Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on Generosity


I had a wonderful conversation with a client the other day about generosity- both the ability to be generous, and to be able to do so selflessly, with no thought to receiving something in return; with no regard for the potential of being 'taken advantage of'.

I experience this conversation- and the same general reaction (huh?) to my views- often in my studio. There is always a surprise at my desire and even determination to give; there is always a wonder at the idea that giving might not be contingent upon some proof by the receiver that he or she will indeed be grateful and/or will do something of equal measure in return.

In an attempt at an explanation, I ask my curious clients this question: how can limits be overstepped, how can lines be crossed, if boundaries haven't been drawn? Further, if 'invasions of privacy' and 'constant giving' are anticipated and seen as opportunities to share, connect and help- to love and improve the life of another through kindness, if nothing else- then how could these generous actions be anything but positive, for everyone involved?

For those that see this argument as unbearably 'Pollyanna-like', I assure you that the benefits are applicable to both receiver and giver. When I allow myself in the quietness of my smaller moments to dwell on the technicalities of my schedule or fees- the practicality of my practice and career- both my mind and practice inevitably become smaller... how can great, free and brave ideas be born from time-bound thinking that revolves around details of budget, schedules, income and to-do lists? Further, being willing to give constantly keeps my mind and heart open, which greatly improves my own life, relationships and self. While many would insist that I am opening and propping wide a very dangerous door, I have never once felt overwhelmed from this way of thinking and being; in fact, exhaustion comes only when I try to compartmentalize, separate and isolate myself for fear of being taken advantage of.

I'm not sure why the horse is before the cart for me on this issue; certainly there are other areas in my life where the reverse is true, but in terms of lending books, being flexible with session length and fees, and being available at all times to clients by phone, text and email, I find that this openness is not something that is ever taken advantage of, but instead, that it renews the faith of and faith in people, and in turn, breeds like kindness.

While many would disagree, I truly believe in Carl Rogers' notion that all people are inherently good; that we all strive for balance, openness and interconnectedness. Those that seem to contradict this adage- upon a closer look- often have experienced a great lack of kindness, generosity and indeed, love in their lifetimes. Like physical injury, emotional scars take years to heal, and often- if the insults are repeated- never do. If however, an environment can be fostered where people are unconditionally and constantly given kindness, trust, warmth, and the benefit of the doubt, not only do they grow both personally and vocally, but the world- and the views of those in it- begins to shift from a place of seeming scarcity (of time, money, trust, talent and love) to one of abundance. Rogers' 'unconditional positive regard' is indeed a universal medicine that can heal a million wounds.

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