Generosity of Spirit originally appeared as a guest post for Arkansas Women’s Bloggers December 21, 2016 http://arkansaswomenbloggers.com/generosity-of-spirit/
A few years ago I was honored to join a group of women who made a trip to India where we held conferences in three different cities. Their receptivity to what we had to say, their eagerness to show up early and stay late and their continual honoring of us were almost overwhelming. But perhaps the thing which astounded me most was their culture of giving.
In Hyderabad, several hundred women had gathered at a hotel conference room which we had rented for the few days we were there. Those attending were definitely impoverished by Western standards. They had come from the surrounding villages, bringing food to last them and their children for the next three days, cooked over an open fire, bathed in a primitive shower and slept with their children on the floor of the lower level of the conference center.
In spite of their poverty, they had managed to pool resources and on the last night of the conference presented each of us with an elaborate fresh flower lei as a way of showing their thanks. The aroma of the exotic floral display was intoxicating. As a lovely young girl raised her brown arms to place the lei around my neck I felt emotions rising and warm tears spilling from my eyes.
Later in Calcutta we experienced the same generosity of spirit when we were all given beautiful, colorful saris which we wore on our last day there. I can’t imagine the sacrifice those women made to present us with such an elaborate and beautiful gift.
I learned from the leader of our group who had visited India many times how important gift giving was to their culture. The presenting of our gifts was almost ceremonial in fashion and watching the faces of the women in the crowd I could see intense pride and joy in being able to give us such fine gifts.
There are other cultures I have observed for whom gift giving is an extremely important part of their social customs. One of the most interesting aspects of visiting the Clinton Presidential Library here in Little Rock is the display of gifts given to President Clinton from other world leaders while he was in office. There is an impressive and eclectic variety of items which chronicle a period of time in our nation’s history.
Studying other cultures’ ideas of what is appropriate conduct in gift giving is a fascinating study in anthropology for me. I’ve found a website called “Giftypedia” which lists over 40 countries and as you click on each one, helps you navigate that particular country’s social norms of giving. Ultimately, however, it is not the goods or exchanged gift that bring people together as much as the process of giving itself.
I still have the very first gift my husband ever gave me. It’s a small, gold signet ring he surprised me with for my 20th birthday. I treasure that gift even now, 46 years later, because when I look at it I am immediately reminded of two young college students experiencing the beginnings of love.
December is a month of giving. Personal and charitable gifts take much of our focus and financial reserves the last month of the year. Even corporate giving is usually higher during this month, sometimes due to a company’s need of a tax write off at year’s end. In general, people are more sensitive and aware of those in need at Christmas and therefore more generous in their giving.
My challenge to each of us as we approach this new year is to consider spending an entire year GIVING. Not the monetary,tangible gifts we may be paying off on our credit cards for the next several months, but the intangible ones and those that cost you nothing. Consider the gift of a smile to the clerk who’s having a hard day, the gift of an encouraging word to the mother of three small children who is struggling with the chaos, the gift of believing the best of someone who has made poor choices, the gift of time and attention to an elderly person who is perhaps lonely and forgotten and the gift of listening – really listening – to someone who is hurting.
I am personally committed to giving thanks more in this new year, expressing gratitude to the ones I love and the ones who make my world a better and happier place to be. William Arthur Ward said “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Expressions of gratitude are such a simple thing and yet can change the atmosphere and the direction of someone’s day.
These are the gifts that simply require our time and attention. And these are the gifts that reflect a generosity of spirit. A smile. A touch. A listening ear. A faithful heart. All are gifts we can easily give if we NOTICE those around us and choose to live with purpose and intentionality.
If we do, my guess is we will feel much like my Indian friends whose faces radiated happiness because of the joy they saw on ours. Living with generosity of spirit creates a better life for us all.