Reconsidering Generosity

No one is useless in this life who lightens the burden of it to anyone else. —Charles Dickens

T he Wall Street Journal recently printed an article entitled “How to Suppress Your Inner Scrooge.” The author wrote of studies conducted on behalf of the Salvation Army that demonstrated the lengths people will go to avoid the holiday bell ringers posted near stores to collect donations. The gist of the article is that we aren’t as charitable as we think we are and that we need to take steps to hold ourselves accountable to be more generous.

The confusing holiday season is now upon us. We are caught between the hyper-consumerism of a season driven by gift buying and the Christian tradition of faith, hope, and charity highlighted by this time of waiting for the birth of Jesus Christ. The WSJ article struck me as a warped reflection of this paradox; a damning critique of our efforts to avoid being generous in the moment in which our consumerist efforts are bent toward acquiring items that will be given away.

First of all, Americans are quite generous. According to Giving USA, Americans gave $390 billion to U.S. charities in 2016 – up 4% from the year before. That’s a big number. Everyone is clearly not equally generous but overall giving certainly indicates a generous spirit. Yes, we can always do more, give more, but it seems superficial to conclude that our “inner Scrooges” are holding us back from generosity.

I think the author is missing a broader point on generosity and focusing in the wrong place. Let’s face it, there is a lot of money being thrown at all sorts of problems and it isn’t making the problems go away. That’s not to suggest that we should stop giving money – charitable giving is and should remain a cornerstone of our American ethos. Money will always be necessary in our efforts to alleviate suffering and help improve lives. However, it is only part of the broader power of generosity.

A generous spirit can encompass many elements and presents manifold opportunities for impact. Consider what happens when we are generous…

  • with our praise.
  • with our love.
  • with our talents.
  • with our blessings.
  • with our hope.
  • with our smile.
  • with our forgiveness.
  • with our joy.
  • with our faith.
  • with our presence.
  • with our empathy.

Spirits are lifted. Hope is renewed. People are inspired.  The world is made better, even if only for a moment.

A further reminder of this broader notion of generosity presents itself in the newly released movie: The Man Who Invented Christmas; The movie presents the backstory of Charles Dickens and the writing of A Christmas Carol. The drama draws a comparison between the sometimes manic genius of Dickens and the unapologetic selfishness of the notorious Scrooge, drawing a parallel to the famously hopeful ending of the story and the ultimate message of generosity as a path to salvation. In the end, neither Dickens nor Scrooge are saved by the money they give, but by the generosity that fills their heart.

As you kick the Christmas season into high gear, consider the possibilities of generosity in a fuller sense.  The gifts you give, the money you donate, and the time you volunteer are all wonderful reflections of the Spirit of the Season. However, it is through your more elemental displays of generosity that you change hearts and lives. Your most generous self is the version that appears when you are living at your very best and sharing all that you are with the people around you. In that place you find that you’re not suppressing your inner Scrooge, but releasing the version that wakes up changed on Christmas Day.


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