by Miki Kashtan
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Generosity: even when I am afraid or low-resourced, I want to keep reaching out to offer myself to others and respond to requests. If I find myself contracting in fear and unwilling to give, I want to seek support to release any thoughts of scarcity and embrace opportunities to give.
I see generosity as the fountain of life, the source of everything happening. By practicing generosity, we are creating something, giving birth to new possibilities – as the word itself is related to genesis and generation.
The true essence of generosity is joy and delight. It’s no accident that to explain generosity Marshall Rosenberg invoked the exuberant image of a small child feeding a hungry duck, so familiar when a child is safe and loved. What happens to replace this early pleasure with contraction and challenge when asked to give?
Scarcity: If we give gritting our teeth because “there isn’t enough,” we’re unlikely to feel the delicious flow of generosity. How do we increase the experience of sufficiency that can open our hearts to giving? And how can we access generosity even in the grip of scarcity?
Separation: In industrialized societies, we have become more dependent on others through loss of essential life skills and intensified specialization. At the same time, paradoxically, since everything appears as commodity or service for exchange, the illusion of self-sufficiency grows and deepens our sense of separation, leaving us blind to our interdependence.
Coercion: The child’s generosity arises spontaneously and is rapidly extinguished in the face of the constant stream of dos and don’ts. Why would anyone feel joy about giving when required to do so? Instead, we can recognize that having the option to say “no” creates more room to access the “yes.”
Free giving is neither about exchange nor about an obligation. True generosity rests on relationship, on recognizing our interdependence with a being connected with and similar to us. It requires trust that there can be enough for both of us. Generosity calls on us to fully reclaim choice: if we “have to” be generous, we cannot. We can also support others’ generosity by removing our own expectations and “shoulds” and receiving freely only what comes with true openness. With freedom we can find again the spontaneous, exuberant, and expansive capacity to generate more and more resources by giving fully.
Practice: 1) Inspired by the movie Yes! Man, I offer you the idea of committing, for a certain period, to say “yes” to every opportunity and request, as a way to cultivate the muscle of generosity. 2) Especially if you are saddled with many “shoulds” and experience little joy, experiment with saying “no” with an open heart instead of “yes” with a closed one. 3) Review the requests you received on any given day and note the resources that allowed you to say “yes” to at least some of them. Then take a moment to note the generosity of others that allowed you to have your day unfold.
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC). She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works toward that vision by sharing the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication through mediation, meeting facilitation, consulting, and training for organizations and for committed individuals. Miki blogs at the Fearless Heart. Her articles have appeared in Tikkun magazine (e.g.Wanting Fully Without Attachment), Waging Nonviolence (e.g. Pushing the powerful into a moral corner at India’s Barefoot College), Shareable, and elsewhere.