Sunday, September 14, 2014

Practicing Generosity - Listening

Generosity (and I mean generosity without expectation of reciprocity and maybe even without expectation of appreciation) is something that all major religions teach that we should practice.  And I think we can agree that in our culture, it is something that is a bit uncommon.

It's easy to look at the wealthiest among us and say, they should give more.  And it's well understood that the least wealthy are already the most generous with their money, their time, and their labor.  But true as it may be, there is little benefit in thinking that another individual or group of people could do more.

I often find myself thinking, what can I do to help those around me, whether it's friends, strangers, or the larger community.  The first problem that I often run into is thinking too big.  I'm not in a position to change the world, or even change my community.  That's the way things are.  It does me no good to focus on what is out of my control.  So I try to focus on things that are within my power to do.

The second problem that I,encounter is figuring out what I can do to help.  It's easy to go through a day, and not notice how I can be generous, even if I'm specifically looking for opportunities.  But I've learned that one simple way we can be generous is by truly being present for those around us and listening.

Be honest.  Ask yourself how often you're in a conversation, and instead of listening, you're thinking about what you're going to say when it's your turn to speak?  For most of us, myself included, the answer is 'very often.'  But that's something that can be changed.  It takes time and effort.  But I've seen improvement as I try to be mindful of this and to listen generously.  Each time I catch myself focusing on my response before the other person finishes speaking, I think 'this is a learning experience.'

One of the most excruciating experiences that we can have as humans is to feel that no one is listening to us.  By actively listening to someone (making eye contact, ignoring distractions, etc), we validate his or her humanity.  We give that individual an opportunity for expression and self-actualization.  That is some really powerful stuff!  

I hope this goes without saying, but in case it doesn't - Practicing generosity through listening implies genuine respect.  If you listen to someone, and then respond in a way that diminishes, attacks, disputes, devalues, or undermines them as an individual or what they said, you are not being generous.

Thank you for reading.  Please share my blog with others who might find value in it.  May you be well and happy.

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