What 2014 taught me about generosity

“What we hear is the quality of our listening.” - Robert Fripp

As 2014 closes to an end, I find myself wondering what have I learned from this year. We don’t change others, we can only change ourselves, so what did I learn for myself? Last year same time, I was full of hope: 2014 would be “legen… (wait for it)… dary”. When I look in terms of what I wanted to achieve in 2014, I did pretty good overall. But the path it took wasn’t at all what I had in mind.

Most of 2014 was very tough. There was a lot of frustration, anger and despair. Letting go of these feelings is not the hardest part. Understanding them and learning how to not trigger them in the first place is what keeps me awake at night.

Finally I found some answers in changing my view on generosity. When I read Give and Take about a year ago, it gave me great insights on how I wanted to be: I didn’t feel bad or stupid anymore about not matching. I learned about giving forward and I could just go on giving the way I felt like. I was raised catholic, and even if I am now more of an agnostic, my world view has been shaped with values such as generosity and forgiveness.

This didn’t change. But I now realize that I have to be realistic about generosity, I have to be clear about “perceived generosity”. I can’t really give people what they don’t want. It’s not about taking or matching anymore, it’s about understanding expectations and avoid frustration, anger and despair:

  1. Either people want it, and either:
    • I am willing to give them what they want (with or without matching)
    • I don’t want to give it for whatever reason
  2. Either they don’t want it, and either:
    • I learn to let go, because it’s none of my business
    • I still give it, but more to myself, typically because it makes me happy or I can’t stand it otherwise

It may sounds very rational, but rationality is sometimes what you need to stay sane in your life. Having a black and white scale doesn’t mean that there is no grey.

Too many times, I fell in the case of nobody wants it, but I would still do it and not assuming the reason behind it. Or I would think people want it and would expect some kind of gratitude, when in fact they didn’t. Or I wouldn’t be able to tell whether people want it or not, so I wouldn’t be able to spot takers and walk away from them.

Getting to know whether people want something or not can be tricky. Even win-win situations have to be properly assessed, to understand when they may turn into win-loose situations. The key to it is time and listening: allow time to let people express what they want and listen to it. Don’t make hasty hypothesis. Read between the lines, and give time for things to become explicit. It’s a form of patience and also a form of loneliness that I’ll learn to deal with.

To close 2014 in peace, I am applying this to forgiveness. I can’t forgive for things nobody ask forgiveness for, and after all it’s none of my business: I can go on living without having to forgive, this doesn’t make me resentful. On the contrary, I now know better where I stand, and that makes me see clearer where other people stand.

Let’s see in 2015, whether applying this makes life better for me and for people around me!