If you’ve been around me enough, you may have heard me refer to “social generosity.”
I guess I started using this phrase because it seemed like a super appropriate way to describe something I see every once in a while; something that is so incredibly beautiful that I can’t help but talk about it.
I would define social generosity in a way that is pretty obvious: giving more of oneself in a social interaction than is strictly necessary or expected. And, when I say “giving,” I mean dispensing all of your goodness. Or, in other words, sensitively responding to someone socially in a way that most benefits his or her wellbeing.
I think this is a concept that is so captivating to me because of the way I am built. Quality time is totally my love language! Look at me, ask me questions, listen intently, show me you understand and I will love you. Ignore me, look distracted, show me disrespect, forget the things I’ve told you, and I will be convinced (even when it’s not true) that you have no interest in my friendship. I think this is why when someone gives me or someone else their undivided attention, and responds in the moment with favor, kindness, and interest, it is captivating to me. And, not only is it captivating, it is so impressive.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t care less of you’re rich, talented, worldly, experienced, beautiful, or smart. It is just not impressive to me, or even necessarily respectable. But, I give mad props if you can look at someone and be sensitive and caring enough to respond them with kindness, especially if the person on the other end of the interaction is difficult in some way. Social generosity is beautiful and profound.
However, for some reason, the impact (and beauty, perhaps) of social generosity seems to be all the more potent when paired with influence or leadership. When you can set aside your pride and chose to be kind to those who have not achieved your social status, wealth, position, or whatever, you can have an incredible impact.
I remember a Doctor - who had lead various areas in pediatric medical discovery - who showed that he was impressed with me, gave me his time, made me feel like I could really do something big in this world. I remember a researcher who cherished my work for him, and expressed that he knew I would someday be “rich, like… own a yacht, rich.” I remember medical professionals wrapping their arms around me when I was having tests done and was terrified of what could be. I remember a high-level business professional who wanted to know my story, sympathized with my difficulties, and expressed certainty in my future success. I remember a principal investigator who was willing to place me right into his program because of his belief in my abilities, and then expressing his wishes to stay in touch when I eventually chose a different path.
These are all people who, in the world’s standards, would have had every right to put me in my place, to make me feel small, to smirk when I wasn’t familiar with the jargon or the literature. But instead, each one of them showed that they cared about me as a person, that they wanted to know my story, that they had hope for my future, and that they felt I was worth investing in. Not all of them even said as much, but they made their intentions clear through their smiles, their gentleness, their questions. And, even though I maybe shouldn’t have relied so much on their responses to me, I really feel like these are the people who God has used to give me confidence when I’ve needed it most. And, I am so thankful that our paths crossed.
1 Corinthians 13 says:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I think it really comes down to this: it is impressive when someone has a heart to put aside their own feelings, insecurities, and needs in the moment to just show someone kindness. I think that this commitment to someone else’s feelings in the moment - this social generosity - is a beautiful example of love wrapped up in a fleeting moment.
Maybe sometimes God uses these moments to show us who we were made to be - whether we are the one receiving love or giving it.
When we are humbled enough to give generously of ourselves, even in a momentary social interaction, we are reminded that we have been loved so well that we don’t need to hold on to anything for ourselves. We have been shown life, purpose, and sacrifice by our great Creator; why would we ever need to fight for our pride, to be right, our authority?
In those moments we receive social generosity, we remember that God has made us wonderfully and uniquely in a way that is obvious to others, not so that we can be proud, but so we can do great and beautiful things. And, He cares so much about us that he would put people in our lives that remind us who we are.
Now I am going to be uncomfortably honest here. I am ridiculously inconsistent in showing people I care about them in the moment. And, I know that the reason I suck at it is because I am inconsistently confident.
To be transparent, it's not that I am mean in any way, it’s more that I kind of… pretend like people aren’t there sometimes (eeeak!). This is probably worse than being mean; it is my (terrible) way of dealing with anxiety. Sometimes I am honestly afraid that my attention has no value to another person, or would even be annoying. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the strength to show someone the sweetness I know they deserve, especially if they have hurt me.
But, I think that social generosity is even more important for me to talk about because I am inconsistent at being socially generous, because some of the people that have have the largest impact on me in the shortest amount of time have shown me social generosity, and because I am someone in a position of leadership. I am also convinced we have the most impact in this world when we care about individuals - not that we would be too gentle to do or say things that need to be done or said, but that even in the most uncomfortable moments (and all of the regular moments, too) we would attend to another person’s wellbeing. Sometimes the most important thing about delivering a message is the way it is delivered.
So, I want to challenge you (and myself). How can you be more socially generous? Do you need to initiate a conversation bridled with kindness and sensitivity? Do you need to practice being nice (yes, sometimes I think practice is required!)? Do you need to do some self-talk and prepare yourself to respond well to someone who annoys the poo out of you? Do you need to ask the poeple closest to you to hold you responsible for your kindness? Especially if you are in a position of leadership or influence, I think this is a topic too important to just let be.
Social generosity is so stinkin’ beautiful because this small, fleeting form of selflessness, of love, pushes people past themselves - past insecurities and pride. Just a few words can change someone’s day, or someone’s life. It is just a small choice, in the moment, to put someone else’s needs before your own. I think we can do it.
A little note: my research in grad school was focused on social interactions, so this is a topic I am so incredibly interested in! Let me know if this is something you’d like to read more about! And, I’d love for you to share a way that you plan on being more socially generous, using the hashtag #livebeautifully, and tag me @mashillustrationanddesign!
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