GENEROSITY is just a matter of being considerate. When someone is speaking, you can give them your full attention. You can hold the door open for the person behind you. All these are generous acts that do not require time or energy.
A recent study of behavioural psychology concluded that greed mostly overrides generosity. But in a fast-paced, material world, the need to believe in the spirit of giving, multiplies. Meghna Mukerjee re-evaluates what it means to be generous. Moral psychologist Kurt Gray, observed, through various experiments, that people who were victims of greed had a strong tendency to repay a future recipient with the same greed. But when some people benefitted from an act of generosity, they didn’t have the urge to pay it forward. In an ever-so-cynical world, it is a worrisome revelation. At a time when compassion and empathy are on a steadfast decline, and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is too in-your-face to ignore. Why and how did generosity lose its appeal over the years ?
Gray explains : “Greed is more powerful than true generosity, because negative emotions are more powerful than positive ones. We live in bodies and minds designed to be more influenced by negatives. Evolution designed us so that we took notice of negative things in our environment and sought to change them.” Popular culture has made ‘bad’, ‘wicked’, ‘nasty’ terms cool, whereas ‘goodness’ is frowned upon. It is a ‘loser’ trait.
Doctor Sarala Bijapurkar, associate professor of sociology, KJ Somaiya College, Mumbai, says, “In our material world, ‘generosity’ is an alien word. Most people think generosity and money are always linked. That’s why so much cynicism has set in.” Our digital lives have played a big part in reducing the empathy and compassion we once had as individuals. Edna Rienzi, a generosity volunteer based in the US, says, “Generosity focuses on the connection between individuals, Although we can ‘connect’ with hundreds of people through social media, the opportunities to connect with one another face to face seem harder to find.” Edna cites an example : “Earlier, at my children’s school, parents would speak to one another while waiting for the children to come out. We would offer kind words and support each other, and these moments would brighten my day. Now, almost everyone stays in their cars, hunched over their phones rather than with the people they see on a daily basis.”
Pratyush Rajvanshi, says, “In the ancient times, based on available texts, people understood that being generous was a vital factor in a human being’s personal growth. They consciously practised these values, and they were a part of their inherent nature. These practices were passed on to us, but, perhaps, we overlooked the wisdom behind the act. So, most acts of generosity got diluted and a lot of cynicism set in.” Gray says, “The more grateful we are of others helping us, the more likely we are to PAY IT FORWARD.”
The world over, some of the richest people are also the biggest philanthropists. Some of them have pledged half of their billion-dollar fortunes for the development of the other half. The need of the hour, however, is for people to believe and engage in acts of generosity ——- WITHOUT IT BEING A MANDATE. Since most things, like charity, begin at home, it’s still an adult’s responsibility to inculcate values like compassion and the spirit of giving early in a child’s life. Generosity is not an act. It is a state of consciousness, but it always find its expression in an act.