Generosity Gone Asunder

Have you ever offered a neighbor some apples from your tree only to later realize that there was none left over for yourself?  How about times you were generous with your money but then learned it was squandered?  Or maybe you borrowed out something only to receive it back in poorer condition, or not at all.  None of these are legal offenses.  They are occurrences that most of us experience from time to time.

Oftentimes, as the giver, it sets us aback and we are surprised at the rawness of it all.  It leaves us hurt and angry, and we gain a sense of distrust and fear that the same thing will happen again down-the-road if we aren’t careful.   We may even be more cautious with our generosity the next time around.  Of course, it helps when we learn that the deception was not intentional, or that the problem was merely missed communication; or, even if there may be a good underlying reason that we are not privy to.  None of us want to be taken advantage of, but being paranoid and distrustful are surely not virtues we seek.  What can we do to protect ourselves, yet remain a generous people?  

As most of us realize, being a “giver” abounds its own rewards.  It heartens our souls.  It has its own energy and we seek to do more giving because we are left with the good feelings it generates inside.  Giving to others helps our mental health.  It takes us away from our own hurts and insecurities, at least for a time.  It helps us feel valued and that we can make a difference. 

We are still left with the pre-ponderance of what to do when we are intentionally misled.  Do we want to teach others that it is ok to do self-serving damage to another by doing nothing?  Is it our duty to help others recognize the harm they have done so that they can change or challenge their motives?  And for those repeat offenders, what can we do to maintain our open-handedness without distrust lapping up our good intentions? 

  1. Before giving, decide if it matters what happens in the end; how would you feel if all the apples are indeed taken, or your gift of money is squandered; or your possessions are returned in poor condition, or not returned at all?  If it doesn’t matter, there probably isn’t a problem
  2. If there are stipulations:
    1. Make the conditions clear.  Set boundaries
    2. Know your receiver; usually, but not always, history is a good predictor of the future.
    3. Work collaboratively with the receiver to ensure your intention is followed and the end result is mutual

Regardless of any ill-will done by some, generosity is truly a gift to our mental health.  Giving makes the world go around. It helps us repair the parts of ourselves that otherwise would be left to its own devises.  Being generous is a boomerang effect most of the time; a gift to both, and a virtue too significant to restrain. 

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

St. William’s Mental Health