Generosity in our every day language may mean the habit of giving freely without being rewarded in return.
When we say that so and so is generous, normally it has something to do with charity regarding the use of his or her time, money or labour.
Etymologically, generosity means much more. It has a deeper meaning which refers more to the giver in terms of the love he or she puts into the gift than the value of the given gift itself. Hence, a good hearted person with nothing to give, may be referred to as generous.
The term derives from the Latin word generosus which means ‘of noble birth’. In its ancient use, generosity meant to belong to nobility.
As the word continued to evolve, it shifted from literal family heritage to the nobility of spirit, which was still associated with high birth and various admirable qualities which may go with it.
The meaning of generosity continued to evolve in directions denoting the more specific, contemporary meaning of benevolence, open–handedness, and bigheartedness in the giving of money and possessions to others.
This specific meaning developed further to mean admirable personal quality and action which can be exercised by any good-hearted person.
The American novelist Jack London expresses the idea of nobility in generosity in a very interesting way. He says that giving a bone to the dog is not generosity.
Generosity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog! With such words, the novelist brings out that rare element of generosity which has a noble and spiritual effect on the giver who practices the openness of heart, hence drawing himself or herself closer to the truth of oneness with the receiver.
Generosity has a healing effect to the giver, because it diminishes his or her self-centered egoism. Our ego wants to take and to hold, not to give.
This is dangerous because in the process it lowers unhealthy barriers which alienate us from others triggering off the process of death within ourselves. As they say: “The Dead Sea is the dead sea because it continually receives and never gives.”
In fact the more we practice generosity, the more lively we become, the more selfless we grow, because of that noble concern of the needs of others.
I have never come across the words which express that point more than the words of the former USA First Lady Barbara Bush: “Giving frees us from the familiar territory of our own needs by opening our mind to the unexplained worlds occupied by the needs of others.”
Given the importance of generosity as a good and healthy practice for the giver, we should all try to be generous because it does not require much as far as money, time and other possessions are concerned.
To a people in need, we need not shy away because we have nothing to give them. At least we can express our sincere and wholehearted wish for their welfare and offer for them a prayer from the depth of our being.
And this is already much. The value of generosity is not in the weight of the gift but in the love put in the giving.
That is why Mother Teresa was convinced that kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless. If there is a lesson that this Saint has left behind, it is that there is no such a thing as a small act of generosity.
Jesus Christ was of the same view above as far as generosity is concerned. We read this in Mark 12:41-44.
In this Biblical episode we find Jesus near the treasury and watching how different people were putting in the treasury their donations out of generosity. He observed how the multitude continued to cast money into the treasury with the rich casting in much money and the poor casting in less of course.
Then, came a very very poor widow, who bowed and cast in only two coins very respectfully.
The disciples noticed immediately how Jesus was touched by the widow’s generosity and they approached him to hear what he had to say about it.
Then he told them that the poor widow had cast in more than all who had cast into the treasury. According to Jesus’ explanation, all the others had cast in part of their superfluity; the money that they did not in fact need.
For Jesus; the person who gives what he or she would as readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice. On the contrary, the poor widow had cast in all that she had, even all her living.
Jesus’ consideration of generosity has had a great influence on the subsequent understanding of the idea.
The author Francis Quarles puts that new understanding in one of his wise saying: “He that gives all, though but little, gives much; because God looks not to the quantity of the gift, but to the quality of the givers.”