Personal Mastery, Team Learning, Systems Thinking

They looked at me, and were so full of delight in the pleasure they were giving me that some final thread of resistance gave way and I understood not only how entirely generous they were but also that generosity might be the greatest pleasure there is.
― William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow


If generosity is truly the greatest pleasure there is, what should we know about it? I asked a lot of people what they thought.

  • Ruthie, my 14 yo granddaughter, said she liked being generous in her actions, like unloading the dishwasher, cleaning up, AND she liked her parents’ acknowledgement for it.
  • Kathleen, my daughter-in-law, suggested true generosity might be defined by the intention motivating it – regardless of recognition.
  • The Arbinger model says if there’s someone with whom you’re feeling tension, you can open your heart toward him by doing some very small act of generosity, even something invisible to him.


It seems generosity can show up in many ways. For example:

  • Generous in the way we see people (not prejudging or assuming we understand where they’re coming from)
  • Generous with our attention (giving full attention, really listening)
  • Generous with our time and energy (willing to really BE with someone, to help them in small things, etc.)
  • Generous with our information and things (loaning possessions, sharing data and other resources, information)
  • Generous with our money (donating to causes we believe in)

As the quote from Maxwell intimates, in order for the full win-win power of generosity to be felt, the receiver must be open.  When I was in the middle of cancer treatment, initially I had trouble accepting all the food, gifts and kindness coming my way. Slowly, like Maxwell, I saw the enjoyment being generous brought the givers and opened myself to receive more graciously. What a delicious experience!


Then there are ways the generosity equation can get tainted.

In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie describes what can happen to generosity when there are strings attached.

You know, Emily was a selfish old woman in her way. She was very generous, but she always wanted a return. She never let people forget what she had done for them - and, that way she missed love.

To my mind, if one expects a lot in return for a generous act, it has become something else. What do you think? Maybe a bargaining chip, or a bribe? (This happens in politics a lot.)

Mohammed Ali made this sweeping statement, I try not to speak about all the charities and people I help, because I believe we can only be truly generous when we expect nothing in return. 


Is Ali’s assessment is true?  I want to keep thinking about it. People who donate large sums of money to create beautiful public parks named for them, for example, want to be remembered, but their gifts bring others a great deal of pleasure. But if we, as Agatha Christie’s character Emily, demonstrated, want credit for all the good we do, do we truly miss the experience of love? That is worth a lot of reflection.


  • Ponder generosity – how it works, how you live it

  • Try doing one small, invisible thing for someone with whom you’re in conflict. Feel your heart open.

  • Where would you like to be more generous?

  • How could you be more generous in opening yourself to receiving the generosity of others?


There will not be a telegathering this month because I'm going on vacation to California! Hope you're also enjoying end of summer vacations.

Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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