By Barbara Bonner. Reposted from The Huffington Post.
In our contemporary culture, it is all too common to equate generosity with giving away material goods and money - usually lots of money. But there are thousands of stories of people, who are neither wealthy nor famous, whose lives have been transformed, often in a mere instant, by the power of generosity. Their stories inspired me to write my new book, Inspiring Generosity, to expand the definition of generosity and elevate the conversation about what it means to live a generous life. “Magnanimous” literally means “great spirit”, and my experience is that these great spirits are all around us. They are often unnoticed as they go about their daily lives, but through their generosity, they are making transformational differences in their own lives and the lives of others. From the hundreds that I have read, I have selected 14 stories of what I call “generosity heroes” to feature in my book, along with over a hundred inspiring quotations from across the centuries and 30 magnificent poems with generosity as their theme.
I have worked with philanthropists all of my professional life, and have had a successful career raising money, but I’ve discovered that true generosity is a different matter entirely. Generosity arises from the inner fire to make a difference in the world, to step forward where there is a pressing need and commit to doing what we can to help. Generosity changes individual lives and can change our world.
I tell the story of Betty Londergan whose simple trip to the movies at a moment of crisis in her life transformed her world. Elite chef Narayan Krishnan stepped out of his hotel and what he saw changed his life’s work entirely, setting him on a path of profound meaning. Sasha Dichter was coming home on the commuter train and his reaction to a beggar in his train car opened his heart and his life to a new way of being in the world. It only takes an instant for the power of generosity to move in.
As I’ve studied the subject of generosity over the years, I have been deeply moved by the great poetry that shines a spotlight on what it means to be generous. In the book I include 30 poems from Hafiz and Shakespeare to Molly Peacock and Wendell Berry. I also include some of the greatest quotations about the generous spirit that infuses and transforms lives in unexpected ways. These are the inspirations that led me to write Inspiring Generosity.
Delving into the study of generosity has taught me so many of the remarkable ways in which this great quality - a quality that lies at the heart of all the major world religions - shows up in our lives. There is compelling new science that supports the thesis that we are inherently altruistic beings. In fact, our species would not have survived had we not been imbued with the desire to help others. Generosity can take many forms: forgiveness, encouragement, collaboration, a deep sense of connection with others, giving away the credit for success, giving a powerful voice to the powerless, and, yes, sometimes giving money and resources with no need for applause or recognition. It has been especially affirming to learn that one of generosity’s more wonderful aspects is that it is utterly contagious. One of my goals in writing this book of offerings was to promote just that contagiousness.