In a recent blog post Sasha Dichter quotes my friend Katya Andresen with something that really resonated: “It’s impossible to talk about generosity without being vulnerable, impossible to be truly generous without opening yourself up.”
So what does “opening yourself up” really mean and how does this add to the generosity equation? What does “being vulnerable” bring to the philanthropic party?
Nothing short of radical transformation, I submit.
Introduce vulnerability to your philanthropic journey and you effect not only the receiver of your expression but you yourself are dramatically changed. Anything short of completely “opening up” closes the immense potential that lies within the encounter.
A thin interpretation of the concept of generosity describes a single, donated act: giving money, time, knowledge. The writing of the check. The receiver is helped with a scholarship or medicine and the giver gets that warm glow. Dampening the potential here, though, is that there’s often still an element of power at work. When I give, I get a feeling of goodness, of power. I’m making things happen and fixing problems … so I am someone.
For me, true generosity – generosity that sets the stage for personal transformation – is when there is no ‘other’. When the roles are dropped. When you no longer see someone as a “poor person” or “sick person” or “person in need.” When you no longer see yourself in the role of “helper” or “giver” or, worse yet, “savior.” Who we are is so much bigger than any role we can ever ascribe to ourselves or each other.
This way, generosity moves beyond a single fleeting act to how we live our lives. Generosity becomes you. This adds a delectable sweetness to the process creating a free-flowing positive feedback loop. Everyone is lifted by this tide.
So how do we allow this type of generosity to effectively flow in an actual meeting? Through opening up, sharing and listening. Yesterday, for example, I helped a woman carry a chair up from the subway. Our interaction could have ended there with a simple thank you from her and a feeling of satisfaction on my end, but when we reached the street we paused for a moment and talked. I asked her about the chair and learned it was her late father’s favorite and she just had it reupholstered. She told me of the countless hours she’d spent on that chair with him when she was a little girl. She said that someday, when she becomes a mother, she plans to put this chair in the nursery and have her child feel a connection with her father through it. I then told her about the table my father made for me when I graduated from college and the many meals that had been eaten with friends and family on it over the years. I told her I feel that same connection to my father through that table and have a similar hope for it being passed along through my family.
As we listened to each other’s stories, we became friends. It was no more than a five minute encounter, but a sincere connection was made that moved beyond generosity into a relationship. I was touched in a very real way by her story and I think she was, in turn, touched by mine.
This may sound simple enough, but it’s an earnest journey. It’s a journey to allow ourselves to be open and fearless enough to truly connect with others, not role to role, but human being to human being.