February 8, 2015

Generosity of Spirit

Filed under: Random Thoughts — Ann @ 11:23 am
You gotta have heart

You gotta have heart

This morning I read a New York Times story about a sister who, with the best of intentions, sent anonymous Valentine’s Day flowers to her two sisters. The gesture backfired hideously, resulting in the sender being called “cruel,” and causing a rift in the relationship that lasted far too long.

I thought to myself, “Another case where a bit of applied Generosity of Spirit could have prevented a great deal of heartache.”

Cultivating and demonstrating generosity of spirit is to remember to “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (attributed variously to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, John Watson, and Ian McClaren).

It’s bestowing the gift of the benefit of the doubt.

It’s never assuming we know someone’s motivations, and especially never assuming that those motivations are ill-intended.

Generosity of spirit is remembering that others don’t think like we think and have different ways of expressing themselves, and that different doesn’t mean wrong.

It’s understanding that sometimes people’s attempts at humor misfire. It’s understanding that what we hear as a cutting remark may just be an accidentally thoughtless statement.

When we get really good at it, exhibiting a generosity of spirit becomes a kneejerk reaction: we assume that the guy who cuts us off in traffic is in a hurry because he just found out that his kid is sick and he’s rushing to pick her up. A store clerk is unsmiling and unfriendly, and we assume that she has something important on her mind, perhaps a worry about a loved one, or maybe she doesn’t feel well. Sound crazy? Is creating gracious defenses for the behaviors of strangers any crazier than automatically attributing negative motivations to them?

Of course, a small percentage of people do have ill intentions, or are too often careless with their words and behaviors. To encourage loving-kindness in our attribution style isn’t to suggest that we become a doormat for the muddy feet of those who don’t even try to consider our feelings.

But most of the time, people aren’t out to cause us intentional infliction of emotional distress. They’re just being people, and sometimes we humans are clumsy in our attempts to navigate life with others. We end up stepping on toes. But those with sore digits too often jump at the chance to be offended. Instead, try jumping at the chance to be gracious and forgiving.

Try, “I know you meant well, and it’s really fine.” Bonus points if you add, “I’ve done the same thing myself — accidentally hurt people’s feelings when I didn’t mean to.” Because you know you have. We all have. And we all need a little more understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.

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