Still on the subject of generosity in our intimate relationships, it’s important to recognize the things you are already doing well. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
1. If you are getting something for yourself (a glass of water, a cup of tea, groceries), ask whoever is present whether they would like some, too.
2. Say goodbye when you leave and hello when you arrive. This can be done with greater or lesser ritual.
3. Once you’ve recognized the things your partner/housemate/whoever feels are important, make an effort to accommodate them. For example, I try to clean up my dishes right away as an act of generosity, to keep my partner happy.
4. Say thank you for the everyday things: thanks for another fine meal, thank you for getting the car serviced, for picking up the dry cleaning, for helping me with that task, for giving the right amount of encouragement to get something started, etc.
5. Send cards or text messages and make phone calls for birthdays. Everyone likes to be remembered.
What acts of generosity do you do regularly, perhaps without even thinking? These are wholesome habits, and you might take some time to reflect on how much they help you and anyone you live with, or conversely, how unhappy it makes people when the common courtesies are neglected. As we say in Australia, good on ‘ya.
If your family, workplace, or other social unit includes one or more members with special needs, there is a unique category of generosity called for. It’s a gift to accept people as they are, to appreciate their contributions and good qualities, and to give what can be given to make the whole unit work better. It’s a rare family in which everyone is more or less equal intellectually, emotionally and physically. Everyone needs support and encouragement, regardless of their capacity, so giving those gifts freely is a vital exercise in letting go of our personal priorities, or of expanding them to include group priorities.
I remember a fascinating conversation among a group of female friends in which we all discovered that each of us had at least one family member whom we were helping to support financially. It felt good to be in this company of actively generous people, and it was sobering to think that many families include at least one adult who doesn’t seem able to become self-supporting. Such is life, and such is the need for our thoughtful generosity.