The Anatomy of Generosity, Guts and All

There are reasons generosity gets wide praise. One of them is also the reason altruism and self-sacrifice get wide praise. Self-sacrifice involves someone giving up something of value to them, including possibly their life, for the benefit of other people. Well, we are included in those other people. Seeing self-sacrifice in others makes us like them because they are doing something to benefit us. But what if we were the ones being asked to sacrifice ourselves? Some of us would do it for various reasons, but it wouldn’t feel all that good. In a similar way, generosity is of benefit to people other than the generous person, including us, so of course we praise it. But there is where the comparison breaks down.

While self-sacrifice often feels miserable, and nobody sensible does it without a good reason, being generous actually feels good. Many people genuinely enjoy being generous for its own sake. In my past life, when I was a working man with a middle-class income, most of my associates were poor, and I did enjoy doing things for them that they couldn’t do for themselves because I had the money and they didn’t. And they enjoyed it too…at first. Over time, some came to expect generosity from me and take it for granted, while others came to resent the way I went about being generous. The former dropped all contact with me when my resources became low and I was no longer able to provide financial benefit to them. I understand their perspective; they felt betrayed, because they had come to expect things from me. The latter group is much more interesting, because they taught me something valuable about both sides of the generosity equation, and it’s a lesson I hope I’ve learned even if I never again get to put the learning to good use.

Some generosity, like my old generosity, is opporessive. The generous person becomes a tyrant. This is actually a two-way street. Recipients of generosity seek to preserve their self-respect, so they try to do something in return for what you’re giving them. In many cases all they can do is go out of their way to accommodate your desires and actively try to know what you, the generous person, want to do, and then go along with whatever you suggest. Many generous people are not aware of this. Some, such as my former self, are merely thoughtless and unreflective. We become so accustomed to other people seeming to worship our desires that we become whimsical and drag them around like beasts on a chain. And that breeds resentment just as surely as mice breed disease.

It took me many years and much thinking to sort out these subtleties of how people of different financial profiles relate to each other. I’m still figuring it out. When I hear of someone in plight, my first instinct is still to lay myself on the line for them and do what I can to help them. Luckily, I am so poor that I often cannot do much about the kinds of problems most people face. The only thing I can really do is be sympathetic and emotionally supportive and offer to brainstorm with them about the solutions to their problems. And people are often astonished when I do that. The most common thing they say is that they’re surprised another person would bother to help them. So I guess it gives them faith in our species, which gives them courage. Which, in the end, is of far more value than interest-free loans, trips out of town, fancy clothes and accessories, and twelve-ounce-steak dinners.

There is a whole world of literature written by professional donors of their time, expertise and other resources to those in need of them. I wish I’d bothered to read some of that literature before it was too late. Now, i sit at my handout-recipient’s desk all day and do what I can. Which isn’t much, but has to be enough, because there is nothing else.

9 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Generosity, Guts and All

  1. What a nice post. Per your last comment, I am seeing your happiness, and up-beat outlook on life surface. I, too, am a giver. Usually giving to a fault. While I have not had an opportunity to cause resentment due to financial offerings, I have run into situations where I became enslaved to someone I attempted to “help”. It took a manipulative person to break me out of that mess, though I did learn the lesson well.

    The one who helped me break free of the free-loaders, in turn caused me enough emotional turmoil that I had to move on, before I allowed myself to fall back into a similar situation with them. Now, however, with a more balanced outlook, I tend to think in terms of “If I offer, what do I get” and even exchanges. It often allows me to give freely, while ensuring that both parties maintain their personal dignity and self-respect. I just wish that more were willing to live this way.

    Too many times I see those who I would wish to help insist that they are “entitled” to what ever help falls into their lap. Their only ability is to sit by the road of life, holding out their hands saying, “gimme! Give me!” It is a sad state when those who can, and wish to give are taken for granted, and those who deserve to receive fear to have anything given to them because there are so many who do not deserve anything demanding to be given everything.

    You have found a wonderful middle ground for yourself. You give what you can, passing on what you can of what you have received.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it even possible to give, no strings attached? It seems to me that someone always attaches strings to the damned thing, whether that be the giver or the one receiving the gift. But we are who we are, and if giving is part of us, then we just have to deal with the consequences.


  2. No I am not. She was raised near Fort Worth Texas I think she said. Don’t know what her social pressures were nor how little exposed to differences among folk but after awhile she was more to herself and she certainly more than paid me back. It could have something to do with I let move in with me a lesbian teenager just graduated high school. This girl had just come out, as they say now, to her mother and her mom didn’t take it too well. She was bruised from canned goods having been thrown at her, and burned with an ember from her moms smoke. I knew this girl well, she was my babysitter before I left that husband. Anyway, then soon after that I was dating a black man while living in an all white town. When I moved from there to live with my next husband [the black man] she was already avoiding me. So no we are not in touch. I have gotten used to moving on and leaving things and people behind, to a fault I’m afraid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sad how that worked out. But, as someone once said to me, all human relationships ebb and flow, and people come and go. That’s just life. I’m glad that you have that good memory of her, same as I have good memories of my own. Funny thing is that, as I’m becoming more and more immersed in doing what I always really wanted to do, I’m finding the good memories coming back more and more and my general curmudgeonly grumpiness fading away. You’ve probably noticed that my last few posts have been mostly upbeat even when dealing with unpleasant subjects. Hope that continues.


  3. Well that was a very nice article. You write so intelligently sometimes I have to re-read thing a few times, so I hope I got it right. Based on what I think I read, here is what I think. I think self-sacrifice is a value only in those with character, and often, they are poor, the little guy. They are also often most generous. Those who don’t sacrifice, they pay their prices in other ways eventually. At the time though, as they are climbing over you to get what they want, you don’t see it- but it happens. When I was a mom, I sacrificed my own self wants and needs in favor of giving them theirs and being a part of their lives. Since I did pretty much raise them alone, I had to sacrifice. I would of liked to climb the corporate ladder and put in the time and then today not have my financial problems, but that meant sacrificing their lives to day cares and other people. We wouldn’t have struggled, but they might not of turned out so well and/or my relationship with them might of suffered. It was already hard that we were alone, without a dad around.

    As for generosity, from what I gather you define that word semi-specifically in this article, as it feels as though you are giving monetarily or of possessions, etc.. Giving– the kind I speak of all the time, does cost… like my above example. But it doesn’t cost either. Its giving of your time, your heart, your truth (and that can be very hard, like my article yesterday) your information.. and all because you want better for the next person. When you don’t have any money, that’s really all you can give- and its something you cannot buy, either.

    You don’t HAVE to give anything to anyone. But if it is who you are in your heart, then you have to do that, but find a way to be okay with it. (See my last paragraph for more about how to do that).

    When learning to love myself, I realized there were people in my life blocking it- (this too, will be an article lol)- people whose attitudes and behaviors brought me down. I bet those same people stopped coming around when your wallet was empty. They are the dramamakers and the lifesuckers. When you love yourself, you don’t want that around you. You are better off today, you might not realize it sometimes but you are. The people I surround myself with today know mine is, and they love me still.

    I’d like to leave you with a suggestion to read my article what to Expect when you have Expectations of Others. Really, I’m not trying to shamelessly plug myself.. its something I learned that made all the difference going forward. If you give without any trace of expectation you will never be let down. That goes for all types of giving. As you know now, when you have nothing financially you still have a lot to offer.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Very well stated, and I have only one comment to make that really needs making (because you basically said it all). Those people who abandoned me when I went broke weren’t necessarily parasitic in their intentions. They didn’t, in all cases, set out to use me. Rather, they came to expect to get stuff from me, and, when I ceased being able to provide it, they felt betrayed. So I don’t really blame those specific people for how they acted. The fault is really shared, partly because everything is a two-way street, and partly because I permitted them to start taking me for granted and develop a sense of entitlement. That is where reading some books on generosity by professional contributors would have helped me.

      Do you have a link to the article you mentioned? (I allow links here as long as they’re not spam.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My mind went to a time past I feel good about. I was on my own with 2 children, working in a mobilehome factory. I lived in an apartmenthouse and coming in from work late I needed to pass through this family of a teenage boy, his mother and grandmother. They were carrying boxes of whatever to their apartment. The mother spoke, I greeted her with welcome and exchanged names. The conversation went on and I learned she had just left an abusive husband [she left him 2 or three states behind, him not knowing where they went] and was near out of funds and had little to no food with them, she wanted to borrow from me some soup or what I could spare till she got on her feet. I had a few hundred to spare [this was maybe 40 years ago] so I just gave it to her and said I could give them some food that night to come over later. Well this act of mine was no big deal nor was it unlike me, but this woman later acted like nobody ever did anything like that for her or hers before. The next night when I came home from work she was waiting in my apartment with a prepared meal and had tidied up and said her boy could babysit for me if I would accept. Now this was the first time I ever had anyone be so grateful and treat me this way. For me this felt strange, but good for me this was an unusual reaction so my head didn’t get too big. Oh, in those days I never locked my door.


    1. That’s a hearwarming story, Donnalee. Isn’t it so much easier to be generous to someone when you actually see them in front of you and can read the nonverbals and tell whether they’re for real–especially if they don’t ask for anything before you offer it to them? I suppose it also helped that you were a fellow mother, because with a single man like me she might have been reluctant to accept anything out of fear that I’d want things in return. Her reaction also illustrates something I said in my blog post: the recipients of generosity want to retain their self-respect, so they’ll try to do whatever they can for you in order to feel like it’s an equal exchange. Are you still in touch with this woman? It would be really nice if an enduring friendship developed out of what was really a straightforward reallocation of scarce resources: your extra money going to someone who had a deficit of it.


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