I asked Hugh a question last night as we relaxed in front of the fireplace.

“When you are hungry, and you feed yourself, do you call it generosity?”

“No, of course not,” he replied.

“So when someone else is hungry and you feed them, do you call it generosity?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

“Well if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, what is the difference between feeding ourselves and feeding others?”

“I don’t get what you’re saying.  It seems different if you feed someone else.”

“Well maybe, but I think it depends upon how we look at it.  If we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, we don’t see feeding them when they are hungry as a generous act. We simply see a need, and out of the natural impulse of the heart, we fulfill that need.”

“And….” Hugh looked at me, knowing I had more to say.

“And then congratulating oneself with the title of generosity becomes unnecessary.  We don’t call ourselves generous when we feed ourselves, or even our children, really.”

“Hmm, that’s a different way to look at it.”

“Yes, and a different way of feeling about it too, as sharing with others would flow more naturally if we didn’t put a specific quality to it.  If people are hungry, we feed them, just as we would feed ourselves, because it’s the natural, instinctual thing to do.  And of course I’m talking about more than just feeding people food.”

“But it’s helpful for people to identify qualities so they can improve in those areas, right?”

“Yes, I agree with that, particularly when it comes to hearing stories of great acts of generosity, or selflessness.  Stories are essential.  And I want to expose our girls to many such stories to remind them of those natural impulses for kindness.”

“That’s good, because many of our instincts are selfish.”

“Yes, I agree. But we also have natural instincts for charity and compassion too.  And I want to water those seeds. I want them watered properly so that our girls leave this home understanding that simply writing a check to charity, or mowing the neighbor’s lawn, while worthwhile and good, is not necessarily generosity.”

“Okay, so how would you define generosity?”

“I’m not sure.  Maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe it’s just seeing a need in others and fulfilling it as you can, as you would do for yourself. Maybe it’s when another’s need wins out over your own.  Maybe it is giving without need for anything in return. I don’t know, but I’ll think about it.”

“I’m sure you will.”

He smiled, kissed my forehead, and went to bed.

What stories do you carry that influence your ability to be generous?  How do you define generosity?

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