I think when we have found community, then we have found generosity. Sharing yourself and your time with those around you is the essence of both of these ideas.
I see small generosities every day at my job and in the world. People will give up their seat for someone else on the bus, drop some change into a musician’s case, or offer a hug and a friendly ear. These simple kindnesses are all around us, but what drives us to give them?
Being generous involves a gift of sorts: a giving of oneself to another. When we all begin to give to each other, we form a community.
When I think of my community, I think of the theater. It is my career, but no one gets into theater for the money. We do it because this is our tribe. These are our people. We all know the sacrifices we are making. We know the stories we want to bring to the world. We also know that in order to do some good in the world with our art, we have to be good to each other.
I work with other actors and with crew members backstage. One of the basic tenets of acting is being generous on stage. Giving another actor your full attention—listening to them during your scene—is half of what acting is all about. Backstage we are generous in other ways: sharing cups of tea, snacks, and jokes. We do all of this because we are a community.
Being generous in my profession gives me the energy to be generous in the real world. When someone has been kind to me and has given me something of themselves that day, I find it easier to pass that on. A small cup of tea shared is a nice gift, but the time and attention one person gives to another is the greater generosity.
My community also extends to my neighborhood. On my block, we look out for each other. I have had neighbors take in packages so they wouldn’t get stolen, I’ve returned lost mail to the rightful residence, and we all come together once a year to throw a block party where everyone shares food and drinks. When we spend time together getting to know one another, we form a bond. Yes, we are being generous in the small way of sharing food and drink, but this also feeds a larger generosity of spirit that we take with us all year.
Hopefully, we are learning to be generous to ourselves, as well. Perhaps we allow ourselves the time to grieve or to relax, or we give ourselves the space to learn and grow. Trusting your community to be generous with you when you need it is as important as stepping up when the community needs you.
This is what true generosity is all about: the ongoing simple kindnesses grow over time to form us into generous people. When a whole group of generous people come together, you have community. When you have community, you have hope and solace and love.
How do we take this out into the world? We can be mindful of other people’s time and attention. Realize you are not in too big of a hurry to talk to your cashier, your mailman, or your neighbor. We can be generous to our planet by picking up some trash in the parking lot. Be generous with the gifts that you as a person possess by baking for the family with a new baby, or by volunteering to help your own children with their math homework. Once we recognize the capacity we all have for generosity, we can begin to spread it around, and we can accept it as a gift when it is given to us. Everyone is lifting everyone up, and in that way, we are all being lifted.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on community from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.