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Generosity and Our Tribal Hearts

Generosity and Our Tribal Hearts

We often think of generosity as being willing to give our money to others. But this is a narrow definition. A wider definition of generous is, “having a kindly spirit.” Through the years, I’ve discovered many ways in which my spirit has not been so “kindly” toward others. But here I want to share three things that have made me a more generous person. And I think that’s a good thing.

CONNECTION has made me a more generous person.

Psychology Today reports as generally accepted truth that humans are naturally tribal, separating people into those who are “like me” and “not like me.” Usually, our hearts are more open toward people “like me” and closed toward people “not like me.” I have become more generous as my sense of connection to other people has broadened.

One day, a young man without a car asked me for a ride to a bus stop that was two or three miles away. I don’t usually give strangers rides because of the risk. But I prayed and, this time, I said, “Okay.”

After we got in the car, he asked if we could roll down the windows. It was a nice night, so I said, “Sure.” Then he asked if he could turn on the radio. I was pretty sure he didn’t listen to classical music, but I said, “Sure.” So, he turned the radio to what I call “thumper music.” Then he asked if he could turn the volume up. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “Sure,” I said. Boom-thump-boom.

There we were, cruisin’ with the windows down, music thumping at maximum volume. Not remotely my style or my comfort zone. But then something happened: I looked over at that young man. There he was, sitting with his elbow out the window while the music was thumping, and he was smiling. Big. He was so happy.

When I saw his joy, something changed inside of me. His joy may come from something different than it does for me, but we experience the same emotions. Being exposed to his joy opened my heart to him as a person “like me” instead of a person “not like me.” He was now inside my circle and my heart felt immensely more “kindly” toward him.

Understanding my connection with people—seeing them as “like me”—has made me more generous.

EXPERIENCE has made me a more generous person.

Most of my life has been pretty easy, monetarily speaking. But I have recently experienced a period of unemployment.

I have been trying to get a job for months without success. I am faced with questions of scarcity and need that I have never faced. Will we lose the house? How much can I make driving Lyft? When will I get a job?

I can tell you for sure and certain that this period of unemployment has changed the way I look at others in need. My heart is more open to their anxiety and struggle. I am more likely than ever to give someone a little money to help them, even though I have less money than ever before.

My own growth reminds me of social experiment videos I’ve seen. In these videos, the experimenter dresses like someone in need. He asks different people to share their food. On average, homeless people are much more likely to share their food than someone who is sitting at a table eating a meal they ordered or walking out of a fast food restaurant.

The difficulties I’ve experienced have made me more generous.

SCIENCE has made me a more generous person.

There is an old saying that, “You can’t buy happiness.” It turns out that’s not true. You just have to spend your money the right way—the generous way.

In his TEDxCambridge talk, social scientist Michael Norton, Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, shares a variety of experiments and observations leading to the conclusion that using money for others’ benefits buys happiness for the giver. While spending on one’s self does not decrease happiness, spending money on others does, in fact, increase happiness. Also, the amount you spend is not nearly as important as the way you spend it.

Based on this research, I have been looking for different ways to spend what little money I have right now. I want to find ways to give. It helps other people. Science and experience tell me that it will make me happier, too. As Jesus of Nazareth said: “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

I’m curious about your experience with generosity. Have you experienced anything that opened up your generosity? Have you had experiences that have made you less generous?

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 wealth from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.

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John is a married father of three who likes to build up people and blow up ideas (putting them back together when he's done, of course). He blogs, podcasts, writes books, and builds online courses while pastoring a small, eclectic church in central Florida.

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