Imagine talking to someone who continuously checks their phone or who keeps looking around for something else to do. How would you feel? Simone Weil once said “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. Whether we are with friends, colleagues or even a stranger, paying attention to what someone has to say can make a huge difference to how we are perceived.
When thinking of generosity, most of us instinctively think of financial gestures. In fact, even the Google definition of generous includes it: ‘showing a readiness to give more of something, especially money, than is strictly necessary or expected’. However, there are several different ways of expressing generosity. Financial donations are by no means easy, but being generous with our time or attention can be equally rewarding for both parties.
The word generous comes from the Latin generosus meaning of noble birth. The meaning we know today passed down around the late 16th century via the old French word genereux which meant magnanimous at the time. If we take a historical approach we can therefore suggest that being generous is a quality worth aspiring to, one which denotes noble behaviour.
Somewhat paradoxically, selfishness could also be termed self-generosity and it is important to consider. Dedicating time to what may seem like a sacrifice now can become beneficial to us in the future. This may entail listening intently to someone, working on a project through a weekend, or even sacrificing exciting plans to spend time with someone going through a rough patch. Either way, being generous will rarely prove to be a bad idea!
Sometimes words don’t even need to be exchanged, simply being there with someone can make a world of difference. We could argue that length of time is not even a key factor, we may only remember that someone was there with us. As the old adage goes, it’s “quality, not quantity”. However, the effect can be lost if we then spend that time focused on something else!
As Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.