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Out of Our Minds
Wednesday, February 02, 2005 8:32 AM
What's Real Generosity?
Anita Sharpe on Life

A few evenings ago, a relative passing through town called me to say that her accommodations for the night had fallen through, and could she and six co-workers spend the night with me instead?

'Sure,' I replied, my voice climbing about 15 octaves. My first thought was not that I didn't have enough beds, but that I didn't have enough towels. My second thought was, 'How am I going to be a gracious hostess in the morning with a child to get off to school and a pile of work to get to?' My third thought was, 'If I were a better person, I would welcome these strangers with open arms no matter how inconvenient it is.'

'So,' I said to my relative, 'I'd love to have you, but I do have a small guest room so I'll have to put all of your colleagues in sleeping bags.' They opted for a hotel room instead. I'm sure my strained voice had nothing to do with it.

But this got me thinking. Who's right? Those who counsel us to be willing to say 'no' when we're stretched to our limit or otherwise aren't able to give? Or those who say that real generosity is giving when it's not easy and you don't really want to?


Carren - 2/4/2005 4:12:02 PM
I think both are right. Real generosity is giving when it's difficult and you don't really want to AND it can't always be done, so sometimes you should say no.
When 'real' generosity eludes me, I am comforted to know that my 'no' can be somebody else's 'yes'.
genevieve - 2/3/2005 7:50:00 AM
This 'better person' you are talking about doesn't really exist, Anita - only in your mind.We create this kind of idealised generosity whenever we are scared the other person will be cross with us - it's an elaborate hoax designed to put off the ugly moment of saying 'I cannot'.
Chris - 2/2/2005 7:16:44 PM
I think you were generous to consider, and to make the offer you did. It would be easy to judge the relative from a distance... a quick approximation would look like 'what was [the relative] thinking?', but who knows the circumstances. The fact that a hotel was available and worked out was beneficial, in either case. I wouldn't pain over it.

p.s. I'm guessing you didn't know the relative was coming to town, so I wouldn't get too worked up in any case!
Jenny - 2/2/2005 12:31:15 PM
Well, to my mind, there's a big difference between accommodations just 'falling through' and the total lack of accommodations (even really crappy ones). If it was the latter, I'd have no trouble and I doubt they would either, even with a washcloth and a camp blanket. Since it was the former, though, she was wrong to ask, and you were right to feel as you did. In fact, I'd say you were going above and beyond in accepting her imposition.

And anyway, 'generosity' is typically understood to mean, 'if you've got it, share it' freely, without any sort of obligation implied or expressed for either giver or recipient. Being generous opens the souls of both parties, making it a pleasant and pleasurable act. Giving out of guilt or under duress of hardship tends to do just the opposite -- it makes both parties resentful of the other and taints the act itself.
Gregg S. - 2/2/2005 10:37:40 AM
There is a big difference between being generous and being a patsy. If your relative were flying solo -- or with one other person -- an offer to stay would have been a no-brainer. With half a football team joining her, she was wrong to ask.


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