Generous Spirits

“Generosity is the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. It is a learned character trait that involves attitude and action entailing both the inclination and actual practice of giving liberally. It is not a haphazard behavior but a basic orientation to life. What generosity gives can vary: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, and more but it always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of the receiver. Like all virtues, generosity is in people’s genuine enlightened self-interest to learn and practice.”  – Christian Smith, The Generosity Project

I spent a good bit of my time in 2018–my sophomore year at the Center–developing deeper relationships with various stakeholders. Deep relationships are what make this place go. Clients sharing their stories with therapists, career counselors and spiritual directors. Peers diving into the healing process in various groups. Board members and volunteers giving of themselves through sharing of the precious resources of time, talent and treasure. And so it goes.

Much of my time is spent deepening relationships with our generous donors. These wonderful souls have grown committed to the organization for a variety of reasons. Some recently, others over decades. My relationship with them often begins with a simple question: “How did you get connected with the Center?” Answers are rich and varied. They or a member of their families may have accessed our services. Others deepened their spiritual lives through the Prairie Fire program. Some were invited to a fundraiser by a friend, which led to inspiration as people heard the stories and of the good work that goes on at the Center. Many times it was a relationship with one of our staff and a desire to help people of good character to carry on such committed work.

The answers and commitments vary, but the underlying, foundational spirit of all these relationships is generosity. Folks generous in sharing their stories; folks generous in the time it takes to listen deeply; folks generous in donating hard-earned resources in order to help us help those who might otherwise struggle to afford our quality services.

All of this was on my mind when I recently encountered the author quoted above, Christian Smith. His 2014 book, co-authored with Hilary Davidson, The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We lose, is a sociological study of why, when and to whom people feel compelled to be generous. Their examination involves not only financial giving, but the many diverse ways folks live generously. The research shows consistent links between generosity and being fully alive. One of the most interesting outcomes of generous spirits is that they have positive mental health outcomes.

I hope to spend some time in my newsletter reflections this year investigating the ways generosity helps us to experience life more fully. Let me know if you’d like to share some thoughts or experiences on this topic, which you think might enrich the conversation.

If we didn’t get a chance to hear your story in 2018, I hope 2019 affords us an opportunity to understand your connection to the Center. We’re all in this together, bringing understanding, hope and healing through counseling and education—and generosity.

Thank you for giving liberally in this important mission.

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