Christen writes, “Sasha, I know Generosity Day is coming up, and I wanted to share something with you. Last year I noticed that others, along with me, struggled with fear when they contemplated radical generosity.”
Thanks Christen. I agree, and I think you’re on to something.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fragility of generosity. I find that my own generous actions can easily be quashed – by fear, doubt, self-criticism, breaking barriers, social risk or vulnerability:
Fear that I’m making a mistake (“should I really give?”) or that my generosity will be rejected or mocked.
Doubt that I’m doing the right thing.
Self-criticism because, let’s face it, I’m great at criticizing, especially myself.
Breaking barriers, because often generosity requires face-to-face interaction with and acknowledgment of someone with whom you don’t have a strong connection (I think this is why I’m interested in the social distance we create with our iPhones and other devices).
Social risk, because you’re breaking about 10 different norms simultaneously (unless you’re part of a community, religious or secular, in which generosity is expected and valued).
And vulnerability because at a moment of giving you are open, you are tapping into something deeply human, you are acknowledging that you’re not so different from the person to whom you are being generous.
Just looking at this list also reinforces my conviction around the importance of cultivating a practice of generosity. My own chorus of self-criticism is great at recruiting new members, and it’s so easy to belittle the practice of generosity – to think of it as sweet or nice but not truly important. I think the next time my chorus of critics, internal or external, starts singing, I’ll remind myself that what I’m practicing encompasses everything from overcoming fear to being comfortable with vulnerability. That feels right.
At the end of his email to me, Christen suggested that anyone who finds themselves confronted by fear – whether in their practice of radical generosity or otherwise – should try out Marianne Elliott’s 30 Days of Courage course. I didn’t know Marianne before Christen introduced me, but she’s the author of Zen Under Fire, the account of her humanitarian work in Herat, Afghanistan; and is also a teacher of yoga and mediation. Marianne’s walking the walk.
Generosity Day is less than 30 days away, and your generosity practice, my generosity practice, all of our practices of generosity could probably use a boost. Maybe 30 days of courage is just what the doctor ordered. I’ve signed up.