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Essay on Generosity

Written in 2000.

The food of the generous is acceptance: not of self, but of what is offered.

It’s amazing how many of society’s social ills, especially among adolescents, are chalked up to deriving from a “simple need for acceptance.”  Everything from drugs to gangs is attributed to the fulfillment of a basic human need, one that is oxy-moronic with “society.”

Society, by its very nature, is social—which encompasses several things.  Not only does it require more than a single individual, but it requires some degree of harmonious interaction between those individuals, the basics of some sort of working relationship which in some way provides mutual benefit to all involved.

Not the least of these benefits is the simple aspect of having a companion, a comrade-in-arms, a shoulder to lean on, a source of hope when one knows that they cannot succeed on their own.  The desperation that so quickly erupts from loneliness is so easily alleviated by the presence of another, even if interaction is sparse or not entirely congenial.  There is something of the presence of another that lifts spirits and provides support.

Togetherness is, in many ways, a survival instinct: safety in numbers, many hands make light work, and all the rest.  Inevitably, a relationship develops, regardless of whether it’s an amicable one or not.  There is an interaction, an exchange, a giving, and a receiving.

Along a more favorable path, this exchange might well escalate above necessity—giving for the sake of giving, for the sake of expression, for the sake of the other.  Generosity develops, nearly always a sacrificial act, and while the act itself is often fulfilling, the response can be so much more so.  Generosity is not a personal billboard or a down payment for future assistance, rather it is a simple act that desires simple appreciation.  It is not an aspect of a resume, a quality to encourage further or reciprocal interaction; generosity—the giving of something—exists only to be accepted.  The thing given should be utilized to its fullest extent, rather than serve as an ice breaker to social interaction.

It is not the giver that should be looked upon favorably, but the motivation behind the generosity and even the gift itself.  When something desired is delivered, when it is apparent that no waste exists, when satisfaction is apparent—these are the things that satisfy the generous, much more so than a curt “thanks” or some other cliché expression of gratitude.

“You shouldn’t have” is an affront to the interactive relationship that exists—is the avenue of expression really so closed that such generosity is forbidden?

“It’s the thought that counts” is an expression of dissatisfaction with (or ignorance of) the reality of what was received.  It is more than a thought—it is a thought, a desire, a feeling, an emotion all brought to fruition.  It requires planning, preparation, resources, sacrifice.  It gives birth to excitement, hope, expectations, creative outlet.  It is not merely the thought that should count or matter.  It is the total act, the totality of expression and motivation, materialized into something intentionally tangible (though not necessarily material).

“Oh, how sweet” should apply only to chocolate.

The reaction is what matters, the response that materializes as a result of generosity.  A thoughtless reply, a careless omission, a status quo life unaffected by an act of greatness—these all serve to belittle everything involved: the gift, the giver, and the generosity.  They did not all originate from one finite point, but rather culminated in a single expression, and yet they are all three dismissed with a single word or act, not being appreciated for their uniqueness and significance, but rather lumped together into an amalgam of the indiscernible stuff of humanity.  Origins are disregarded.  Generosity is always a preterite action—fully completed—and life moves on, a speed bump encountered, perhaps slowed down for, but easily passed over.

Sadly, the generous tries again and again, hoping that one time a reaction of truth and substance will come.

Every once in a while it does.

So often it does not.

***

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