When I was 22 I got a gift. A friend, Dennis, gave me $37 for my birthday. He had been saving for weeks and with a big smile, presented the odd amount to me in an crisp envelope. It may not seem like much today but his gift meant a lot then. He expected nothing in return- he just wanted to be nice.
Generosity is like that don't you think?
I met with a group of emerging leaders earlier today. Our topic was generosity.
We discussed Seth Godin's book Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? and the need that the world has for generous leaders. According to Godin, "Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn't matter. The intent does."
We shared about how bad it feels when someone turns on you and displays the opposite of generosity. No we're not talking about being selfish or about being cheap with time. Actually it's something far worse.
Transactional kindness says many things, none of which are good:
- I'll help you if you do something for me ...
- Here is my donation in return for ...
- My service will be extraordinary but only if ...
- This smile is only given to people who ...
Kindness, by its core nature isn't meant to be in exchange for anything. It's sort of like a road that's just awesome in and of itself. No matter if it's raining or sunny, the drive feels swell. My friend Dennis was generous because he valued gift giving in its simplest form.
The artist gives gifts not to make money but because he has something to share. He can't help but to share what's going on in his head and inside his heart.
I was an artist last week. I gave a talk and expected nothing in return. My generosity was in my preparation for the event and savoring each moment of the night. The result- my heart got bigger and perhaps those in attendance received a gift or two.
When your heart gets bigger, it's usually because you put someone else before yourself. Dennis did that and I'm learning to do this as well. You can make your heart bigger by practicing the most simple of things.
- Smiling like you mean it
- Looking someone in the eye
- Being inconvenienced by someone else's question
- Pausing before you speak so that you can actually hear the other person
- Trusting that the folks you will encounter today are God's most accurate gift
None of these are particulary scientific but each puts someone else first, if even for a fleeting moment. That's pretty generous when you think about it.
Question: When was the last time that you gave a gift freely and without expecting a reward?
*photo courtesy of DB