According to a folk saying in Thailand, if a person is wealthy, it’s because they were generous in a previous lifetime. (They have another one about if a person is beautiful it’s because they were kind, but that is a different article.) Either way there’s a catch (there’s always a catch). If you are well-off now you have the wherewithal to be even more generous this time around. Yet how many wealthy people are greedy and miserly, always in pursuit of more, more, more? Just as too many beautiful looking people might be conceited, mean and snobby. Such folks are spiritually regressing and, if they’re not careful, they could come back as an ugly cockroach.
The most generous human societies existed long before the invention of private property. Indigenous foragers had no concept of individually accumulated wealth. Often on the move, they shared everything transparently and immediately. Our native ancestors wisely put the highest value on community—recognizing human bonds as the only real security there is in life. As a result, they instinctively took joy in sharing and bonding with each other, never imagining hoarding possessions or lording it over others who have less. They would have been quickly ostracized for such egotistical obnoxiousness.
Our species, Homo sapiens, existed 200,000 to 300,000 years before civilization took over culture. According Christopher Ryan, author and psychologist, humans certainly had survival challenges way back then, but overall the foragers were considerably healthier and happier than their agriculturist descendants—and way less stressed out, working only 20 hours/week.
Biologically not much has changed in the last 10,000 years, a mere blip in anthropological time. Technology is rampant these days—and having a huge impact on the way we interact with each other—but essentially we are the same species, organically wired for cooperation and sharing. And, even in these times, we invest in our most trustworthy source of security anytime we give of our time, energy and attention to others in a real way. This is love (and I’ve heard it said that generosity is an aphrodisiac.)
As we enter gift-giving season, let’s remember that a wonderful, transformative gift that strengthens the fabric of relationships is just being there for someone else. This is a gift we can give all year round. In these times of shallow social media connecting, being totally present and deeply listening to another—without judging, reacting or editing—is a supremely generous and precious gift. The exercise of emotional intelligence known as empathy, wherein we accept and try to understand another person’s feelings—and let them feel that—is a gift of healing. Passing on some skill or knowledge that you have mastered is a gift of mentoring. Helping somebody move is a gift of service. Giving a homeless person a sandwich is a gift of nourishment. Smiling and saying “Howzit going?” to a stranger on an elevator is a gift of kindness and civility.
No matter how little property or money we have at our disposal, we all have gifts—really valuable gifts—that we can find a way to give. The practice of generosity honors our ancestors and ennobles us as human beings. It cleanses the soul of competitive possessiveness, status and privilege. May we honor our heartfelt heritage and grow back into ourselves by embracing our native generosity of spirit!