survival, so to speak. While we are aware of the lack of giving in the world, often we do not want to be the first one to hand over a slice of our hard earned pie. Change can come when we realize that generosity not only benefits the receiver, those who are generous with their time and resources stand to gain in so many ways, too.

Think about the last time someone was generous to you. Perhaps they took you out for coffee or gave you an unsolicited gift. Maybe someone was simply generous with their time. These things make an impression. Surely you don’t soon forget an act of kindness and these sort of things have a way of affecting our own behavior.

The concept of pay it forward is alive and well, it only needs a catalyst. One act of generosity often begets another. There is also a reciprocal loop inherent to generosity in that, when we are open with what’s ours, others will want to return the kindness and be open with what’s theirs.

While this isn’t something to be used insincerely, being generous can reap great rewards for an artist. It is true that many artists have limited resources, but that does not preclude the ability to give what you can offer.

There is an ancient Zen koan that tells the story of a burglar breaking into the home of a man with very few possessions. He arrives in the meager house to find the man at home and warmly welcoming. Because he is so poor and has nothing of value to offer his guest, the man gives him the tattered robe from off his own back. The burglar is astounded and runs away into the night. Later the old man looks at the beautiful moon and regrets that he could not give this to the burglar instead of just an old, tattered robe.

The lesson here is that, no matter how meager our possessions, there is always room for generosity. While perhaps giving your last stitch of clothing to an intruder this day and age would be rather a stretch, the lesson remains the same. Be generous with what you do have. Take someone out for a cup of tea if you can, or spend time doing something for them. You will be richly rewarded with gratitude.

While it is unwise to embark on a journey of generosity with the sole aim personal gain in return, this can certainly be a welcome side effect. Throwing generosity around leads not only to gratitude, it leads to the potential for a studio visit or a deepened client or patron relationship. Of course someone would prefer to put their resources behind another person who demonstrates the gift of generosity. This is such a rarity in our world, when it is encountered it tends to strike deep.

We live in a world that is increasingly isolated. So many of us sit behind screens more often than we sit across from friends. We work hard and have little time to ourselves. It can be difficult to imagine finding the time to do things for others when we can barely make our own time ends meet. What is required is a reframing of how we view our time.

Rather than parceling out time between ours and theirs, it can be an eye opening experiment to begin viewing all of our time as our own and simply noticing how we distribute it. Taking an hour or two to connect with friends or business associates can be seen as a bite out of our time or it can be seen as a way to use our time in order to enrich our lives and careers.

We are faced with many demands. The need to work, the need to market, the need to network, the need to tend to family and friends, the need to accomplish the basic tasks of everyday living. This sort of retooling of how we approach the concept of the hours allotted on any given day can help us see the ability to be generous as an opportunity for personal growth rather than just another obligation.

Throw generosity around like confetti. Always be the person known for opening up what you have and offering it to those around you. We get a finite moment on this little planet of ours, seek to create something beautiful by sharing what you have with the world.

5 COMMENTS

  1. You speak here of generosity in terms of sharing time with others. There is another kind of generosity that comes much harder to me. I know I shouldn’t be stingy in this way, but I find myself stubbornly so. It’s the generosity of sharing my ideas, my connections, or giving a leg up to those who could benefit sometimes from my knowledge – whether that’s contacts, networks, tips, or the meat of my ideas themselves. Now, if someone comes to me asking real advice, I am generous. But I often find myself not wanting to share what it was so hard for me to earn, and being in this mode of battle, a battle for survival in a competitive world, as you’ve said. And one in which precious few people have ever helped me. Would you address this type of generosity or lack thereof in the same way as above? I’m always suspicious that someone is going to take my ideas or my contacts. I know I shouldn’t be, and that sharing is perhaps the best way to even enlarge my own opportunities, but it doesn’t feel this way. Thoughts?

    • I understand, and that makes sense to me. I think you can pick and choose what you want to share. However, contacts, networks, and tips, are exactly what we often want from others, and you dont have to give it all away, but perhaps you can offer an exchange of contacts or networks or tips for something of value in return on an individual basis? Like I will share my contacts or networks, or this one person – if you can introduce me to X?

      • In the end, I think sharing contacts, information and networks is almost always a win-win, because then the person wants to turn around and help you too. This is my boyfriend’s approach. I think it’s probably right, I just always feel (italicized) so wary of doing it. I try.

  2. One must always be mindful of the fact that there are those who are like contact/network vampires. They cannot be bothered with the unwritten rules of networking.I don’t know maybe they are written somewhere. Nevertheless, the vampires are the ones who take, take, take….and then take some more, without ever giving back. These are the ones who even after introducing them to influential people NEVER introduce in return. Or, never give someone else a heads-up to an exhibition or commission that is in the early planning stages, even if it is a project that doesn’t suit their style or medium. These people will suck you dry if you let them. But, then again, this seems to be simple human nature and exists in all industries. Brainard is correct about using caution …and… common sense.

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