The Value of Generosity in Relationships

Many years ago a group of my friends were asked what quality they most appreciated in me, I was surprised that the majority said ''generosity''. It's not that I didn't consider myself a generous person it's that I thought there were other traits or characteristics that people would value more. It taught me not to assume what others appreciate about me but it also caused me to consider generosity in relationships & its importance. 

When I talk about generosity it's not financial, though it can be too, of course, it's moreso generosity of heart & mind, essentially, the generosity of sharing the self. It's the generosity required to sit & listen to someone's story, to be curious about them, to be interested & attentive. It's generosity of time, of making time for the people we care about, time to spend with them, time to appreciate them & express gratitude for their presence in our lives as well as support them through life's challenges if they need it & we can do it.

It's the generosity of sharing what we have & what we enjoy together. It's the difference between putting a bowl of soup on a table for someone else to eat vs decorating the table with some flowers, maybe a candle & a napkin as well as sitting with them to share the experience - it's going that little bit further than necessary just because you can & because you want to bring pleasure to another person's life, you want to share yourself with them & they with you. It's generosity of emotion, willingly & freely expressing how we feel about those we love, like, appreciate & care about. It's generosity of spirit & a spirit of generosity that doesn't feel forced, it doesn't feel like it's part of a tally being kept, it feels warm & open, & given with a free heart. Ultimately, it's the ability to be generous with ourselves & our love as well as how we express that love.

But what does generosity, or indeed the absence of it, tell us about someone or a relationship?

Transactional Generosity
Most of us will have met someone who is generous with us in order to receive something in return, their generosity is not unconditional, it's conditional & transactional. It's almost like they're keeping score of what they've given to or done for us in order to ensure they receive similar in return, & if they don't receive similar in return they will punish us in some way, maybe by withdrawing affection or attention. Most often, this is an entirely unconscious behaviour & the person is unaware they are doing it.

Boundary-less Generosity
Equally, many of us will likely know someone who has few boundaries when it comes to their generosity, someone who'll give away the things they own, freely give away their time too, but often this person is not actually being generous, they are possibly, unconsciously, hoping to buy our attention & care, perhaps feeling like they don't actually deserve our attention & care & so it has to be 'bought' or overcompensated for in some way. This person often has no or weak boundaries or is unable to assert their boundaries in a clear & compassionate way & so they over-give & then perhaps feel resentful & become passive aggressive, blaming the other person for 'taking' too much when, in fact, it was them that 'over-gave' by having poor boundaries in the first place. 

Neither of the above are in balance, both are seeking something from the illusion of giving & it's not coming from genuine generosity. Genuine generosity rarely expects anything in return, but equally, genuine generosity has boundaries & won't let itself be taken advantage of by those who continue to take without reciprocating.

Model What You Desire
We do, after all, teach people how to treat us & if we allow people to treat us poorly, if we accept behaviour from people who do not show us the generosity we feel we deserve then we are, in essence, communicating that their behaviour is acceptable & without consequence.
That's not to say that we should expect others to behave & be the same as us, not at all! it's to say that balance in relationships, in many aspects of relationship, is important & that noticing & being more consciously aware of how we treat the people in our lives as well as how they treat us, not only matters but it's essential to mutually fulfilling relationships.

The absence of generosity could tell us many things, it could tell us that the other person doesn't feel they have anything of value to give, indeed it could tell us they don't like us or don't value us!, it could tell us they feel afraid, somehow, that there isn't enough of, well, lots of things, & that they need to keep hold of what they have for themselves. It could also tell us many other things, but what it most definitely shows us is something about the other person.

It's best we not assume what that might be, but it's also important we take note of it as well as, most importantly, taking note of how that feels to us. Investing in a relationship of any kind where our generosity in the giving of ourselves is not reciprocated can, eventually, feel like we're being taken advantage of, or simply that there isn't balance - fulfilling relationships thrive on balance & suffer without it.

How does it feel to you, in your mind & body, when someone is ungenerous with you?
For me, it depends on the relationship I have with that person & how the lack of generosity shows itself but I'll take my cue from my own body. In personal relationships, if my body feels like it wants to shut down or turn away then it's clearly telling me that this is not a connection that I, possibly, want to continue to invest in or invest any more deeply in; & when I use the word 'invest' I mean in in terms of my time & energy. If, by contrast, my body feels more open towards a person then I'm more likely to want to continue to cultivate that relationship. It's not the other person's behaviour that will inform me what to do, it's my own.

Fundamentally, it boils down to this.
Do I feel like I am sharing myself with another person & they're sharing themselves with me in an overall balanced way or is there withholding & imbalance?

And now I have an invitation for you. It's to both reflect on your own generosity & the generosity of those in your life.
Do you feel good about how generous you are with your time, your heart, your mind & who you are with the ones you love & care about? Is there more of yourself that you can, very comfortably & willingly, without overstepping your own boundaries, share with those people? or, indeed, are you sharing more than, perhaps, it feels comfortable to?

Equally, how do you feel about the people in your life & the generosity with which they do or do not share themselves with you?
Do you feel you're receiving the bare minimum? Do you feel they are overly generous or perhaps even invasive? Do you feel obliged to return favours, are you or they keeping score? Are they giving to you of themselves with a free & open heart or are there conditions? Is the flow of love, whatever the nature of that love, in balance between you?

It's only when we reflect on both ourselves & others in relationships that we can feel into how fulfilling the relationship is, & whether we need more or less from the other person, or whether we want to share more or less of ourselves.

Ultimately, generosity of self in relationship communicates investment, interest &, to some degree, commitment. It demonstrates openness, willingness & shows what we're bringing to the relational table. Withholding or measuring what & how we share of ourselves demonstrates, well, just that, that the person is withholding & measuring their sharing of themselves - the question is, then, what we want to do about that....

Written: 21/02/22