Generosity in our hearts
Christmas is the season of giving. This might also be the time to think about right giving and true generosity.
This scenario is routine: Amid heavy traffic, a beggar knocks on your car. Should you give? Are you truly generous when you give?
The virtue of generosity is not simply actualized when one rolls down the window and gives some coins. Generous action may be performed by an ungenerous person.
What if the motives for giving spring from an uncaring heart? “Give so the eyesore shall leave!”Generosity encompasses the whole person who is consistently generous in thoughts, words and deeds.
This means she really values generosity. She teaches her kids to be generous always. She is ever ready to give a helping hand. She delights in stories of people who go out of their way to help. She is deeply saddened and continually moved by the ordinariness of hunger and misery in the midst of extraordinary opulence and affluence.
Generosity is not sufficiently expressed when one rolls down the window because somebody knocks. Should we always wait for somebody to beg before we give? The Lebanese-American poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran teaches something about generosity with sensitivity: “It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding.” It is better to give and be rejected, than never to give at all. True generosity is always a risk.
The virtue of generosity is not immediately evident even if you repeatedly give to every beggar who approaches you. The Greek philosopher Aristotle speaks of the intellectual virtue of phronēsis (translated in English as prudence or practical wisdom), which helps a virtuous person discern who the right person is to receive, and the right place, right time, right manner and right reason for giving.
Wanton giving is wasteful and worthless. Teaching somebody how to fish is also an act of generosity. Which makes generosity extra hard.Generosity is not measured by the amount given.
The pauper who gives a coin to another pauper may be more generous than a billionaire who gives a million to his church.
Again, Gibran hits the point: “Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do.” And, “you give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”Generosity without justice is a farce. As Russian writer Leo Tolstoy illustrates: “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back.”
If I were the President, or a cardinal, a chief executive officer, a university professor or just the ordinary Juan dela Cruz, what have I done (directly or indirectly) to push this miserable soul outside my car to beg? Have I been sitting on his back? Saint Augustine of Hippo says that charity is not a substitute for justice. We also say today that generosity is not a poultice for injustice.
Generosity also includes working actively to gain social justice. In a handwritten sermon outline, Martin Luther King Jr. criticized the one-dimensional approach of the compassionate Samaritan in Jesus’ story. The generous Samaritan picked up the wounded victim, brought him to an inn and promised to shoulder all his expenses. But King thought that as much as the Samaritan cared for the robbery victim, there was no mention of him helping to clear the Jericho road of its robbers and criminals.
A discourse on generosity (like this article I wrote) does not make one (me) generous. Aristotle says virtue is acquired via habitual action. It does not fall like manna from heaven. Neither is it transferred via your bloodline. To be generous, one must repetitively do generous acts. There is no alternate route and shortcut. Every day really is a season of giving and sharing. The caroler gives the reminder: “At magbuhat ngayon kahit hindi Pasko ay magbigayan.” And hopefully, next Christmas, fewer hands would need our generosity.
Franz Giuseppe Cortez teaches philosophy subjects and good governance and corporate social responsibility at the University of Santo Tomas.