A. Jordan Rothschild from the Life Paths Research Program is my guest blogger today. 

Southerners are known for their hospitality, manners, and overall community-oriented behavior, to the point that Southern Hospitality has become a stereotype. Do small-town Southerners really live up to their reputation as welcoming? As part of a larger study on character development and personal strengths, Life Paths Research Program is working to better understand the many ways that Southerners help out their neighbors. We have found that individuals in the community are interested in helping their neighbors and family in three main categories: donating time, spiritual support, lending a hand.

1) TIME: Even if people don’t have much money to spare, they find other ways to give. Just a few ways that some people contribute to their community include volunteering at a food bank, making meals for neighbors in need, helping a lost animal, and watching over a house for a neighbor. For instance, a majority of people (68%) have picked up an item in town for a friend or looked after a sick relative.

2) SUPPORT: Being in the heart of the Bible Belt, we also found evidence of religious generosity. We found that 75% of males and 68% of females said they gave at least $25 to a charity or church. Many also tried to give spiritual support by offering spiritual advice and praying for friends and family. For example, 69% of females and 63% of males said they participated in a prayer circle or prayed for a sick friend, relative, or fellow church member.

3) LENDING A HAND: In this day and age, men and women look fairly similar in their helping. We found only a few gender differences and those were relatively small. More than half of men (57%) responded saying they helped a stranger with a stalled car by providing jumper cables or calling for assistance. Even though this form of generous behavior is traditionally found in men, 40% of women had also helped individuals with car trouble. Similarly, though a larger percentage of women assisted an animal that was lost or in distress (55%), nearly half (43%) of males surveyed helped animals as well.

As a native of Baltimore, Maryland, it has been great experiencing these generous acts first hand. These are just some of the findings we have gathered about generous behavior and there will be more to come! Are there other ways that people in your community show their generosity? You are welcome to email us about generosity in your community at lifepaths@sewanee.edu. If you would like to know more about the project visit our website at lifepathsresearch.org.

This project is conducted by Dr. Sherry Hamby, Dr. John Grych, and Dr. Victoria Banyard and is based at the Life Paths Research Program at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN. This project was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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