Italy is a fertile ground for this kind of lesson. In Italy, things are not always so easy. So you rely on the kindness of people and their generous nature at times to accomplish the things you would, in many other countries, take for granted.
That's not a bad thing. One of the beautiful facets of living in the countryside in Italy is the fact that there are constant reminders of the interdependency of people. It's connected to values. Italians place a high importance on their relationships with others. Small social contacts on the street are polite and sincere. It's touching to experience how Italians greet each other. There are immediate questions about members of the family who are ill or have experienced some kind of loss. When my dad was very ill, people on my street that I didn't know would ask me about him. Kindness is the key to how people greet each other in Italy.
There are times when a simple drive into town, something that takes five minutes, can cost an hour or more, simply because I will see and speak to five people on my way there. Stop the car. Roll down the window. Talk and show concern. Sometimes I would prefer not to, but I can't not stop. It's just part of the way we live here. Personal contact comes before consuming and errands.
So being generous, at least in the Italian definition, has much less to do with sharing material goods (although it might at times involve large amounts of garden vegetables or just-picked fruit arriving at your doorstep) and much more to do with sharing that most limited of all resources, time. I care less about the stuff I get from others and more about the precious time they give me . I find myself caring more about compassion.
After eight years living on Italian soil, it's become clear that the gift of time is more precious than any other.
It goes without saying that food plays a central role in life in Italy. But food is also associated with giving. The effort that is made in buying the most pristine ingredients and preparing dishes in simple, elegant ways is a given here. In restaurants, I sometimes cringe at how low the prices are for the quality of the food I eat. Like it can't really work that way. I want these people to be able to survive. They just want to make their guests happy with beautiful food. It's just remarkable.
Italy has shown me that generosity is a noble goal. It involves love. Love expands and fear contracts. So love is always involved in the grand art of generosity.
Being generous of spirit is not hard.
It just means you can't be afraid of what you are going to lose in the transaction. Don't worry if the person at the other end is going to take advantage of your generosity. If he does, you'll know it and sense it and protect yourself. More often than not, people are pleased and surprised when you treat them with generosity, because they're not used to it. It's become less and less common in today's anonymous lifestyle.
Shower your children and your friends and your family with loving generosity. Give them your time. Assume the best in their intentions. Don't always second guess their motives. Be available to lend a hand, a thought.
Don't be quick to offer advice. Advice from an outside perspective that does not have all the inside information is rarely what people need. Advice is often the most un-generous thing you can offer, because it's more closely tied to your own ego rather than the real needs of the other person. You want to show what you know instead of really grasping the reality of what's going on in the other person's life. So refrain from offering advice unless it's really warranted.
Instead, offer understanding. Compassion. Offer to help. Offer empathy. Sincerity. Kindness. Offer love.
On a seperate note: this week I was showered with cyber generosity. A fabulous blogger, Marcus Sheridan, a guy that I just love for his warmth and general niceness and strong sense of community, mentioned A Certain Simplicity on his blog The Sales Lion . I didn't see it coming, and I have to tell you, it made me feel so good. Thank you Marcus.