You probably like to think you are. Just like we’re all above-average drivers. But generosity comes in many forms. There are three main types that I can see:
Financial – this is what most of us associate with generosity. Do we give a decent amount to charity? Buy good presents for friends and family? Stand a few rounds at the bar?
But this is the easiest form of generosity. Just dig your hand into your pocket and you’re done. Sure there’s an opportunity cost of the money, but unless you’re on the breadline or a billionaire philanthropist, you probably won’t feel much difference. And there’s utility in giving – it feels good.
Temporal – fewer of us are generous with our time. It’s a fleeting resource and we never seem to have enough. If someone comes to your desk, do you give them your full attention? If your son wants to play a game, do you keep playing until he decides to stop, not you?
In our multitasking world, giving someone your time and your attention is one of the most generous behaviors you can bestow. It takes practice to listen to them fully and not to make them feel rushed. To move on their timeline, rather than your own.
For sure, we can’t always be generous with our time. We all have obligations. But making time for others, by planning unscheduled periods into our day enables us to be more generous when the opportunity arises.
Emotional – this is the hardest form of generosity. We all find it hard to love people sometimes, but since love is hopefully reciprocal there is a strong reward.
Harder is to give emotional empathy to colleagues and friends. To understand what’s going on in their lives, to take on their burdens and share them. Often this generosity goes unnoticed or without immediate thanks. Just when you feel you have given your all, you’ll get asked for more understanding, forgiveness or empathy. I’m sure caregivers feel this acutely, but it’s also common for parents and managers.
But I think this is also the form which can have the most impact on the lives of others. The Christian faith says ‘Love thy neighbor’, a sentiment shared in other religions. Not give her money or time. Emotional generosity – transmitting warmth, empathy and understanding is powerful. It changes lives. It also has a real cost to us – it’s hard sometimes!
We all like to think we are generous. But next time you sit behind the wheel of your car, consider whether you really are above-average.