Generosity: A Tricky Business

It’s the holiday season, and often we’re inclined to be more generous this time of year. We give gifts to express our love and gratitude to those we care about and those we do business with. We even give to perfect strangers.

It’s a great feeling to be on the receiving end of generosity, but we all know that it’s a greater feeling when we give. Generosity is the first sign of wealth, regardless of one’s net worth.

The trick is: how do we give most effectively? And by ‘effectively’ I mean how do we make the most of our giving so that it benefits us, the receiver, and society in general in the most productive and enduring way possible?

I have some ideas…

First of all, let’s accept that there’s no substitute for random acts of kindness. If you see somebody in need and you spontaneously give them assistance, food, shelter, clothing, or cash, good for you. We can’t know if they’ll use what they’re given wisely, or if it will change their circumstances at all. It will simply get them from this point in time to some point in the future without suffering as much.

But we can’t adopt this strategy over the long haul. It’s too willy-nilly and probably not helpful. Case in point: I’ve seen people here in Paris who’ve been sitting on the same street corner, begging for money since I arrived in the city in 2017. I don’t know their situation, and I won’t judge them, but I’m not giving them money every week. Sorry.

Second, we can’t have expectations when we give. We must give freely. This reality was a hard one for me to accept. My experience has been that people may accept your gift and then squander it, regardless of what good intentions they might have initially. It can be difficult not to be angry and resentful, but I had to own up to the possibility of being partially responsible for the failure.

You see, when giving isn’t helpful, it may be that we’ve been generous in the wrong way, with the wrong type of assistance, given at the wrong time. This is why many people simply donate to established charities who are experienced and skilled at the art and science of philanthropy. Limited donation, reliable charity, predictable impact, documented tax deduction, done and dusted.

But back to my previous point…when we give, we have to let go. We have to give with an open heart, no strings attached, and only the best wishes for the recipient. If the gift is not appreciated or used properly, we have to realize that we’ve made a deposit into our Bank of Karma account: we were generous. That’s really what matters. Our blessings will come later, and bigger, if we have given from a place of love and not expectation. This is, I have learned, inevitable.

If we can pivot to that Bank of Karma perspective and stay there, we can rise above the desire to give…and then want to control outcomes or behaviors. The very definition of giving to to have something leave your control. This is how ‘giving’ differs from ‘doing someone a favor’…a favor that you may want to have reciprocated at some point in the future. One is joyful and full of optimism. The other is barter, and tinged with calculation.

So this holiday season, feel free to give in your own unique, personal, but fully aware way. Aware of what you’re giving and to whom. Aware of why you’re giving. And aware that there’s a sweet spot in true giving…and that’s when it warms your heart.

Happy Holidays, everybody. Be safe. Stay well. Thank you for a great 2022.

  • BGT

6 thoughts on “Generosity: A Tricky Business

  1. Something I learned about generosity by looking back on some unwise decisions and unfortunate events in my own life, which I will not go into great detail here regarding:

    It is something to be gracious about when receiving as well as giving.

    Some years back, I was in a difficult situation I really should have asked for help with, but was trying very hard to “be a grown-up” and handle it myself – and as so often happens, one bad financial decision made out of panic led to another, and then another, and the stress took its toll on my health as well. By the time the need for help was obvious enough that my (very smart, lives the OMG values well) father insisted on stepping in, the cost, financially and otherwise, was much greater than it would have been if I had reached out to him for help several years earlier, when I first knew something was wrong.

    There was a good bit of side-eye from our extended family, thought that he might well be throwing good money after bad in helping us the way he did. But soon enough the situation changed from “putting a safety net under my daughter and son-in-law so they can get back on their feet after some questionable decision-making” to “helping my teenage grandchildren try their wings by contributing to their education at the best private schools they can get into.”

    And for my husband and me, once we swallowed our own pride, relief turned to gratitude, which turned into shared joy at watching our children make the most of the opportunities they have been given with the help of their grandparents. If we had, out of embarrassment, grudgingly accepted only the minimum help that would have gotten us through the emergency we found ourselves in, this story would have unfolded very differently!

    In some small ways, we’ve also begun to pay this forward – for example, by hosting an international student friend of my son’s who was unable to return home while school was closed during the pandemic, which has provided some of our happier memories of an otherwise difficult time.

  2. Sometimes kindness, like generosity, can be given in the form of a smile. Besides, its free to give to everyone!

    People can hear a smile on the phone. When someone is snarky to you, a smile keeps you calm and thinking.

    Thanks for the warm wishes, Byron. We appreciate you too in all you do.

  3. Hi Byron,
    I have read your book, and I agree with a lot ot things and think it’s a great book. I just wonder how these core values applies today in the modern world by the younger generation? I live in Sweden and for the younger generation (30-45 years old) I can’t say the upper class really lives accordingly to the core values of this book and accordingly to what all the influencers on youtube say the old money people do.:)

    I know people who are real upper class and close to the royal family in Sweden who are renovating their apartments, buying brand new modern furnitures, wearing quite trendy clothes, wearing apple watches, driving tesla SUV:s, showing on social media their trips to the maldives, Gstaad and so on.

    It’s not a critisism of your book, just a thought and a question. I think some of the real upper class of the younger generation today sometimes acts like new money unfortunately. It’s a lot of bragging going on on social media, even from this group.

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