Generosity is “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.” When people think of generosity, money often comes to mind, but generosity can also be the donation of time, knowledge, or skills.
Lack of Generosity
A lack of generosity is meanness or miserliness, the closed fist around the goods one possesses. This describes Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge before the three ghosts visit him in A Christmas Carol.
An “Excess” of Generosity
The excess of generosity is prodigality or wastefulness. The good-old boy, warmed by an alcohol-induced bigheartedness, buys rounds of drinks for his oil-rig pals on payday, while his wife sits at home, wondering how they are going to make it through another month. That scenario makes a good country song but a bad life.
Here is a true story of generosity.
George’s grandfather, Gidue, moved his family to the United States from Lebanon in the 1920s. Until he was five, George, his younger brother, and his parents lived with his grandparents and all his aunts and uncles in Gidue’s tiny home. From the back of a horse-drawn wagon, Gidue sold fruits and vegetables and bought rags and scrap metal—he was an early “recycler”. George’s grandfather had two jars where he deposited all his earnings. In one, he kept the money he made on Tuesday, the best day of the week for business. The rest of the money went into the other jar and was what supported the family. Every Friday, Gidue took the money from the Tuesday jar, spent it on groceries, and distributed them to the poor of his town, especially to orphans and widows.
When George was in high school he worked in Lustig’s grocery store. By this time George’s father had a fruit and vegetable business of his own. Very early each morning, his father went to the wholesale market, bought a truckload of produce, and then sold it to little grocery stores and to individual households. George had worked alongside his father since he was a boy. By the time he was fifteen and had his driver’s license, George would do his father’s job on the days his father could not. Whenever George had to do this, Lustig always let George miss work and saved his job for him the next day.
When George was a high school junior, his father had a major illness, causing George to take over his father’s work completely until he recovered. George got up at 2:00 a.m. and was at the wholesale produce market by 3:00 a.m. where he haggled with the vendors over prices. He would arrive at school by 7:30 a.m. with a fully-loaded truck. There, he attended a few classes (his teachers agreed to let him miss class as long as he kept up his grades). Then he left and delivered all the orders, haggling with his customers. He would then return to school, finish his classes, take part in extracurricular activities, go home, study, then go to bed. He did this for eight months! George was not paid for this: the money was needed to support the family.
When George was about to graduate from high school, Lustig the grocer handed him a bankbook full of entries. When George asked what it was, Lustig answered that during the time George worked for him, he withheld a dollar from George’s pay each week and added two of his own. The money went into a savings account in George’s name to help him go to college. The account had $800 in it, a lot of money in the late 1940s.
The Army’s Generosity
In college, George majored in chemistry and then worked in metallurgy for the Army Corps of Engineers. There he got to “play” with a newly discovered element: titanium. George developed a titanium rack for anodizing metals. When George left the Army Corps, the Army gave George the right to profit from any civilian use he could find for the invention, while they would keep military uses for themselves. Because anodization is used in many applications and George’s titanium rack lasted about ten times longer than the aluminum ones currently in use, this invention became the first of a number of fortunes George earned over the next forty-some years. George developed numerous products using titanium, traveled all over the world as a titanium broker, and invested in many other businesses.
What Does It Profit a Man?
A devout, life-long Catholic, George was also wealthy and he and his family lived the good life. At one point, he had a boat, a plane, a vacation home in Hawaii, a Rolls Royce, and a 25-acre hill-top mansion in Southern California with a view of the Pacific Ocean. If he wanted something, he just bought it.
But one day, George decided to get rid of his material possessions.
After the heart-rending death of a grown daughter, he kept hearing internally the words of Christ, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world at the loss of his soul?” George knew how to be generous. Gidue and Lustig had taught him.
George set up a foundation to serve the poor. He sold his mansion and used the proceeds to build a homeless shelter in Thousand Oaks, CA. One project close to his heart was putting together packages of refurbished medical equipment to fully equip third-world hospitals. George is now in his eighties. He operates his foundation from the spare bedroom of his rented home. From time to time he will earn some more money so the foundation can give it away.
Here is a self-assessment for this most beautiful virtue.
|Yes . . . . . No||Give yourself a quick generosity assessment:|
|5 4 3 2 1||It is easy for me to give away money.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I give away a lot of money relative to my income.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I find it easy to part from my possessions for a good reason.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I have given away some of my possessions from time to time.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I am generous with my time when others want me.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I give my full attention to people who are speaking to me.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I encourage others.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I am emotionally available to others.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I readily forgive small offenses.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I lend money when asked or offer to lend when I see a need.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I open my home to visitors.|
|5 4 3 2 1||I am more or less a generous person.|