Last year as some of my fellow teachers and I were talking about the end-of-semester comments we have to write for all of our students, a teacher remarked that one of her favorite phrases to use (and which she reserves for special students) was “generosity of spirit.” She explained that there are often students in her classes who are not only smart and intellectually curious, but who also have a knack for stepping back and letting other students shine, who are willing to really listen to their classmates and respond to their ideas and concerns, and who approach their own work and fellow students with a certain kind of acceptance and understanding.
Some of my recent struggles have got me thinking about my difficulties with generosity. I’m not so much worried about material generosity (doing service or giving to charities). The kind of generosity I’ve been pondering has more to do with one’s attitude and approach to people. For example, one of my faults that I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on recently is my tendency towards selfishness, especially when I find myself in situations where I’m frustrated with and/or hurt by the decisions of other people. When I’m in emotional distress because of the decisions of others, I will often wall myself up and try to send the message (often passive-agressively) “why can’t you recognize my pain?!” I often forget that there’s another side to the story, and plenty of pain to go around. And I can just be generally selfish. So, here are some of the things that I’ve recently resolved to do:
*I want to think the best of other people’s intentions (i.e. give people the benefit of the doubt). Even if their decisions are problematic or hurtful, I want my first assumption to be that they had a reason for what they did that seemed important.
*I want to do my best to treat others in the ways I know they want to be treated, rather than the ways I might treat them out of habit.
*I want to be able to let go of small frustrations and irritations and enjoy the many wonderful things that other people contribute to my life.
*I want to embrace others for who they are rather than who I wish they would be.
It’s an incomplete list, and a lot of what “generosity of spirit” entails is an attitude rather than specific behaviors, but that’s a good sampling of some of my current desires on this front. I guess what I’m trying a little harder to do is to see others as I think the Lord probably sees them–their potential and goodness in addition to their faults and flaws. Which is not to say that I won’t notice those faults. But if I’m being “generous,” I’ll hopefully see much, much more.
- 7 January 2009